I was lucky enough to be a part of the Engineering and Culture in India service learning and study abroad trip. Our group of fourteen travelled to Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, and Pushkar to observe the culture of northern India and to sightsee. We conversed with locals, bargained with shopkeepers, and saw some of the most famous sites in India. We also got to visit Barefoot College, where rural citizens are trained how to do things like make sanitary napkins, clothes, and solar panels to power their village.
Because this trip was my first time out of the country, I kept expecting to feel like “WOW! I am on the other side of the world right now!” While I did experience a sense of wonder, I never felt a huge shock about being in a new place. Yes, India is incredibly different from the U.S., but people are really still just people, even when their circumstances are entirely different from your own. This definitely changed my view of the world. I think in the Western world, we tend to “other” people who may not be that different from ourselves. At the end of the day though, we are all just human beings. We have struggles and challenges and desires, and we just want to be happy.
Experiencing India taught me not to judge things based on how you traditionally see them being portrayed. If you want to know how things truly are, you should seek a primary source. Whether that be going to a place yourself and talking to someone who has firsthand knowledge of that topic, it is important not to make assumptions. This idea reminds me of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDtalk titled “The Danger of a Single Story.” We often are only presented with images of poverty in places like India. While these stories are valid, they are only ONE story. When you look around and dare to explore, there are so many more stories to hear.
One of my favorite interactions of our whole trip was with our tour guide at Amber Fort in Jaipur. Sonya, a friend of mine in our group who is actually Indian, asked him what his religion was. He answered, “Well, first, I am a human being. Second, I am a Muslim.” In a time in the world’s history where intolerance and hate can often seem overwhelming (especially with the constant news we get through technology and social media), this guy just gave the most amazing answer to what could be a loaded question. People are just people. Despite their religion, gender, race, sexual orientation, class, or other identity… people are just people.
I also loved talking and haggling with the shopkeepers. Their relentless promises of deals and high quality goods rang out down all the streets we walked through. Talking to them was intimidating at first, but my friend Patrick knew just how to break the ice. He would joke around with them and make them laugh. Some didn’t speak English that well, but laughter is truly a universal language. That was one of my biggest takeaways from my STEP project.
Additionally, interacting with the people on my trip made my soul so happy. I wrote this in my travel journal: “The peeps on this trip have given me book and movie suggestions, told me interesting things about their personal lives, and have made me laugh until my stomach hurts. I am truly thankful for this opportunity and for all of the ways that I have grown and learned. And there’s still three more days!” All of my peers on the trip were insightful, inspired, driven, and ready to change the world. On our
When people ask me how my trip was, I tend to say, “It was crazy….but awesome!” How many 21 year old kids get to say that they’ve been to India? How many people in general get to say that they’ve been to India? I got the chance to take a rickshaw through the crazy city streets, see a monkey sanctuary, experience the Holi festival, ride a camel, and converse with some pretty amazing people. Experiencing new things like these will always transform my outlook on life and on my inner self.
Personal growth and transformation is important to me on a fundamental level. As humans on this planet, we have a responsibility to ourselves to become the best version of ourselves possible. We cannot do that if we stay inside our comfort zones—if we are only associating in the places we call home with the people who make us feel at home. I travelled halfway across the world to experience a week that opened my mind and reinforced my belief that we are all connected.