By Jack Barker
Every year I’ve come to India I am always truly surprised by multiple things during the trip. The trips are never the same, so you never know what to expect. Even the places we visit every year change in ways I can’t even explain, the easiest way of putting it is the experience is never the same. This is one of the reasons going into a trip with the right mindset is so important. You won’t get anything done if you come on one of these trips with a closed mind (staying in the box kind of attitude). Some people don’t understand this kind of perspective, but the way to unlock this barrier is very easy. Put yourself out there. I barely know any Hindi, yet I somehow make friends every year with people I would’ve never imagined meeting. All in totally different places, from different cultural backgrounds. It’s truly amazing and every minute of each random coincidence has been fun and unplanned.
My first-time making friends outside of the group was leaving the Andaman Islands my freshman year. During this trip the group was small, so it was a lot easier to blend into an Indian crowd. It was still hard for me to blend in because of my size, which I am constantly reminded of. I have even been asked what the secret is to being tall, which I had no idea how to answer. When we were on the ferry back to Port Blair, the group and I met some young adults that were what seemed like a host to the party on top of the ferry. Young kids were running around dancing to the music with there elders, all families were happy it felt very festive. This year a lot of the group talks were about the rising middle/higher classes of India and how this new class was traveling a lot more and impacted the countries economy. So, I assumed that these people on this ferry ride were defiantly in this category. When I ran into these young hosts, they immediately greeted me and started asking questions about America. They were happy we came and invited all of us to participate in the festivities. After the ride was almost finished, we had to leave to prepare for the next leg in our journey, so to stay in touch some group members including myself exchanged social media contacts. That was the beginning to one of my first friendships made in India, it even turned out that they lived in Delhi and were able to visit us this current trip.
The second year was in very different circumstances. The group wasn’t in one of the main tourist attractions in India, which is one of the very special qualities of these global ed trips. You experience so much of each country under the surface, it makes it inevitable that you learn the true culture of the country. When we visited Akbar’s house in an impoverished Islamic part of Delhi it didn’t stop the group and I from making new friends and learning more about a different Indian culture. At the end of the night the group made many friends, and we ate at a really good fried chicken restaurant run by some wealthy Islamic aristocrats. We exchanged social media contacts and there was another connection made in a very short period of time and from a very different culture.
This current year has been fun and eventful with a capital E. There’s been plenty of times where I’ve set out to do something and have had my plans change in a matter of seconds. The only way I’ve done well in these situations is by going with the flow. If you go into an uncomfortable or unexpected situation, the best thing to do is to act like you belong and find a connection with the surprise. If you act unfazed you will truly find it easier to navigate and will take more out of the situation. When I was writing the majority of this post, I was surprised by a group of children celebrating Holi. It was very funny, after they finished throwing the different colors on me, my face was all sorts of different colors. I was flustered at this point; I had a lot of things going on during this day. I had plans to interview different people in the village to learn about and plan my project further along. The second thing I had planned was to meet up with my old host family head Anuj, who had recently been elected as a leader of 4 villages following the BJP parties’ ideals. The third was to meet up with a college student from Uttarkashi that lived in the upper village neighboring Agora. His name was Vivek and he was pretty close to fluent in English. I met him the day prior and was very impressed with a lot of his views and realized he would love to participate in my project to learn more English. It was a really good match I needed to find someone who appreciates the environment in the village as much as I do, and he wanted to learn more about the American culture and the English language so he could teach English to the whole village.
During the day after I did a few interviews and experienced some Holi, I walked towards the village square to buy some water for my hike up to the upper village. I was taken by surprise by my old host Anuj, he looked happy and was in good spirits. He took me back to the village square that was very lively because of the holiday. I didn’t realize it at first, but he was taking me to a political rally where all the town leaders and BJP members were conversing about the future of Agora. I met all members and tried to represent CCS as a whole through my presence. I ended up going on the campaign trail with them through 3 of the neighboring villages. During the rallies I spoke in an interview with the leading BJP representative in the area. They asked me questions about what I thought about Agora and what I thought about India, the meeting went well, so in an act of respect they gave me a necklace of flowers that represented a form of welcome. I felt a great mount of gratitude and respect for all the people that I hadn’t felt before. It almost felt like I was a native, I was very touched by the kindness that was given to me and my other companions. By the end of the day I had talked to most people in the town and I felt like everyone was comfortable with me and I felt comfortable with almost everyone in a few villages. In the end Rajesh and Suman told me before the group was leaving that I was always welcome in the village, and that I would always have a place in Agora. That moment I had to walk away because I was about to cry. I felt welcome.