The Art of Relinquishing Control: A Study Abroad Lesson in India

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Today marks the halfway point in my study abroad experience in Hyderabad, India.

Today, my AIFS Resident Director organized a painting and floral arrangement class for us to attend at a local hostel. We were each given the instruction to begin finger painting a floral-inspired design on our canvas and after about 10 minutes we were told to stop. Confused and covered in paint, we all looked at our instructor; none of us had finished, nor were we aware of a time limit. Without giving us a chance to verbally express our confusion, our instructor told us to pass our paintings to the right and let the person next to us continue the process.

Immediately, instructions to one another were being yelled out: “I was working on a flower here,” “that yellow dot was going to be the sun,” “I was painting a cactus!” Our instructor silenced us and told us we were not to give advice on our artwork. Instead, we should paint quietly and add to the artwork in front of us in the best way we could.

At first, I felt frustration at my lack of control. In general, I tend to be the type of person who plans and executes accordingly. I like knowing what I’m doing and where I’m going and, while I enjoy the occasional spontaneity, most of my life follows a plan and a schedule. At the end of the exercise, we all had beautifully colored pieces of artwork that were nothing like what we could have ever done on our own.

Following our painting experience, our Resident Director sat us down and asked us to reflect on our painting experiences and how they can connect to our study abroad experience. She explained to us that we all came to India with expectations, much like we all had expectations for our paintings. However, in order to create the beautiful pieces of art we ended with, we all had to give up a little control and allow others to influence and impact our lives.

Moreover, at the end of the painting rotation, we were allowed to make the final touches on our paintings in any way we desired. Similarly, at the end of each day, we all return to our dorms and are left with only ourselves. What we do with the impacts of other people on our lives, and how we digest and allow our daily narratives to affect us, are up to us alone. Ultimately, we are the authors of our own narratives and we will get whatever it is we desire and allow ourselves to experience out of this adventure.

My study abroad experience in India thus far has been nothing short of life-changing.

Embarking on this journey in a place so foreign to me has been challenging and had taught me so much about myself. I am so thankful for this experience and for the reflection my AIFS Resident Director was able to foster through this activity. I hope that I continue to allow myself to learn from the narratives of others and challenge myself throughout the latter half of this adventure.

This post was contributed by Jordana Terrell, a student from Rhodes College who is spending her spring semester studying abroad with AIFS in Hyderabad, India.

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