Why did you choose this program?
I have always wanted to go to India, and it is one of the few places I was too frightened to visit on my own. I love traveling, and the philosophy of ethical travel, and curbing your tourism in a more positive and authentic impact really appealed to me.
Ethical tourism is something I have always been concerned about and considered, but something which I never really knew how to implement. Gender and religion are two issues which have always interested me, especially in the Indian context, so I was really glad to find a program that could teach about these issues and ethical tourism all in one.
We were given lots of support throughout the process, and I would highly recommend it to anyone up for a bit of adventuring.
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
Since I am from England and this was a Canadian organization, I had to organize most of the admin, such as flights and visas, on my own. This was perhaps a little frustrating at times but fostering this kind of independence and initiative is far from a bad thing, particularly when going into a country like India and for a trip where we had to spend over a week traveling independently.
When it came to cultural awareness and ensuring we were behaving and dressing appropriately for the new culture we were in, we were given lots of support both before and during the trip. We were also given plenty of support and information about our health as we were adjusting to the new diet and new climate, with significantly different regulations to the West.
The time difference was often difficult to work around but I was usually able to contact them at a different time and date to ensure I had all the information.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
As cheesy as it sounds, go in with an open mind. The world isn't nearly as frightening or terrifying as we think it is. As long as you use common sense and stay aware, you can explore the new culture with ease.
There will be hundreds of people waiting to scam you around every corner, but there will simultaneously be even more wanting to help you, especially in India. The key skill to master is telling these people apart, and the only way you can do that is by throwing yourself in and making these mistakes.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
Since we were traveling around North India, there was no real average day. A week would loosely involve talking with the local organization which we were working with, and participating in talks and activities they had set up for us, or doing some volunteering, again in circumstances and places they had organized for us.
We would have several hours of free time in a day too, to run errands, go exploring, or to just relax. A few days a week, we would also have discussions and activities surrounding issues related to our program, such as voluntourism, environmentalism, or using animals for tourism, to name a few.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
Some of my biggest fears involved getting really sick, and the stress causing a bit of a breakdown of my mental health, both of which did actually happen on the trip. Both of these were things I could not control which was the thing that was particularly scary.
Support from my team and pure willpower were the only real things I had to help me overcome it. While unpleasant at times, this fostered an incredible sense of mental strength and pride in myself.
Getting sick in India is inevitable and unpleasant. A mental health episode is less so. India is an incredibly stressful and overwhelming environment, so I would encourage anyone with mental health issues to take these into account before throwing themselves into this. While I had a fantastic time in spite of this, I would still advise caution.