7 lessons I learned from my love story with India

2005, AIESEC Global Talent program, Jaipur, India

By Svetoslav Dimov

Episode 1:

My love story with India began back in 2005. I went to Jaipur (a 3 million city in India) to work as a marketing trainee for a dental clinic. The traineeship was part of AIESEC’s exchange program* for students. This experience challenged my worldview, my values, my definition of concepts like “good”, “bad”, “poor”, “rich” and “different”. I loved it so much!

                             Episode 2:

12637064_10154114268150579_351547840_oI went back to India in 2013 as a tourist – I visited old friends and familiar places and also discovered a lot of new ones.

Episode 3:

Exactly 10 years after my first flight to India, I was waiting at my “home airport” in Sofia, Bulgaria for an Indian student to arrive. The guy was coming to Bulgaria for an AIESEC internship and I was his host for the first 3 weeks of his stay in Sofia. It was a great way to reconnect to the culture and the people of India. Today my new friend flew back to India and I reflected on my experiences with this country in the last 10 years.

I love travelling and discovering new places. So far I have had the opportunity to visit 4 continents, to work in 3 of them, to communicate with people from more than 80 countries. But India holds a special place in my heart and it has influenced me a lot. Here are seven lessons about living abroad I learned from my love story with this culture:

1. Learn to respect differences.

I faced so many differences in India, among them: seeing how they burn hundreds of dead bodies; taking a bath in a holly river that contains 1 500 000 fecal bacteries per 100 ml; being a guest at an arranged marriage. My first reaction was denial of these traditions but after living with these people for a while you learn to respect them and the way they live. I still do not understand a great part of the culture but I learned to respect it. Respecting a different point of view does not mean that you agree with it – but we live in such a diverse world that expecting that everyone would behave like you and hold the same beliefs is one of the silliest mistakes we make all the time. This “lesson” helps me a lot when I travel abroad and in my everyday life when I face differences with colleagues, friends, random people.

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2. Learn to celebrate similarities.
Once you learn to respect differences, you start to find similarities. It may sound controversial but it is true. If you stay focused on the differences, trying to eliminate them, you will only think “how different they are”. But once you accept the people/situations/traditions, you are able to go beyond the service and find out the true values that unite us – we all want love, we all have fears, we all strive for a better future for us and the ones we love. Then, there are all these little funny similarities: Once, I was in the North-West part of the country up in the mountains at about 2500 m, staying at a bungalow in the forest. One morning I wake up, go out of the bungalow and hear a melody that is considered to be typical song from the Balkans in Europe. Only that the locals thought it’s a typical song from this mountain region in India. I started laughing and then dancing 🙂

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3. You will meet some bad people.

No matter how well prepared you are, you will always meet some people that want to take advantage of you as a foreigner. The more you travel, the more you start recognizing them. But they still get me every now and then. One thing I will recommend is to read the “common scams” section in a guidebook for your destination country (I would recommend Lonely Planet and it’s not a product placement :). Scams should not make you a paranoid who avoids people but you should always be careful who you trust. In fact sometimes you have no other option but to trust a stranger – read the next story!

4. You will meet a lot of good people.

I met a lot of good, open-hearted people throughout India. I remember one night – we were again up in the mountain, 20 miles away from the nearest hospital in a very small town where most of the people go to bed at around 9 p.m. At around 7 p.m. one of the people from our group went very sick – it was an emergency. I went to the “pub” where there were just a few people left. I asked a guy (a total stranger who had never met us before) for help. He took us to the hospital (the roads are narrow, with a lot of holes and a lot of sharp turns), gave us a blanket of his and left us there. Then, without us even asking, he proposed to go back to the small town, to pack our backpacks and bring them to the hospital. He came the next day with our luggage, everything nicely packed and in order. It’s just one story but I have encountered lots of big and small acts of kindness. And the good news is – you will meet much more good people than bad people. It looks like that the bad people are only there to remind us how good the others are.

5. Sometimes things will not go as planned.

During my fist visit in India I stayed one day in a hospital because of some kind of a triple A bacteria that got me. In 2013 we were stuck on an Island for 2 days because of a big storm and we almost missed our flight back. These are just two examples of how things sometimes go wrong. It’s inevitable. But that is part of the experience and the adventure. If you are not ready to cope with surprises you can as well stay in your living room and watch TV.

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6. There is now substitute for experience.

Here is the concluding part of the last letter I wrote to my friends from India 10 years ago. You can watch movies, hear stories and read blogs but the only thing that will really broaden your horizons is the experience of living abroad/exchange program/traineeship:
“My advice:
Take a break from your busy way of living – you will have the time to make the big money and the amazing careers. Take the money, the time, the risk to live abroad and explore… go on a traineeship in a kingdom of far far away… meet the people and experience their way of living(it is not the same if you go on a vacation or a three day conference)… do it while you are still young and ready to take challanges… and maybe after 20 years you will be glad that you read this long e-mail…”

7. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving. ( a quote from T. Pratchet) 

Travelling is great. But having a place which you call home is greater. I was glad to come back home after my traineeship in India. I am glad to be back home after every journey (right back after the post-travel depression is over 😛 ). But every time I come back after exploring I am a little bit of a different person, a bit more open-minded, a bit more inspired, knowing a little bit more about the world and knowing a little bit more about myself.

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* AIESEC is an international non-governmental that provides young people with leadership development and cross-cultural global internships, with a focus to empower young people so they can make a positive impact on society. You can find out more and look for your local chapter at aiesec.org

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