From One Indian to Another…

As a practice of cross-cultural engagement I will use a message told by Native American thought leader Daniel Longboat at the 2010 Traditional Knowledge Conference at the University of Auckland to frame my reflections. He told us that there are really only three things we as human beings need to do during our lifetime:

  1. Sustain Life 
  2. Enjoy Life with others 
  3. Give Thanks

From Turtle Island to India, and from one kind of “Indian” (Mr. Longboat) to another, my thoughts below are gathered around those three directives.

1. Sustain Life

Social Enterprise

In reflecting on the trip I definitely feel well versed in social enterprise and I think it has a lot of potential to make positive change to the way we sustain life. It can take on certain aspects of the current landscape of institutions we have – namely government, business, and civil society – to tackle problems and I think it has a lot of room to come up with new approaches and solutions as well.

To briefly sum up what I got exposed to during the program and what resonated with me: the workshops and assignments we conducted before, during and after the trip, including the blog, allowed us to hit the ground running and experience many social enterprises first hand. Coming from the trip with tried and ingrained primary research skills has been a bonus I am already implementing in my capstone project.

Consulting project: SKS Microfinance

SKS Microfinance is one of India’s largest and the only publicly listed microfinance company. SKS has a social mission to lift families out of poverty, but they also have this obligation to provide value to their shareholders, which I found interesting. They have obligations to their owners and to their clients, and its fine so long as those needs are aligned. But if they aren’t, I guess satisfaction will depend upon which way the fiduciary pendulum happens to be swinging on any particular day.

Working with SKS over 3-4 days I identified a few things that make their social mission shine through. First is the incredible training systems they have in place to provide both lending services and financial literacy training to their clients. Second was the group liability model taken from the Grameen Bank style where women from the same village borrow and repay loans as a collective. Thirdly, SKS charges interest rates that are designed to enable the client to repay and grow their business, then come back to SKS in future. Lastly, over 95% percent of their loans are awarded for income generating purposes only.

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Continuing my Social Enterprise Learning and Practice

Right now back in Portland I am doing class projects with two social enterprises – New Avenues for Youth who run two Ben & Jerry’s stores to provide job training opportunities for at-risk youth, and M25 Ventures which is a newly started NGO that works with former felons and addicts.

2. Enjoy Life with Others

What is India like? To employ a word that helps to express its vibrant, juxtaposed, in your face nature, it is ‘Amaze-balls’. The best part however was to share the experience of being there as a group, with people I knew a little then and quite a lot now, myriad in background yet united in purpose. Those moments and those laughs will stay with me a long time.

After the program Katie and I traveled to Goa, where we saw plenty of European and Indian tourists, lots of wild dogs and cows sleeping on the beach, visited a coffee and spice plantation, and got to ride on an elephant! Such beautiful and powerful creatures.

3. Giving thanks

Firstly I want to thank my parents for instilling in me the freedom to trust my instincts and to decide what is right for me. This trip was definitely one of those.

To our hosts in Bhimavaram, the Byrraju Foundation, an amazingly talented, generous and funny group of people who provide healthcare, water purification, education and a lot of other services to rural communities in India. See one of my classmates’ own blog posts on their amazing hospitality here.

Our hosts in Hyderabad at IMT Hyderabad, in particular Archana and Viswanathan, and especially to Shriya who really went the extra mile to look after us.

Finally, I give thanks to our guides and teachers, Alison, Kim and Carolyn, who enabled us to learn and grow.

-Simon

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WARNING: Studying Abroad May Result in Personal Growth, Increased Knowledge and Sharing.

PSU’s study abroad program in India through SEMB opened my eyes, heart, and mind a bit further than they were before.  I was given a firsthand look at how business can promote and be a part of positive social change and development.  I witnessed businesses, government, and non-profits building partnerships to seek solutions for a pressing social issues.  And, I left India with a more comprehensive understanding of how an idea and passion combined can have tremendous impact on those around you.

This trip also taught me about collaboration, and the how diversifying a learning experience can quadruple the knowledge you take away.  Collaborating with students in India had a profound impact on me.  Students in both Hyderabad and Bhimavaram joined us as colleagues and interpreters in rural villages.  Together we interviewed people in their communities about challenges they face with education, access to clean water, health, etc.  Subsequently, they learned something about their own world they did not know.  This inspired me to return home, and look around at the situations in which I avoid, ignore, or lack awareness and figure out how I can gain more knowledge simply by asking questions.  It showed me how important it is to take the time to engage people in our local communities who are struggling, and pay our education forward by turning our learning into action.

A study abroad experience would not be complete without personal growth.  I found my time in India to be personally empowering.  I learned more about my strengths, as well as, my weaknesses.  I learned what I need to feel balanced, and what beliefs I hold onto about myself that are best let-go.

Finally and once again, I must personally thank the 7 other remarkable colleagues, now dear friends, with whom I traveled.  Professionalism, respect, and a positive attitude are not easy to maintain in strenuous settings, with long days and external challenges.  However, the right combination of people not only leads to a successful experience, it can create a very dynamic and supportive environment.  I think the eight of us made one amazing, cohesive group.

Life has a funny way of bringing people together… for that I am eternally grateful.

-Katie

Morning Reflection - All together at last.

Morning Reflection – All together at last.

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This Is It!

In a final time of reflection, while writing a short paper summing up my thoughts and lessons gained from my time in India, I realized that there were two things that really stood out to me as key personal takeaways. I also have gained a lot of skills revolving around the entire research process, but keeping time and space in mind, I will just speak to personal growth in this post.Image 

First, I cannot emphasize how much I feel like I have gained from coming to understand the importance of smiling and making sure to have a visibly warm presence while in social situations. By social situations, I am not just referring to drinks with friends or family dinners, but really any time that social interaction might happen, and any time in public. I had so many memorable and sudden interactions with strangers who approached me after I smiled at them. In fact, just in the last day or two, I had a similar interaction with a stranger asking for directions, who told me that he walked up to me because I was presenting myself as warm. I’m proud of this, as it was a big goal of mine coming back to the US. 

Second, the trip taught me a new level of self-reliance. I do not want to go as far as saying that I am completely self-reliant, because that is not the case, but I have found a much better, healthy and sustainable balance. Before the trip, I tended to turn to others before looking into myself for answers and thoughts. But after nearly a month on my own, I learned the value and specific tools on how to rely on myself.

This trip literally has changed my life, in all positive ways. I cannot thank everyone who was involved enough. You have helped give me more than I will ever be able to repay.

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Beyond the microcosm

Upon our long-awaited return to the States, I stepped out of the Seattle airport and was immediately struck by two things: how clean the air smelled and how wide and clean the street looked.  At first, these detections were refreshing in every sense.  I had missed the relative cleanliness and open space of Portland.    

But after a couple of days, I realized that what I had missed at times while in India now felt depressingly sterile.  Streets were quiet, passersby avoided eye contact even in my own neighborhood, and frankly, life felt boringly polite and slightly underwhelming.  

I missed the strength of the Indian pulse – the smiles, the colors, the loud banter emanating from the streets, and the impromptu tea invitations. 

Another thing I began to miss was the unpredictability in how moments evolved.  As I would walk the same 87 steps between my house and Whole Foods every 3.4 days, I sighed at the disappointing obviousness of the situation.  On these walks, as with almost everywhere else, I would mentally multi-task, letting my brain run circles around the various things I had to do that day.  I sigh when I think about the 11 times I check my phone and the 2 – 7 times I check Facebook per day.  I do not wish to be bound to these small circles, tethered to the same coordinates, digital spaces, and physical things.  I miss existing as I did in India, in a state of constant discovery.  Moving forward, I would like to remind myself to look up, think outside of the microcosm, and keep discovering.

Namaste. 

Michelle   

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Perspective

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Inlaid calligraphy on the outside of the Taj Mahal. Designers had the foresight to have the higher panels written in slightly larger script to reduce the skewing effect when viewed from below.

Regret

My biggest regret was not preparing enough for the cultural experience of India; there were basic facts I could have learned prior to the trip, despite limited time.  One can travel abroad to a foreign country with little-to-no prior knowledge of the geography, politics, history or culture and the experience can be rewarding and full of newness regardless – in this case, you’d have to make a pretty concerted effort to not be smacked in the face by India.   That said, I think a little reading to lend some context and background goes a long way in enriching that experience and the level of engagement that you can have with natives. I would have been primed to be more inquisitive about some of my cultural observations if I had some base knowledge.

 Gratitude

It feels trite or obvious to say that having interacted with people living in such severe poverty served as a reminder for what a truly privileged life I live.  At the same time, I think being placed in situations that make you think, “Wow, I have so much, I am so lucky, my problems are so trivial” should be a frequent occurrence, and I appreciate that perspective shift whenever it occurs. As life moves along and gets busy and stressful, it’s hard to maintain that perspective.  I would like to be more mindful everyday to maintain an underlying sense of gratitude for my place in the world and for the positive forces in my life.  I am seeking to find what a balance looks like for me: I want to push myself to strive and grow, yet be content with what I have.

Gifts

Alison asked us to consider Carolyn’s question, “What will you take away, and what will you leave behind?” It’s obvious I’ve taken away a great deal, but I’m not certain what I’ve left behind.  One of my expectations about the social enterprise component of the trip was that we would be adding value to the organizations or projects that we consulted on; I wrote in a blog post, “What I’m excited about is the opportunity to leave something behind; the greatest gift that I can give which is my time and my business skills applied to a social project.” To be honest, I’m not sure that we left the Byrraju Foundation or Hand of Hope with much of tangible value.  Perhaps what we offered them, however, was the opportunity to have an interesting international interaction of their own, similar to the one they provided to us, yet in the context of their own country.  So I will say our gift to them was exposure to people who look, think, speak, and act differently than themselves; a fresh perspective on the issues they work with everyday.

Thinking of you, dear Katie ♥

 

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Happy.Hungry.Foolish.

Home… the place I long for when away. the place I also often long to leave to expand my horizons. the place to which I’ve returned after four unforgettable weeks in India. 

Throughout the process of preparing for my time in India, finally embarking on the long-anticipated journey and returning home, I knew that the process of reflection would be a vital part of the full experience. I focused on not only allowing the seemingly chaotic nature of India to engulf me in all of its being, but on also taking the time to distill all of that chaos into valuable lessons and beautiful moments in time. And in my reflections…

These are the things I remembered so often. This is how I define home no matter where I am in the world. 

 296504_1903175025450_1423951218_31588179_4987935_n My brothers
IMG952658 The rents
IMAG0687 An example of the oh so typical laughter and ridiculousness that fills the Scofield house (or his dorm room)
IMAG0785 A memory I’ll never forget: my brother running the last 8 miles of my first marathon with me. My hero that day.
IMAG0231 Holidays at home

Following the two week school program in India, a group of four friends decided to stay for an additional two weeks of travel. It was a difficult moment when I had to tell my mom I wouldn’t be home for Christmas for the first time in 26 years, but the opportunity was really once-in-a-lifetime. I thank my family for being so supportive and understanding. And I must share this story:

It’s Christmas morning. Jude, Slater, Michelle and I had just woken up after spending the previous day and night on an amazing houseboat on the backwaters of Kerala. We had previously decided (thanks to Slater!) to do Secret Santa to have a small holiday celebration. As we’re getting ready to open gifts, I see Jude come out of our room carrying a very nice gift bag looking all festive and adorable. Now, if you know Jude, you’re not at all surprised by this wrap job. However, we all shopped at the exact same market, and there was no way she acquired this bag there. I also knew that she was not my Secret Santa (there were only 4 of us… it’s a little hard to not figure that out) so I was taken aback when the bag was handed my direction.

As I peaked inside, I saw the dead give-away that this bag came from my mother. The tell-tale sign? A Reese’s peanut butter tree. No Christmas is complete without a Reese’s tree in the stockings at the Scofield house. I come to realize that my mom acquired Jude’s email address without my knowledge, mailed a package to her, and had Jude carry this thing around for two weeks. So many thanks to them both for orchestrating this. It meant more than I could ever truly express. And as I pulled the teddy bear out of the bag and heard my parent’s voices sending Christmas wishes from somewhere within the bear, I couldn’t help but feel like the luckiest girl in the world. Here I was… holding the most thoughtful present from my parents, waking up on a houseboat in paradise, sitting in a circle with 3 of the greatest friends I could have hoped to have.

This is how I defined home in India.

 slater first ice cream My second family

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It’s incredibly difficult to put into words all that India showed me, taught me and imparted upon me. But the impacts have finally begun to sink in as I’ve returned to life as I know it. I returned to the U.S. with many physical things: souvenirs for myself, gifts for family and friends, pictures to cherish forever. But I also returned with a greater sense of self and a willingness to ensure that I’m constantly present and offering up the best version of who I am. Openness and willingness to change allowed me to embrace everyday in India and learn from the experience. And that same openness and willingness to change or be changed will continue to permeate my life at home.

During our consulting project, our primary contact, Girish, shared with us something used around their office to motivate the team. Happy. Hungry. Foolish. It means: Be happy. Be hungry for work and for challenge. Be foolish enough to make mistakes.

This simple statement spoke to me in many ways. And in closing…

I’m happy to have had this amazing experience. I was hungry for the challenges I knew India and this program would (and most certainly did) hold. And I was foolish enough to not let anything stand in my way of fully embracing this opportunity. And for all of this I’m forever grateful. 

 

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One month back…back to reality

It has been a month now since we returned, and things have changed significantly for me. Moving into a new house, starting a new job, a new semester at school…all adds up to a little bit of chaos. It has been nice from the standpoint that I haven’t really had time to go through the re-entry that Mike spoke about in his blog post. At the same time, it isn’t exactly positive as I have had little time to process and evaluate the experience. I think there are a couple of major takeaways that I have tried to be mindful of, but at the same time, it isn’t always easy.

Gratitude and Graciousness

Everyone we met was so gracious and grateful. It is difficult to put into words just how impactful this was. We met quite a few people who had very little, but wanted to give of themselves. People with very little money who barely let us leave there homes without having tea, or something to eat. As caught up as we can be in our own lives, I have made a conscious effort to embody this attitude and remember to be grateful for that which I have and to demonstrate that to others.

Flexibility

Things in India don’t always go as planned. It almost feels like things are planned just to be changed. It is a wholly surreal experience to ask someone about how things are going to go and be told something very earnestly. Whether or not the plan will come to fruition is an entirely different situation. To keep your wits about you, you have to stay flexible. I am working to keep that in mind while back here as well. Especially considering the trifecta of newness I am going through flexibility is imperative. I am trying to keep this in mind as I go through experiencing the new aspects of my life. This is something that has been important over the last few weeks, and I am staying mindful of the value of flexibility when changes come my way.

Thank you everyone for being a part of the experience, it is something I will never forget.

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