Discovering the value of growing up with diversity while traveling in India
Target audience: Those interested in Chapel Hill, travel enthusiasts, and who want to understand the benefit of living in a community with access and exposure.
Abstract: My experience in India revealed how my hometown was a defining factor in my life perspective, my fondness of travel and highlights the benefits of embracing diversity.
A strong stench of waste came in waves throughout the train ride form Chennai to New Delhi. I looked out the window at landscapes of garbage where emaciated cows and hungry people rummaged. Abandoned shabby buildings sporadically appeared as the train rolled on. Turning my attention back into the train interior didn’t provide any relief. A beggar pulled himself up to our seats with his arms dragging his limp legs behind him. His clothes were tattered and dirty and his eyes red with blood. I gripped my cell phone and took note of how white my t-shirt seemed to be against the surroundings. While I experienced the disconcerting atmosphere, contemplating the faraway place where I remembered my family, a warm bed, a happy dog, a full closet, and my favorite restaurant, started to reveal my polarization from India. The picturesque town of Chapel Hill with bright blue skies and clean brick pathways was now close in reach. I couldn’t touch it, I couldn’t see it, I couldn’t very well go get in my bed, yet I was mentally attached to it all. A disturbing feeling came over me and I suddenly realized that I was now the vulnerable one. Where I come from, living in the moment is a luxury that someone with time and resources can pursue through quiet and meditation. Here, to live in the moment is a forced state of existence, a necessary skill to survive in an environment where the landscape challenges every moment.
I grew up in Chapel Hill, NC, home to the University of North Carolina, an academic environment that has the constant liveliness of student presence. The University’s resources provide access to libraries, a planetarium, guest speakers, distinctive cultural and music events, unwavering sports camaraderie and a sincere respect for the arts. The small population of the town allows for intimate local community ties, while simultaneously entertaining thousands of minds in academic and creative pursuits.
My family took advantage of the extensive access to diverse information and experiences available. Adorned in that beautiful Carolina blue color, we loyally attended Tar Heel basketball and football games as a common ritual. I knew Christmas would be there soon when it was time to go see The Nutcracker at the Playmaker’s Theatre again. I can still picture the elaborate rat queen’s Gothic costume and hear the actor’s feet making pitter-pats on the wooden stage as they pranced. In rural and country living, usually one can expect to associate in a community of similar race, religion, perspectives, and language, whereas a more connected town or city often acts as a cultural melting pot and the community is more likely to interact with varied visual ethnicity, unalike perspectives, hear universal languages, and experience contact with all type of religions. The well-connected town of Chapel Hill is a major factor in shaping who I am today. Starting in preschool, my friends differing ethnicity were visually apparent, but I have no memory of it creating any contention. The white cloth robes worn by clergy in Christian ceremonies my family attended made them stand out from the rest of us. The strong smell of incense in Buddhist chanting ceremonies was overpowering. Watching political activists unexpectedly parade through the streets, stopping traffic, made me wonder if there was anything I personally felt so strongly about that I would parade with a sign and my head held high.
I always knew that whatever adventures I would go on, that my community in Chapel Hill would welcome me home and provide a familiar warm feeling. My happy welsh terrier always greeted me at baggage claim with enthusiasm upon a flight home. As I rode the familiar streets into town, my phone would begin to get text messages from friends. The familiarity of the smells of my house gave me ease. I could probably drive our steep windy driveway with my eyes closed. I know my home and the town so well. This grounds me and gives me insight into my own identity. And by exploiting the close proximity to an international airport, I was also able to experience numerous cultures and differing life perspectives throughout my formative years. Through exposure and accessibility, I gained a sense of the importance of what home meant to me and how the freedom of choice propels imagination and endless curiosity.
My memories of home stuck close with me and were a source of strength through my embarrassing vulnerability. This vulnerability came out of knowing that I wouldn’t last long should I be thrust into survival there. Although my disconnect was apparent, it was here that I realized a greater understanding of “the greater the differences between people, the greater the strength of the individual.” The perspective that our differences make us all stronger was embedded from my home community. This viewpoint encouraged me to change my perspective and seek understanding, rather than judging and to look for the strength in people’s eyes. These are ways I am able to actively make the world a better place. The most important part is that it’s a choice to do so.