Traveling to a new country is always a different experience, but when coming to a developing country to live in a rural village and work in community development is an entirely new experience. I have previously lived in India for around 2 years, so I thought I new a lot about the culture and values and what to expect when once again I was set to live here. Unlike my previous experiences, this time I was coming to India to do an internship with EduCARE India for 5 months working in sustainable living and waste management. I knew it was going to be a different experience from my past experiences in India but I didn’t know just how different.
Of course I had some ideas of what I was going to do and how the life was going to be working in India, but that was all thrown out of the window when I arrived and got into work. I realised that I didn’t know anything about what it is like working here and this experience has opened my mind to what India really is like on a deeper level.
What I previously believed from what I had read, saw, experienced, perceived and heard through people’s stereotypes, etc – I found that all of those ideas were totally different to my new life in India. One such thing that I noticed was the concept of money vs relationships in the way that business owners interact with me. For example, when business owners think that I am a tourist their focus is to make money off me because they think I won’t be around for very long. Business owners that see that I am living here focus on developing a relationship with me, and so charge me a fair price so that I keep coming back.
Another aspect I have noticed is the level of honesty that I get from the locals. For example, when traveling, locals tend to be less honest with me because they know that we might never see each other again and I probably don’t understand the interaction of locals and their behaviours. However, when they know that I am staying for a long time and working with community members, they tend to be more honest with me over time because they know I am here every day and I understand the local behaviours. But not only that, I find that the more trust I have with some community members the more honest they are with me.
These are some of the main observations I found when I came to India to work for EduCARE. Because I have travelled and lived in India for a few years before, I thought I knew most things about the culture, life styles, beliefs, etc. I have now realised that India is such a big country and the people are different everywhere you go, and that you can just cross to another state and it will be like a totally different experience again. So you can’t really every make any assumptions or think you know everything, because the next moment something totally contradictory can happen.
My time with EduCARE has changed me, in the way that I think about problem solving, how I interact with Indian business people, how I think about travelling, and how I see the lives of all different types of people. It has also made me consider how I will live my life combining work and travel. Therefore my biggest advise for new interns is that even if you have travelled to India before, come with an open mind and very few pre-conceived ideas. Because when working here life is very different and every environment is so diverse and unique.
Sustainable housing and Waste Management Project Manager