A Welcoming Place, and Pace, of Life

-Contributed by Matthew Dippold, International Relations Student

“You are our first customer and this is auspicious, so pay whatever you like,” the manager said. I had ended up there on the recommendation of a friendly waiter in the restaurant below. If I liked coffee he said, I should go upstairs where there was a newly opened cafe with a great view of town. Two hours later I had enjoyed one cup of coffee and made four new friends.

That experience was emblematic of my summer in India, where, thanks to the South Asia Center, I had the privilege of participating in the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS) summer Hindi language study program in Jaipur. Known as the ‘Pink City’, Jaipur provided a great location for the program as a bustling city of more than 2 million encircled by hills in the desert. The classes at AIIS focused on reading, writing, speaking, grammar, listening comprehension, vocabulary building, and culture. I was continuously impressed by my dedicated and outstanding teachers and by my classmates, who came from universities from all across the United States.

AIIS Hindi Language students, Matt Dippold Chris Giamo Kelsey Kobik and Scott CollisonWhile classes and homework occupied much of my time, some of the best learning experiences were from practicing my Hindi as I navigated the streets, shops, and markets. While I had studied Hindi, and India’s economy, politics, and history at Syracuse, in Jaipur I experienced the vibrancy of India that no statistics or books could show me. Visiting shops turned into learning opportunities, where even armed with passable Hindi and previous bargaining experience, I proved to be a novice among the ‘master of the poker face’ shopkeepers, who always had the uncanny ability of making me believe that I had gotten the better side of a bargain until I found out later that I had paid well above the ‘local’ price. Some of my favorite memories were drinking chai and speaking with my tailor Shanti Lal, who would talk about his life growing up in West Bengal before he moved to Jaipur, about how he got started in tailoring, and about his family. Time and again I had experiences where I was expecting to run an errand quickly in the same way I would in the States that instead turned into an interesting hour long discussion with the shop or business owner about anything and everything, including India, the United States, and life in general.

The opportunity to live and study in India was personally enriching while enormously beneficial to my graduate studies and future career. Before leaving my pleasant conversation with the staff at the newly opened cafe, they took my photo, had me sign my name and my country of residence in Hindi on a piece of paper, and told me they would post the photo and information on a bulletin board to show future customers. I hope to get back there one day to see it.