The three months I spent preparing for my departure to India, was littered with ear-splitting alarm bells being rung from every which way. From my colleague warning me of their dark experiences traveling through southern Punjab, and my Indian friends cautioning me on the unbearable north Indian heat, to my male friends casting me as crazy to travel as an unaccompanied woman, and my family unwilling to accept the fearful reality that I was truly about to embark on a journey arguably seen as a parent’s worst nightmare.
This was my final year of undergrad – by this time I had experience working with over 25 different companies across Canada including working in two co-op terms, and had traveled to 31 countries across Europe, Africa and Asia.
Never had my conscious pushed me so hard against a decision in my life – my gut (and 90% of my social network) was telling me not to go.
So I went.
My life has always been full of unexpected challenges and in fact, it’s been the biggest most obscene obstacles in my life which have allowed me to grow the most as an individual. From battling a cancer diagnosis for 3 years at age 16 to working through school transfers and degree changes throughout my undergraduate journey – life only starts at the edge of your comfort zone. And sometimes you just need that push.
I had a relentless churn in my stomach for the first 9 hours of my flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong, soon to be followed by a stress-migraine from Hong Kong to Bangalore and lastly, a racing heart beat for the entire short flight from Bangalore to Hubli – the small city (small for India) where I would be spending the next 2.5 months of my life. And despite the major brace for impact that I had been preparing for, it took about three days in India to realize just how wrong everyone (including myself) really was.
We were greeted with a warm welcome at the airport, jumping into a private “Deshpande Startups” brand new jeep taking us straight to our new apartment – not without a quick pit stop for lunch. We were notified that we had a few days to ourselves before having to come into work to get settled to our new environment. We lived just near a beautiful temple and were surrounded by towering trees and a warm community. Our neighbours (who would later become our close companions, sharing meals and offering advice) were excited to welcome us with open arms. Despite the stares from the locals which I wrote off as “curiosity towards foreigners,” I rarely felt a sense of discomfort.
My roommate and I quickly familiarized ourselves with the closest amenities: pharmacies, grocery stores, local markets. We discovered a quaint but breathtaking view from the rooftop of our apartment building where we could see for miles past our own neighbourhood. When work began, we knew that we not only had a welcoming home, but a welcoming family to accompany it.
Our colleagues were everything to us – they spent their off hours touring us around, showing us which foods to eat (and more importantly, which to avoid), they took us shopping for proper traditional Indian attire (so as to decrease the amount of stares I got on the streets, see above photo), and they introduced us to a culture that is so beautiful and unique, it would be impossible to share with those who are not engulfed in it. Of course, we learnt that the experience came with its flaws as do all – we learnt the true importance of keeping our safety hats on at all times, knowing not to be caught outside alone at night (or even during the day for that matter). We knew not to trust everyone and always stay vigilant. And we knew that no matter how comfortable we were, to always stand our ground and know how to protect ourselves.
Leaving India (home), was heartbreaking. But I arrived home to Canada with a newfound passion for a country which seems to give unwarranted impressions to those who refuse to take the dive. India can be a catalyst for personal growth and a life-changing opportunity for those who are bold enough to explore beyond the tantalizing edge of that comfy, complacent comfort zone.