Posting by Heidi Bardot
As I sit on the return flight having said “good-bye” to everyone I continue to reflect back on the three weeks in India. Not only was this a class to increase knowledge in other cultures and broaden skills in counseling, but it has been a deep exploration of self. This is one of the intended goals of the class; however, by placing each of us in a new, sometimes vulnerable, at times uncomfortable place, there is amazing introspection and growth that occurs. We have had open, thought-provoking discussions of biases and stereotypes which have led to understanding of where those preconceptions have come from and how to change them. We have felt frustration and vulnerability when unable to be understood due to language or miscommunication. We have seen the poorest who seem to find joy in their life and the richest who feel it is their duty to give back. We have seen those who perpetuate the stereotypes and those who take advantage of them to benefit themselves. But more often I have witnessed connection—connection between classmates who have the courage to step across the racial divide to increase understanding, connection between cultures with authentic friendships, connection with a country and allowing it to feel like home, connection between one human and another recognizing the differences and allowing those differences to enrich rather than divide—the true purpose of social and cultural diversity. I have been extremely proud of our students who took on this journey with courage, enthusiasm, and introspection. They will be better therapists and humans having gone through this experience.
I leave you with one last image of connection in India: it is early evening on the rooftop terrace of our apartment, where 17 people are creating a rangoli/mandala drawing with colored chalk on the terracotta bricks. The image depicts important memories and connections from the trip. Each of us adding to each others’ drawings until it covers the roof in colorful connecting swirls. In the background are the cacophonous honks of horns, the squawking of parrots and crows, and the wind in the palm and mimosa trees. When darkness falls, we gather in a circle and each light a candle stating what we intend to leave behind in India or what we have learned to let go of (i.e., fear, impatience, control), then share our thoughts of leaving and as each person blows out their candle to increasing darkness we state what we intend to take with us upon our return (i.e., courage, patience, appreciation of differences). The last person blows out their candle and we stand in the darkness with the vastness of India surrounding us.