This winter break, I got the opportunity to explore my heritage, a new city, and my identity as a Theta. I spent two weeks in the city of Chennai, in Southern India, where my parents grew up and the majority of my family still resides. Traveling to Chennai always involves a little bit of a culture shock— going from the wintry suburbs of Pennsylvania and New Jersey to the hot, dusty metropolis where I spent so many of my childhood summers took a few days of adjustment. But after conquering jet lag, my two sisters, parents, and I spent our time there visiting members of our enormous extended family, touring a traditional village, attending Indian classical musical concerts, and exploring a textiles factory. Although going to India can be a bittersweet experiences—poverty is easily visible, and there is much evidence of the fact that India is still a developing nation–visiting even for just two weeks always reminds me of the parts of my heritage that I love: the delicious, spicy food, the rich history that can be seen from the thousand-year old temples to which thousands of devotees flock every day, the hospitality and warmth that are so ingrained in Tamil culture. Saying goodbye to my great-grandmother, grandparents, and multitudes of cousins, uncles, and aunts is always sad, but I am already looking forward to our next visit to Chennai upcoming year.
The second half of my winter break was not spent in New Jersey, applying to internships and summer study programs as I had originally planned, but instead on an impromptu trip to Europe with my father. I spent three days in Barcelona with my dad, touring the city in a double-decker bus. Since our time there was so limited, we disembarked the bus only at the tourist sites that I had read about in the guide book and was particularly interested: Gaudi’s architectural masterpieces, the FC Barca soccer stadium, and the lively Plaza Catalunya. I unearthed the Spanish I learned in high school, and tried to communicate as best as I could to the owners of the small bakery we went to every morning for breakfast. However, what made the trip truly special was the quality time I got to spend with my dad in such a beautiful city.
After Barcelona, we flew to Paris, where my dad was stuck in meetings and I roamed the city, which I had only vague memories of from a childhood trip to Paris. I also had the wonderful opportunity to meet up with Constance and Raundi, two fellow Thetas who are from Paris. Constance and I met up on my second evening there, and she showed me some of her favorite sites around the city. We first went to the Pont des Arts, a bridge covered in locks placed there by couples that represent their eternal love, and then ate pastries near the Eiffel Tower. Having dinner with her and Raundi, and picking up exactly where we left off at Swarthmore three weeks before, made me realize that there is something very special about the bonds between sisters, that make it so easy to reconnect all over the world. Whether it’s sitting in Hobbs in the Ville, or a Parisian café with a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower, we are still able to connect over our hopes for the upcoming semester and 2014, our experiences over break, and so much more. I look forward to the connections I continue to make through Theta, and am excited to explore more places with my Theta sisters at my side!