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India – Spring 2007

Final Reflections

A few thoughts from the leaders regarding the India Cross-Cultural 2007.

Without a doubt, these past 3 ½ months have been a life-changing experience for all of us involved. Bob and I are so grateful and appreciative of the adventurous spirits of all of the students who traveled with us. While the lives of the members of this cross-cultural were definitely changed by this experience, it is clear to me from comments of people with whom we interacted that the students were a blessing to them too and thoroughly enjoyed their interaction with this group of college students!

We thank God for the safety in our travels over the entire country of India and we did travel over the entire country:

  • We hiked in the Himalayan mountains in northern India and breathed in the clean, crisp air with snow covered mountains in the background. We also threw a few snowballs!
  • We spent a week in Dharamsalla (home of the 14th Dalai Lama) and were fortunate enough to squeeze into the monastery where His Holiness (Dalai Lama) was teaching all day for a week. We experienced the hospitality of others listening as they shared their small spaces with us as well as their food and cups (for Tibetan butter tea).
  • We plodded through the dusty desert on camels and handed out school pens to village children who ran along side us waving and saying “hello”.
  • We walked across the Howrah bridge in Kolkata, visited Mother Teresa’s homes, and spent time at Mennonite Central Committee India and visited several organizations which MCC helped organize but who are now operating on their own, very successfully. We walked past “permanent” homes on the sidewalks that were built of tarps.
  • We viewed a miraculously gorgeous sunrise while on a boat on the Ganga (Ganges) river and watched the ritual of the sacred burning ghats where it is one of the highest honors for a Hindu to be cremated along this holy river.
  • We delighted in the tropics of the southern state of Kerala: the tea and coffee plantations, the spices that grew wild, the fresh fruit and vegetables, the mango and jackfruit trees and the villages with which we were able to interact on a day to day basis with the local people.
  • We sweated through yoga and kalari classes; learned the traditional mural painting and wood-carving techniques; learned how to play tablas (Indian drums); Kathakali dance; and about auravedic medicines.

So, what did we learn?

My guess is that we are all still finding out what we have learned as we experienced so much and interacted with so many wonderful individuals. Some of the things we learned;

  1. … the generosity of the Indian people: their desire to get to know us and to teach us about their culture and country of which they are proud. We experienced the patience people had when we could not speak Hindi very well!!
  2. …a new and deeper appreciation and respect for our Christian beliefs. We have been challenged to figure out how to live out our Christianity daily. We were truly impressed by the way many people in India live out their religious beliefs on a day to day basis.
  3. ...we gained a deep appreciation and understanding for the various religions of India by studying and visiting the most holy places for these religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism. We were able to get to know “real” people who believe strongly in their religion.
  4. …that while there is a large cultural distance between the U.S. culture and the Indian culture, there are also many similarities between us. It is when looking at those similarities that we can truly begin to relate to others of a different culture.
  5. …the importance of flexibility and “going with the flow” as the flow constantly changes!
  6. …how to eat with our hands!
  7. …the process of rice planting: plowing a field behind two water buffalo in mud up to our knees, leveling the field, using a waterwheel to move water from the river to the canal; scooping water from the canal into the fields and then finally planting rice. We will never again look at rice the same and not remember how labor intensive it is to raise.
  8. …the concept of “tea time is everytime.” Dropping everything to make time to sit down with someone and have a cup of tea was something all of would like to do more of, but in the American culture it is hard.

We probably will still continue to process issues such as:

--What does it mean to work for a living?

--What does home mean?

--What does it mean to have enough to live?

--What do we do with the fact that others believe their religion is right? And if we might have been born in India we too might have been brought up Hindu or Muslim or Jain.

--How doe we live out our Christianity on a day to day basis and REALLY make it part of our way of life?

--How do we not get caught up in the “go-go-go” of our society. How do we give ourselves permission to take time to have that cup of tea with someone?


- Kim and Bob Brenneman