In less than two years, I have stepped foot in 11 different countries in three continents. Crazy considering that before summer 2015, the only place outside of the U.S. I went to was Canada. I boarded my first plane ever September 2015, headed to London, England. Since then, I've been on more flights than I can think of and even jumped out of one just for the thrill.
Recently, I took the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to India for a wedding. India was to say the least, an eye-opener as you can imagine. Since I've been in other countries, specifically in Europe, I can honestly say India is almost an entirely different world. Not a bad thing, I just have never seen anything like it before, as I'm sure many others can agree if they've ever been there or even a country like India.
Traveling outside of your everyday life provides a fresh perspective and the chance to not only learn about the place but about yourself too. Each day of my trip I learned something new in all regards. Here's a few of the big ones:
This is probably the most common lesson people will say they learned while experiencing something different from their norm. Of course, I've felt this way traveling in other places and even in America but it never sticks. I could give a million examples of what I became so appreciative of. It's not just that I in comparison (even though I'm a broke college kid) have at least some money and a good living with a family who loves me, a college (even an elementary and high school) education, and food in my belly. It's little things like traffic laws because when there's a 3 lane highway in America, cars actually stay in their own lanes rather than creating a makeshift 6 lane highway. It's being able to shop without having someone pulling everything off the shelf, trying to persuade you to buy something you don't want. It's personal space. All mixed in with the obvious details we often take for granted.
Okay so I, like a good majority of Americans, am not a patient person. In India, you have no other option. Life takes a slower pace in India, especially in regards to meals. Or in traffic, where it's slower because it's so congested. But most important in situations where the average tourist has little to no control because things are just so different and you might not understand what was going on. You have to go with the flow in a place like India. This in comparison to my other lessons, definitely won't stick because get real, how can one even be patient in America.
3. English as a first language.
Americans in a way are lucky but also at a huge disadvantage because most of us speak English as our first language. Many schools in other countries begin to teach English at a very young age. I will say America is getting better with this but I still can count on one hand how many Americans (granted citizenship by birth) I know that are fluent in another language. We are at advantage because English is so widely used, but at a disadvantage because many of us (again, Americans granted citizenship by birth) aren't bilingual unless our families predominately speak another language.
4. Social norms.
Bite your tongue when you see something that is normal in a different culture and not to you. The best example I can think of for this is street dogs. There are stray dogs in America of course, although I can't remember the last time I saw one in Upstate New York. I couldn't even begin to guess how many street or wild dogs I saw in India. But what really upset me was when I witnessed people throwing rocks at a dog who was cowering, keeping to himself. Of course not all Indians think that's right, and they still do have pet dogs. But because there is so many dogs who were born in the street, they have to protect themselves, find food, and will get mean if the circumstances call for it and maybe even if they don't. I witnessed two dogs fighting once and a human bystander threw rocks at them. The dogs aren't harming any humans at this point. If I saw that in America, I would've said something but you can't in India because as sad as it is, that's normal. While no one took away my ability to actually speak up, if I did it would've A) done absolutely nothing to stop it and B) been breaking social norms, ultimately leaving me vulnerable to the man (even though I had plenty of protection with me). I never did get used to this and I wanted to take every single one of them home, especially the puppies that may have been a few weeks old. They can't be mean yet, right? If it's not a thing already, someone should make a business of taking street dogs out of India or building shelters for them.
5. American poverty is nothing compared to Indian poverty.
You've seen the photos. It's no secret that some people live without running water or a roof over their head in many places throughout the world. However, poverty in America is nothing compared to poverty in places like India. I've seen homeless in America and I've seen homeless in Europe. Think of the poorest places in the U.S. Detroit is on the top of the list and while I've never personally been there, I can pretty confidently say that by looks, there is no comparison to how bad it is in India. I've seen people begging on street corners and on sidewalks as I pass, but I have never had a woman with a naked child knock on the car window, in the middle of a busy busy street. Or those who are living in literal slums. There's just so much of it in India. The population is so high that even though there's plenty of open land outside the cities, the cities are so densely populated because of the resources available there. So not only is the poverty honestly unreal, the income inequality is more visible here than I've ever seen anywhere else. There are people who live lavishly in India in gated homes and penthouses but then you look out the terrace and there's someone sleeping under a tree by the sidewalk.
Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India is the home of the world famous Taj Mahal. Not every city I visited looked like this but were similar with maybe vegetation and industrialized buildings.
People always say that certain events are life-changing but once it's over, that's it and the lessons are forgotten. While I've only been back for a week or so, this trip is different. I can honestly say that what I witnessed in India was truly an eye-opener.
My intent by no means is not to trash India or make it seem undesirable for travel because that is simply false. I genuinely enjoyed my experience and if I could back in time to be faced with the opportunity knowing what I know now, I would still go. It doesn't matter where the destination is, if you're offered a travel opportunity, you take it. Never say no to traveling.