Capturing Culture

By: 
Floor Fiers
Class of: 
2019

The small cottage seems even smaller in the immense Himalayan valley. As I bend my head and enter the doorway, the darkness of the only room in the building and the intense sound of what appears to me as uncontrollable drumming overwhelm me. After my eyes adjust to the lack of light, I see men, women and children sitting against the walls of the room. Two men are playing musical instruments that I don’t recognize. The sound burns in my ear. It’s more than just loud. It’s jolting, suspenseful. It suits the atmosphere. All the attending villagers know what will happen. The only explanation I was given circles through my mind: goat sacrifice.

Studying abroad in India brings me, for the first time, to a non-Western culture. Spending 24 hours, seven days a week between smells of curry, the heat of Delhi, and Hindi billboards causes me to feel India in every vein of my body. Sometimes the miniscule ways I encounter Indian culture are almost unnoticeable, from patrol slogan “Pure for Sure” to the plastic that many leave on their car seats for years. In contrast, the goat sacrifice I witnessed was a much more blatant encounter. During my time in India, I came to understand: Culture is ingrained in our environment, our language and ourselves. Culture shock is unavoidable.

Through online articles and my own experience, I understand culture shock to be a four-stage process. When I structured my video series for the Communications Office, I chose themes according to these four stages: encounter, embrace, engage and experience. The first video portrays our first encounter with Indian culture. Brand-new to the country, the language and the society, the uncountable impressions give an excited and joyful atmosphere to our group dynamics. The second video focuses on the challenge of embracing India as our home for the next four months. Despite the so-called frustration phase of culture shock, my study abroad group visited historical sites, took Hindi classes and explored Indian cuisine. After overcoming the sense of disorientation, the third video shows active engagement in guest lectures. Only now, towards the end of program, I have become more and more aware of smaller cultural differences between my home and India. Feeling comfortable in the Indian context, the experience has been wonderful. The last video displays this energy.

Besides helping me to understand the process of culture shock, filmmaking for St. Lawrence University causes self-reflection. Ready to shoot video, I carry my camera at all times on my waist. Whenever I feel challenged by my environment, my camera forms a mechanism of distancing myself from my environment. At the moment I witnessed the goat sacrifice, I stared at the scene through my camera screen. As an extra barrier, the camera allows me to reflect and put my experience into perspective. After shooting the experience, editing the video provides an opportunity to rethink and gain an understanding of my new impressions in Indian context. At the end of the process, filmmaking accommodates sharing my adventure with you.

At the moment the religious ritual preceding the goat sacrifice is about to happen, I grab my camera and nervously lock my gaze onto the screen. Through the screen I view how a spirit inhabits a Hindu woman. I lust after explanations and context. Her body makes energetic movements. Out of control, like I have never seen before.