India was at the top of my list of places to travel for a while and, understandably, it’s often met with a bit of confusion. Let me explain.
It all started when I asked one of my friends, “Can you speak Indian?” She laughed at me and explained that, no, Indian is not a language, Hindi is and then further mentioned all the dialects she knew (which may have flown straight over my head). I was so shocked at my own negligence that well, I thought a trip to India would be a good cure.
Throughout my childhood, I was incredibly lucky to travel with my parents all over the world. We flew as far as you can from Australia and went to Europe when I was in high school to do France, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. We did both the East and West Coast of America and trekked a little to Canada as well. But my most memorable travels were always in the motherland (Vietnam) and surrounding countries. Why? Well, both my parents are Vietnamese born and raised so we had the local experience every time we travelled home. It was always visiting my grandparents in the heat of Ho Chi Minh city, having insider knowledge when it comes to haggling in the markets and eating my weight in both delicious home cooked food and street food. But in addition to all the perfect tourist photos you may see in Vietnam of lush rice fields and the scenic waters of Ha Long Bay, I was given the opportunity to understand the complexities of living in a war-torn developing country.
And you’d think that having all this travel experience would be enough, but it never is. I learnt more and more about different cultures with every trip and while I didn’t appreciate it as a child, I am very grateful for it in hindsight. For example, in Vietnam, I will never forget the children in the orphanages we visited or the post-war memorial museums that showed the devastating heartbreak of war on families. Being in these countries brought about a whole new level of empathy and understanding that I will be conscious of through my entire life. You learn more and more about the world, but also about yourself – which leads me to my motivation behind India. I think, yes, the easier option (which I took last February) is to spend your money on a beautifully relaxing vacation. Luxe hotels by the beach, room service every day and cocktails by the bar on a tropical island. But I think the experiences that really grip your heart, the ones you truly remember are the ones that are way out of your comfort zone (see my other blog post for similar stuff).
I’ll admit that it has been financially straining as a full-time engineering student to continue my travel adventures, but a unique opportunity arose at the end of last year. The University of Sydney offered a unit of study called Global Engineering Fieldwork which consisted, as it sounds, of doing fieldwork overseas with Engineers Without Borders in either Cambodia, Nepal or India. I had only heard of good things about this program from people who had been on the Humanitarian Design Summit before and somehow I had managed to get the same advice from everyone: go for it and keep an open mind.
And that’s exactly what I did. My god, it was good advice. Stay tuned for Part II.