1. How to thrive in chaos.
India holds no prisoners. It’s dirty, chaotic, and challenging. I learned how to stand my ground, to fight for a fair price, and to look like I know what I was doing when I actually had no idea. I quickly learned how to say no. I found myself returning home with more assertion, control, and belief in myself. I learned how to ignore the 50 people who ask you if you want a rickshaw, the 20 people who ask if you want a guide, and the 10 who thrust tacky necklaces in your face. At first this drove me crazy, but after a few weeks, I developed a calm head and learned to approach each person with a smile.
2. How to be grateful for the life you were granted.
In India, I saw poverty at its most brutal. I saw the slums, the people that sleep on railway lines, and little children who should be at school but instead live homeless on the streets. I realized that the problems in my country are minor, and I began to feel so lucky for everything I have and everything I have the opportunity to become. And if I ever felt a pang of misfortune, I would think back to the street girl with tears in her eyes who never had any of the opportunities I do.
3. What a city looks like when everyone throws their litter on the floor.
In India, people throw garbage on the street, a place where many other people unfortunately have to sleep. I have never been more grateful for trash cans, and for the mindset of people in the West who don’t carelessly chuck things in the gutter. I’ll never, ever throw something on the floor again, and I feel the need to scowl at everyone who does.
4. That not every woman in the world has it easy at all.
While women in Western cultures generally have the same opportunities as men, this is far from the case in other parts of the world. In India, I saw inequality at its most harsh, and learned how to fight for your right to be a woman, to be a human. I learned what it feels like to be stared at constantly, to be restricted in what you can wear, and to have men think they can control you. I learned not to be passive about these things, but to fight for my right to live in equality.
5. What a corrupt political system looks like.
India is a country devoid of free education, healthcare and a welfare system. Many children who will never get an education, and a lot of beggars are severely disabled. There are many Tibetans in exile who have been tortured and forced out of their homeland. Never have I felt more gratitude for my government, and every time I hear someone complain about the minor issues they have, I feel it necessary to start a rant about just how lucky we are.
In India, simple tasks like getting a bus, finding the post office, and getting decent Wi-Fi become challenges. I learned to appreciate mundane, everyday tasks because I now know how long it takes to do these things in India.
7. What it means to have your life dictated by your culture.
I met women who were born into arranged marriages and never get the opportunity to be educated, and people whose caste meant they had no chance to achieve a better life. Never before had I felt so much gratitude to my parents for letting me make my own path. I felt compelled to thank them for what they gave me, for filling my life with opportunities, and supporting me in the ones you choose.
8. That globalization is not as it is written about in university textbooks.
Not every country is striving to be America. In India, the people eat street food, listen to Hindi music, watch Bollywood films, wear saris and celebrate Diwali. People shit in the streets and cows block the traffic. India is not the West and it’s not trying to be. In all its grossness and glory, it is India. It’s developing but in it’s own way.
9. That people are people, no matter where they are from, and no matter what culture they were born into.
Everyone has dreams, a desire to be educated, and a desire to make a better life for themselves and their children. In India, I soon developed even more drive than ever before to achieve my dreams, if not only for myself but for the millions of people who do not have the opportunity to achieve theirs.
10. How to live life with your heart, not your head.
The best thing we can give this world is love and compassion. I gained perspective, and learned that the 100 rupees that I spent on that new pair of pants may be negligible to me, but a meal for the seller’s entire family. I began to give money to those in need, because they are in need, and I was not. I learned to follow my gut and decide what a good person with good intentions and who is not.
11. What a lifelong obsession with one place feels like.
As soon as I stepped on the plane back home, I began thinking about when I could return. I began thinking about all the things I still have to learn and all the places I still have to explore.