Several months ago, I read a blog post by another Kiva Fellow, Milena Arciszewski, who spent a few months volunteering in Africa for Kiva. In the blog post, she said that before going there, she had a certain expectation of what it would be like: “I imagined myself sitting on a street corner in Kenya, smoking cheap cigarettes, as poor children would laugh in the distance and I would sigh, reflectively, finally understanding the meaning of it all.” As she concluded in the end of the post, it didn’t quite turn out that way.
That’s the funny thing about expectations – they rarely work out the way you plan. I had almost identical thoughts prior to departing. I wanted to go to these faraway places in order to better understand other cultures, other people and the problems that they were facing. I felt – and still feel – that I’d be able to take that learned knowledge and use it to do some good in the world in my future career path.
The reality is that the “answers” never quite come in these neat, pre-packaged boxes. Especially when you’re not quite sure what the questions are! In fact, being in these places often adds to the confusion because once you scratch the surface, you start to see how complex and multi-dimensional everything is. When I think about what I learned after spending a month in India and two months in Central Asia, I feel that I know less about the world now than I did before I left the U.S. At least back then, I *thought* that I knew things. I may have had limited information and knowledge – but I didn’t realize that there was so much more that I didn’t know!
However, as I’m getting ready to end my assignment in Mumbai and move on, I feel that there were things that I’ve learned after all – and I’m very grateful for having the opportunity. The experience of living abroad has been rich and fulfilling in a variety of ways.
For me, it’s the realization that you can go thousands of miles across the globe and find something very similar and familiar on the other side. It’s fascinating, but after a few weeks in a new country, you start feeling cozy (parents – don’t worry, I’m not staying in India :)). There is a certain routine in place – going to work, recreational activities. You befriend other people – at work or otherwise – with whom you start to interact with on a regular basis. You even become familiar with the streets, transportation, food, and all those other things that you do without even thinking at home, but may feel so foreign here at first.
I still remember how lost and confused I felt when I just arrived to Mumbai and it’s amazing how much more comfortable it has become in a short span of just a month. There are many, many differences in regards to living here versus New York – subtle and not-quite – but at the end of the day, going to the market to get food in Malad, Mumbai is not so much different than going to a supermarket on Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Especially in this day and age – thanks to the Western influence that has permeated every part of the world – things are often more similar, than they are different (did you know that Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives are the most watched and discussed shows in the office).
I’m finishing up my time in Mumbai this week and reaching my traveling mid-point (3.5 months out of 7). I will be going to my 2nd placement for Kiva in Kyrgyzstan in the middle of June. In the interim, I’ll be joined by a friend from New York and we’ll head out to spend a month traveling in the Northern India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines.
Thank you for reading 🙂