There’s no dearth of books and very learned people out there extolling the many virtues of travel; meeting new people, experiencing different cultures, being one with nature and all that good stuff! Having moved to the US about a year ago, I’ve had the chance to affirm much of that first hand. I’ve felt amazingly at home in New York. After witnessing a sheer powerhouse of talent on stage in a mere 2 hours, I’ve been totally converted into a lifelong Broadway fan. I’ve moved open-mouthed through the museums in Washington D.C. wishing I could’ve seen this as a kid!! A beautiful bouquet of memories. But most of all, I’ve been surprised at the prejudices that I’ve discovered within myself as I move through these new and strange cities.
Think you know yourself as a person…look again!
I grew up in a liberal, upper middle class family and I’ve always considered myself to be a kind and open-minded person. But sometimes it takes a new perspective to reveal a side of you that you never knew existed. Encountering new people and cultures here have left me with the realization that, at least in my thoughts, I can be really superficial, shallow, prudish and sometimes even racist.
A person is more than just their looks
I’ve encountered more obesity in America than ever before. I found myself being shocked; instinctively reaching for the stereotype of the lazy, fast-food guzzling American. Never mind that science is beginning to show how some people are just naturally prone to gaining weight. It might not necessarily be something they can control simply by diet and exercise. It’s not only strangers that are subject to this shallow viewpoint. Sometimes when I hear about people getting hitched, my knee-jerk thought is one of surprise.“They actually managed to find someone who wants to spend their life with them, despite their looks”. I always thought of myself as someone who doesn’t judge people by their looks. Lord knows, I’m no beauty myself and I never expected that someone could fall in love with me. Despite being proven wrong (luckily), I guess my shallow views about beauty and self-worth have never truly changed.
Your life…your choices
My first encounter with an openly gay person happened in the US. One day as I was walking down the road, I passed by a person dressed as a drag queen. The entire time, I was wondering what’s the “politically correct” thing to do. Should I smile? Should I ignore him like I would any other stranger on the street? Definitely shouldn’t stare! I’m pretty sure my confusion was clearly visible to him. I always thought that I’m totally cool with homosexuality. Yet when faced with a seemingly garish display of their sexuality, I couldn’t take it in my stride. Logically I know that I’m being petty. If the positions were reversed, I’d probably be really mad at people passing judgement on me just because of the way I dress or my choices of a partner. It’s a classic case of not practicing what you preach.
You are not your color
One of the most shocking revelations was my closet racism. My heart has skipped a beat while walking home alone at night if a colored person passed me by! I had second thoughts about getting into an Uber to the airport late at night because of the color of the driver. It’s the height of hypocrisy considering that from an American standpoint, I myself am a person of color!
Caution….work in progress!
All of these thoughts have left me deeply disappointed with myself. It is scary to think that despite my “liberal” upbringing, I’ve subconsciously been carrying around stereotypes about people. Not to mention, that all of this is in an American context and therefore much easier for me to spot. There probably are similar stereotypes that were at play in India which I never caught on to, because it’s a lot subtler. My only consolation is in the fact that I haven’t yet let these thoughts influence my actions or my behavior (not that I know of at least).
Travel is a learning experience, not only because you see new things, but also because you get to see yourself through different lenses. After enjoying the perks of being part of the “majority” voice in India all my life, it’s the first time I’m experiencing the flip side; being an outsider and a minority. Having my world “flipped” hasn’t been the most comfortable experience, but it has left me a little more sensitive to the experiences of the people who seem “different” than me. It is an experience I would highly recommend to each and every one out there.
About The Author:
Namrata Iyer is a researcher by day and a blogger/freelance writer in her free time. She is a movie, music and dance fanatic whose grand plan in life is simply being happy!