Living and working in Gajner, a small Rajasthani village, has been amazing so far for me. It is a complex, incredible and intense experience. The surroundings can be a little startling at first, so being prepared can help you overcome the cultural shocks and quicken your adjustment. Here’s a list of ideas to begin your preparation.
Build relationships : Here, in Gajner, each person lives with their heart on their sleeve. They are very kind and warm and will quickly invite you inside their home to have chai, eat food and look at their family photos. Take time to do that because it shows them you care and it builds trust!
We have been working really hard to establish great relationship with the locals and one way to do it is to spend as much time as possible with them outside your formal project goals and objectives. Even if they are not directly linked to your project, everyone knows everyone here, so once you have been invited somewhere and showed kindness, the good word will go fast. I personally found it amazing to do so because you always learn something interesting about them, about the community and the culture.
When people acknowledge you in the streets, do the same ! Even if someone is passing by without saying Namaste, I find its always good to say those 3 syllables because even a small gesture like that will put a smile on both of your faces. Again, people are very kind here, so you will always get a response. People will not ignore you like they might in your home country.
Try to find common interests: family is always a good way to break the ice as family here in Gajner is highly valued. Be expected to have people asking you « Are you married ?» during the first exchange, of « Namaste »! While it seems a strange question, marriage is extremely important here so don’t be offended. People are very curious about why you’re here, what you do with your life, which country you’re come from, if you have any brothers and sisters, etc.
Learn to let go : In India, the concept of time has a whole different meaning. Things take more time to start here. You can have your schedule and plans ready to go but something out of your control will often occur, disrupting all your plans and sending you back to square one.
When something does not happen your way, which will happen, you will definitely get frustrated. Do not worry, this is normal and every intern goes through this. You will feel that you are not accomplishing anything, you will question your capacity and ability to do things, and even your purpose here. But, take a step back, persevere, re-plan and understand that there’s always a solution.
This is also where the process of building relationships is absolutely critical. The more you spend time with a family, the more you will understand what their priorities are. If something was planned and did not happen, it is NOT because they do not want it. It might be because something more important might have come up or for another reason such as a misunderstanding, etc. But, never take it as an offence ! People highly respect that you are here and regard you as a role model. They will always want to please you, so do not make them feel guilty if something did not happen your way.
Be mindful of the local’s perception of you: Gajner is a very traditional village and before us, people had never seen many westerners except for the locals who work at Gajner Palace (touristic attraction/hotel) and those who watch Hollywood movies. Being highly out-going and talkative is a good thing in our own country but here you should use some restraint. Living in Gajner takes some discretion. Your body language is very important and should be respectful at all times. As for your clothes, same rules apply throughout India. For women cover your shoulders and no skirts and no shorts above the knees for both genders.
Learn Hindi : I found it always useful wherever I go to learn a bit of the language of my host country. But, here in Gajner it will serve you well as not a lot of people speak English. It will help you to interact with people but most importantly it will show them that you care and that you are making great efforts to adapt. They are always happy when you attempt to speak in Hindi. This also reinforces trust.
There is a lot of advice I could give you, but I found these points the most important and you will learn more during your stay in Gajner. After all, being an intern with EduCARE is all about experiential learning. So come, experience and learn !
Women’s empowerment Project Manager