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.
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.
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 ♥