Since arriving in India I have quickly come to realize that all my extensive preparations could have in no way prepared me for all that I have experienced so far on this trip. Infact, I once had a professor that was teaching a course about African politics, who told us at the outset of the course that if we ever went to Africa we would learn more about the continent in a five minute cab ride from the airport to our hotel than we would in the duration of his four month course. I believe that to a certain extent the same can be said for India.
In our pre-departure course we learned about Tibet and India. We also learned about volunteer trips and the positives and negatives of participating in them. I was told by so many people to prepare because I would definitely get sick and the heat would make me go crazy. I was also given a brief description of a social media marketing project that I would be working on at my placement with Dharamsala Animal Rescue (DAR). For months I worked to learn as much as I could about all of these aspects and how to prepare for them. I watched documentaries, read books and did research. Over the past week and half that I have spent in India, however, it has become increasingly clear that while some preparations were necessary (I’m happy I brought bug spray), that for the most part during my time in India I am going to have to embrace all the unexpected aspects I could never have prepared for. In this respect I have really come to appreciate the nature of experiental learning, as it has been through my experiences and reflection in India that I have learned more than I feel any pre-travel prepartions would have allowed.
For example, at my placement with DAR I prepared before I came India to learn about how to work on a social media marketing project. Upon my arrival, however, it was clear that I never could have prepared enough. I am constantly learning new things about marketing and the details and logistics of running a non-government organization, that I do not believe would have been possible to learn without experiencing them first-hand. The staff at DAR has been be so helpful and knowledgable, and I feel that after two days of working with them and reflecting on what I have experienced, that I have learned more than I would if I did a year of preparations.
While I understand the importance of preparations before a trip I also think that too prepare too much is to set yourself up for disappointment or create expectations that are not met. There is so much about travel and volunteering that you never expect or prepre for, and that you simply have to embrace and learn from when it happens. I never would have expected that I would end up adopting a puppy in India, or that I would get sick on the plane ride down as opposed to actually getting sick in India. I also never expected to feel so lucky and privileged to work at my placement. Yet these are the things that happen without any preparations. As our trip progresses I plan to continue to reflect and embrace All the new experiences that India has to offer.