Making sense of a new country
It has been about a week since I’ve been in India, and Pune has been pretty different from what I expected. This, combined with my own thoughts on how I feel like to be the “outsider” (American + Chinese + Christian) led me to think more about how I “should” be experiencing India.
Are there “wrong” ways to be a traveler in a foreign country? Or harder, are there “right” ways? Certainly, one should be careful not to impose one’s own culture norms and values onto another or otherwise come with a condescending attitude towards another culture. I’ve also read articles cautioning travelers against merely appropriating the culture, taking from it the experiences and souvenirs as they will without regard to the fact that this is people’s homes, culture, and daily lives – not merely something (or someones) to gawk and marvel at. How do you be a respectful traveler/ visitor to another country? These are good questions and considerations to have, but the lines are not so clear. For example, as someone posed during orientation, how do you both respect that India’s culture has different views on women, while challenging or questioning how women are sometimes treated unfairly? Or, how do you experience and appreciate aspects of a culture in a way that is respectful of their culture, but also honest to the fact that, yes! in many respects I am a “tourist” here and this is new and interesting to me.
Before I came to India, I asked my CASI buddy (shout out to Ali Cooper whoo) what I should expect from India and what mindset I should go in with to navigate the potential culture and gender situations I may encounter. Her advice was to just go in with no expectations, and to just listen, observe, and learn when I’m there, and I am seeing how that is a good attitude to have.
Yes, be respectful and thoughtful, but at the same time don’t overthink it. The few expectations I had from India have already been proven wrong (largely because India is big and Pune is, of course, different from how past interns have experienced India). I am looking forward to the rest of my time in Pune, and to learn more about India, as it is in Pune. I come as an American, full of experiences from my home and from my many travels abroad, and I know my time in India will continue to add to my perspectives and shape in part who I am, as my past experiences have. I’ll try not to overthink it, but just to spend this summer thoughtfully and honestly.
Thanks for reading, and sorry that my thoughts are a bit incomplete. More about our work / what Reya and I have been doing to come!