Indian Summer

Chanse Ford

It is somewhat ironic that sometimes it takes being on the opposite side of the world to gain some perspective on American culture.

Towards the end of June, I spent two weeks in India as part of the initiative to further USI’s mission of outreach and engagement.

The trip was mostly funded by the Provost’s office and was the first, in what is hoped, to be a relationship with the Society for Development Studies (SDS) in India.

While there, two other students and myself spent most of our days going to the SDS offices to study the group and its techniques, seeing the sights and generally trying to get a feel for India.

The purpose of our project was to study the effectiveness of programs implemented by SDS five years ago to improve a poor, resource strapped village in rural Rajasthan.

Part of our study involved visiting the village to see the effects firsthand. This was by far the best experience of the entire trip and gives a good taste of the general attitude of Indians as a whole towards outsiders.

We were greeted with shy but warm smiles, great food and chai (tea) and an openness to share their lives while expressing interest in ours.

The majority of people you meet or pass on the street in India show similar sentiments. If you approach with a smile and a nod, it will in the very least be reciprocated.

I am sure this is probably true of any culture, but in order to fully enjoy India and be enjoyed by Indians, one must have an open mind and a willingness to adapt to another’s culture.

All too often Americans want to do things their way no matter where they are, and at home the mentality of “speak English or get out” is prevalent.

However, this does more harm than good, and comes off as arrogance and ignorance.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love (most of the time) American culture. Some things are distinctly American and should stay that way. Hearing “welcome home” at customs in Atlanta was music to my ears, and that first cheeseburger upon my return tasted damn good.

With the way travel, business and communications are now, it is impossible to remain completely isolated within U.S. culture, and I believe this is for the better.

I received an amazing opportunity for which I am very grateful, and without which I may have never been able to leave the country, but if you get the chance: take it. If you don’t, try not to be afraid of some non-American exposure in whatever form it may take.

Indians are not the only ones who can have open doors and open hearts, and the more outside exposure you have, the more open and understanding you’ll be.