Yesterday at APSA we met with a group of students here on a program from Norway, and I hope they achieve the level of familiarity we’ve reached in their encounter with India. When they filed into the room we were in they clung together as much as we did in our first week. And while this is a more than an acceptable response to your first day in a new culture, they spoke of their program duration being only 20 something days, and a bulk of it was to be spent traveling together. I’m jumping to conclusions here without any actual evidence but the itinerary they spoke of – and perhaps also the overwhelming prevalence of stereotypical elephant pants – gave me the sense that these student’s might only ever see Bangalore through the lens of a tourist. Henk touched on it yesterday and to reiterate what he said, I don’t yet feel like a local, but for once seeing people more out of place than myself made me realize the value in not just visiting foreign countries but living and working in them.
There’s also something to be said about traveling in large groups and how that affects our experience in new places. Nothing screams tourists louder than simply moving in a group of 6 or more people. Anytime we go anywhere with GCIL, it’s fun to reflect on the experience with peers but the experience itself seems distorted just by the sheer size and make-up of our group. Just the number of restaurant and store managers we’ve met already dwarfs the number or similar encounters I’ve had back home. I suppose it’s obvious that we’re going to be treated differently in a tour group setting than while on our own, but the degree of difference is striking to me. Somehow walking by myself to the family store a block away to buy Oreos feels more authentically Indian than going to a banana leaf restaurant with the class. Traversing Bangalore without the safety net of peers in my limited experiences has led to easier interactions with auto drivers, more in-depth response from strangers when asking for help, and just an overarching feeling of seamlessness. I appreciate the opportunities offered by GCIL to work independently but I also wonder if there’s even more that could be asked of us outside the group setting.
Regardless, this trip has opened my eyes in more ways than one and continues to impress me. If everything goes according to plan, I’ll be back in a foreign country in no time.
Hopefully one with similarly priced food and similarly lacking in punctuality.