Multiple times during my trip to India I thought about my own environmental impact taking this trip halfway around the world. After all, a big focus of our coursework is about getting people to reduce their impact, change their behavior, and think in a more environmentally conscious way. So wasn’t it a little hypocritical to spend thousands of dollars, take three planes, and who can count how many bus rides to learn about community based conservation in a place that wasn’t even my community? How could I justify my environmental intentions while creating such a huge footprint?
Another theme of our coursework is centered around community. Why did I feel the need to leave my own community to go learn about community based conservation in a completely different culture? Was going on this trip even the right thing to do from an environmental and community conservation based standpoint?
I struggled with this throughout the trip. I kept thinking to myself, “why can’t I connect with people where I actually live?” One night, Brett hit on an interesting idea, that we were all in India because something was missing in our lives back home. At the time it struck me as heartbreakingly true, although I didn’t immediately think about how it applied to my own life. Initially I thought it might have something to do with my lack of spirituality, but it really only clicked for me right now writing this reflection. Maybe I felt the need to leave my home and focus on community based conservation somewhere else because I no longer feel like I have a strong community.
Having grown up on the East Coast my whole life, moving out to the West has been amazing in almost every way. However, it’s been very hard to meet people in my new location, and even harder to get over the thought that I’m just an outsider trying to tell people who’ve been here how to act sustainably or focus on conservation. Identifying and finding a new community has been a real challenge, and maybe that’s part of what drove me to try and learn about communities in a different country.
On one of the last days of the trip, we got to meet with local community members and hear how they are impacting their community. One of the local leaders (I was very bad at writing down names so forgive me wise man for not writing your name here) said that it’s okay to leave but you need to bring what you learn home. This was a profound part of the trip for me and I remember choking up a little bit when he said it. That’s it. Leaving makes sense and is okay as long as you take your knowledge back to where it can be used in your community.
While I’ve still been struggling to find my community back home, I have felt more confident reaching out to new people after my experience in India. Everyone was so welcoming and willing to share as long as you were willing to listen. Maybe this will lead me to my new community back at home.