The foreigner stood out in the crowd, her face red from the sun and sweat clearly beading on her forehead. She stood bewildered at a busy intersection, overwhelmed by the general cacophony, looking across the street at the teeming traffic. Every possible space was occupied: vendors selling a variety of merchandise and food, stray dogs and people napping in the heat of the afternoon, new and ancient cars, and oceans of scooters and bikes. There were actual stoplights at this articular intersection but the signals were not even taken as a suggestion – chaos reigned. As she stood there, an old woman took pity on her and grabbed her hand, leading her across the road. Slowly but surely, the traffic parted around the two women and they crossed the street unharmed. With a few short phrases and some hand gestures, the foreigner thanked the woman, who simply smiled and crossed back to the other side.
That foreigner who needed help crossing the street? That was me, and it was my first week in India, one of many exchanges I had over the last 6 months. During that time, I immersed myself in a host of cultures and countries via INCAE’s foreign exchange programs. I was searching for new ways of thinking, adventures, and inspiration on how to work and live better, and INCAE’s programs here at home and abroad provided me with the framework to do just that.
“The exchanges that I took made me question my beliefs and the way I learn and interact with the world”
The concept of studying abroad or going “on exchange” is straightforward, but the experience is not. It means so much more than simply studying in a different classroom with students from various cultures. I believe that the experience should be about recognizing and appreciating differences in cultures in order to obtain a more nuanced picture of the world. For instance, I discovered that a character-based language can convey so much more history and meaning than our simple alphabet can, which made me less frustrated when trying to learn Mandarin. I also learned that the Hindi language does not have a clear observation of past or future tense which makes their understanding of time so different than ours (but also contributes to my understanding of why no one is on time). By observing another’s way of doing something, and knowing some of the reasons behind it, you not only have a better understanding but utilize that understanding to your own benefit.
An exchange student should serve as an ambassador of his/her school but also his/her own culture. In fact, we are all ambassadors of our culture and school as we move into the workforce and into the future, carrying both the limitations and advantages that this holds. More exposure to the world necessarily means taking in and appreciating how others operate and think. Of course, you don’t have to abandon your own values and beliefs; but nor should you simply use your existing experience as a standard to which all others should be measured.
The exchanges that I took made me question my beliefs and the way I learn and interact with the world. It isn’t necessary to have gone through an exchange program to gain this growth, though it offers an easy method to do so. It is up to you to seek out and learn from others every day and to continue to pursue growth that will enrich your life. Each one of us must challenge ourselves to think beyond our own bubble: not only to challenge our own assumptions, but those of others.
The woman’s kindness in helping me cross the road stuck with me. We should follow her lead in enriching the lives of others and dismantling the preconceptions each of us holds, even in the smallest ways.
"Article published by INCATRAZ Student Newspaper, 9th edition".