Immersion: breaking down assumptions, realising your own biases and forming raw, empathic connections. When I applied for the program, I knew the three weeks would be challenging and I fully expected to be taken out of my comfort zone. We experienced jarring cultural differences, heard heartbreaking stories from locals and were presented with constant internal struggles. What I didn’t expect, is that these challenges would last longer than three weeks, or that I’d still be dealing with some of them over a year later.
The village, Saurath was liberating. It was terrifying. It was inspiring. It was as if we had travelled back in time, almost into an alternate reality where nothing from our world seemed to matter. The kids our age were not busy curating their social media profiles, worrying about how many likes they got on an Instagram post or complaining about slow wifi. Instead, some wondered if their families would let them go to school, they worried the monsoon season would not bring enough, or too much, rain, and they all complained about the cows stopping play in the middle of the cricket pitch. Despite what seemed like stark differences in our worlds, we were strikingly similar. We laughed
together when we mispronounced words, blushed when someone complimented our smile and cherished the new friendships that we made.
Every day in the village was a rollercoaster of emotions. As we faced extreme challenges, we tapped into the best of ourselves, surprising each other by how much we were capable of. The program wasn’t just a chance to understand the people in the village; it was a look into our naked selves. It was an opportunity to reflect on who we were and who we wanted to be. We lived everyday hyper-aware, empathetic and, came out the other side as better people. But did it last? Over a year on, I know I still make snap judgements of strangers on trains or make assumptions about a person’s character based on the way they drive. Where is that person who lived without bias and judgement?
I came back from the program questioning my most fundamental beliefs; beliefs so deeply embedded I didn’t even know they existed. I no longer had an internal compass to guide my actions. I was now trying to justify everything to myself; asking myself ‘why’ at every step, for every action, every day. I went to India with what I thought was a clear sense of purpose driving me, but when we got back, it felt as if I was going through a perpetual state of limbo.
Upon returning, I co-led a series of emotional intelligence workshops which helped students apply empathy in their personal and professional lives. Did this make me a hypocrite? Preaching something I hadn’t mastered and didn’t always practice? For a long time I thought yes, and that was a painful thought to live with. But now, after many nights spent in my own head, I’d like to think it doesn’t. It’s not about being perfect every day, it’s about trying. It’s about being aware and noticing when you do make assumptions, when you let your biases influence your decisions; something we have to practice every single day. It was naive of me to think that a three-week program in India practicing empathy would be enough to last a lifetime. It’s a process, one we must continually engage in. Over a year on, I’m glad I’ve finally come to that realisation. It has helped me avoid the trap of thinking I’m a finished product, when in reality we’re all a perpetual work in progress.
One thing the trip did bring to light is what I value most in my life, and that’s the people in it. It’s surreal to think that by the end of the trip we’d all known each other for only three weeks. We had become family, closer than I ever thought possible. I can say with certainty that the lessons I’ve learnt and friendships I’ve formed will not fade anytime soon; and no matter what my reflection of the trip happens to be in the next five years, there’s no doubt it will leave a lasting impact on my life.
by Utkarsh Somaiya
*Applications currently open for Summer 2017/18 session – see here for more details and to apply http://drishteeimmersion.com/