Traveling to Pondicherry with the 2016 India Winterim Program was my first trip abroad and the experiences I had over the three weeks I was there were life changing. I enrolled in the course Serving Children with Disabilities, Empowering Local Women, Assisting Older Adults (SEA). My enrollment in this course provided me with the opportunity to volunteer with nonprofit organizations in the area, attend lectures with guest speakers, and visit ancient temples and other cultural sites.
I volunteered at SARVAM, an after school program created by the Sri Aurobindo Society that works to advance the educational attainment of children in rural areas. I taught students between the ages of 11-13 how to create vision boards and discussed with them steps to take in order to reach their goals. The goals and aspirations the students had were all so selfless. These students wanted to work towards giving back and bettering their communities and were so excited to do so one day. Their eagerness reminded me to not get stuck feeling pessimistic about my ability to foster meaningful social change but to instead focus on what I can do. Their positivity and motivation to work towards something better in the face of so much struggle, inspires me to do the same.
One thing that was difficult for me, on a daily basis, was to travel around all day and only see people of an extremely light complexion on billboards and posters. Pondicherry is located near the equator so the people living there have a dark complexion. It bothered me seeing that the people on billboards were not an accurate representation of the population actually living there and I wondered how it affected them. When I learned that some women in India bleached their skin in an effort to become more attractive I was hurt, but then seeing an actual advertisement for melanin vanishing cream in the store disgusted me. I realized that this idea that the lighter you are, the more attractive you are isn’t just something that exists in the United States but has infected the rest of the world as well.
Many of the experiences I had in India brought to light some of my Western privileges. I think that that’s something that can only happen to you by traveling out of the west and experiencing life from the other side of the world. Things like being able to use water that comes from out of the faucet or going to the doctor and getting a thorough examination were things that I was not only used to but took for granted. India has made me grateful for the resources that are available to me in the United States and has also showed me what kinds of privileges I have that I now need to work on ensuring that the rest of the world is getting. My trip to India has given me a different perspective, not just of the US and India but of the entire world around me. I now see that I am more connected to this earth and the people living on it than I had ever realized.