When I began telling people I was coming to India for the semester, I started receiving lots of advice on what to be aware of upon my arrival. Regardless of the fact that I had been to India earlier in the summer and was reading countless articles and books for preparation, many people still saw to it that their vision of India became a part of my own.
In many ways, I became irritated with the harsh warnings from people who had never traveled here and equally as annoyed with the “Eat, Pray, Love” images that seemed to be all people wanted to know. Throughout these past few weeks, my irritation has come more into focus and I have realized that my own ignorance sat deep underneath. I will only ever be able to see India through the lens of the American student of its lands and people that I am. To me, the car horns will always be loud and too abundant, the food will always be spicy and the culture may be beautiful, but it will always be different.
I can try to stray from comparing everything and push past my Western worldview, but my life experiences will always shape the way I see India. Yet, I was so quick to judge those who used their only lens of India to advise me. When ignorance meets ignorance, progress towards higher grounds falters and falls. This experience will become a tool to stretch the lens of my unwanted advisers with my stories and adventures that push past the images of India they hold.
However, I think being here has made me realize how much stretching my lens has to do too. People who came running to me with advice have taught me so much about perceptions of India in the U.S. and with that knowledge, I can add to the conversation instead of letting irritation push it away. There may be wrong action, but there is no wrong lens into the world. I am coming to understand that the beautiful thing about advice is that listening to it can sometimes tell much more than taking it.