No simple task
For the past few days, I have been thinking about what I need for this trip – toothbrush, hat, passport, deodorant (weather.com says it’s going to be 108 degrees!)—but above all, I knew I would need an open mind for this trip. But a problematic question arose: How can I start my experiences anew after living in country that has engrained its culture into me?
I have lived in America my entire life. I talk like an American, learn like an American, and view the world as an American. Throughout my life, America has been “my world.” Of course my Kashmiri heritage and diverse school broaden my worldview, but I view the world outside of my country as distant and detached from my community. To a certain extent, this notion is correct, as the US is different from the rest of the world; however, on the Niswarth trip, I will need to make sure not to constantly compare Indian culture and systems to their American counterparts. I hope to leave behind the American culture that I have accustomed to and allow myself to fully observe the systems in place before comparing it to my own.
This will be no simple task. I have always lived in America, and don’t remember the last time I stepped outside. I have an American worldview, a way of seeing things centered around the confines of the United States. In America, we don’t learn about Canadian Independence and most people don’t know the Indian Prime Minister, yet we expect the world to know of July 4th and Barrack Obama. America, as a country and as a community, spends little time thinking about the world outside of the states. However, when I step foot in India, I want to leave behind this way of thinking and look at the experiences to come with a clean slate. I want to focus on my observations and on the culture of India, rather than distracting myself with constant comparisons.
There is one aspect within American culture that I feel is necessary to keep at home: the idea that the American way is always the best way. This belief is pervasive in my country and it would be detrimental to the program if I brought it along. It is important that on this trip that I don’t look for solutions in American systems. Our goal on this trip is not to make India more like America. Rather than asking, “What do we do in America?” we should ask, “What is the best solution to this problem.” I believe that this mindset will help us to find better resolutions, as our minds will be open to new ideas and unexplored thoughts.
Coming from a Kashmiri background, I have learnt to appreciate the beauty of Indian culture. It’s full of life, love, and delicious food. I understand that many parts of Indian systems are worth keeping. However, the India that television depicts mostly tells a tale of crowded roads and filthy slums. This representation of India brings attention to needed reforms. However, it also brings along a patronizing and condescending attitude towards the country. It’s important that I don’t fall into the easy trap of playing the role of a “western savior coming to teach the correct way to live life” that appeared so often in my History 100 class. I need to leave behind my American ideas and think on my own to find new solutions to old problems.