The Dangers of The First Impression

Leonie Tollefson - India


September 27, 2018

Namaste, I’m in India! I’ve been in Pune for about a month now, and it has
truly been an incredible experience so far, and I still have 7 months to go!

As many of you know, I am taking part in a gap year immersion program
called Global Citizen Year. It involves living with a host family for 8
months, and apprenticing at Teach for India, an education non-profit. When
deciding what to do for my gap year, it was such a tough call whether to do
a program or independent travel as I’m used to. I wanted to push myself to
really grow as a person this year- spiritually and emotionally, so I knew I
would need some guidance, and that’s where GCY comes in.

In the first week or so, India had made quite an impression on me. However,
first impressions can be quite deceiving, as I’ve found it as time went on.
I went into this trip hoping to have no expectations, and therefore no
disappointments and lots of room for growth. However, I’ve learned to hold
some expectations for myself, such as curiosity before judgement, and that
has allowed me to debunk some of my first impressions.

First Impression: Disorganized

As soon as we stepped out of the Pune Airport, I saw people everywhere.
People and cars and shops and things, seemingly in places they didn’t
belong. We boarded our bus and got some flowers and then headed off to
CDSA, where we’d be spending the first week. When we got there, we trekked
up a muddy hill. Throughout the first week, we had sessions about India,
language learning, and lots of meditation. Schedules were constantly
shifting and people were late. All of this led me to believe that India was
disorganized. However, I quickly made a distinction between disorganized
and organized differently. My host family asked me if I thought India was
disorganized the other day, and I had come to realize that I no longer felt
this way. Nothing was on time, that’s true, and people, cars, and animals
are everywhere, that’s also true, but it works for them. It’s not the
westerners way, but it is the way it is, and I’ve adapted to looking 6 ways
when crossing the road and expecting things to start a few minutes later
than scheduled (good thing too, because I’m rarely on time). If you have
the mindset that India is disorganized, you’ll always be frustrated that
things aren’t the way you’re used to, so I let this impression go.

First Impression: Loud

Pune is a city with 3 million people in it, and it feels like there is just
as many rickshaws as that on a single street honking at times. There is
always a stray dog barking in the distance, or a person singing, or people
chatting. In other words, it is never silent. The first week, I could
hardly stand it. I craved some peace, and I found some. CDSA is a center on
the outskirts of Pune, but even there we can hear the endless traffic.
However, there were also countless green trees and flowers and birds. So I
recreated my definition of peace, and it didn’t involve utter silence.
Living in a city like this means you have to live with noise, because I
can’t dispute the fact that India is loud. I learned to live without
silence, and appreciate even more the moments where I find a quietness rare
in Pune. Eventually, I stopped craving the quiet, and let this impression
go too.

First Impression: Religious

When I arrived at my host family in my second week, I knew that I would fit
in well here. A few days in and we were celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi, a
festival celebrating Ganesh, the Hindu god of prosperity and wisdom.
Temples are erected and idols can be seen in every home, complete with a
set of daily rituals and offerings. He stays for 3, 5, or 10 days,
depending on the home, before being immersed in water on the last day as he
returns to the elements that created him. Pune is the birthplace of this
festival, so believe me when I say it was big. On the first day, we went
into the city to see the main temple procession as Ganesh was placed, which
involved carts pulled by colorful ox, lots of marigold flowers, drums, and
singing “Morya!”. Afterwards, I went home and my host family and I set up
our own idol, sang a prayer, ate some moduk (Ganesh’s favorite food! It’s a
coconut dumpling!), and then went to the extended family’s house to do it
all again! Some family’s idols are way more extravagant than ours was, but
they all are there to honor Ganesh. On days 3-5 of the festival, the woman
get together as it’s believed that Ganesh’s sisters come to visit him on
these days. My family stopped celebrating on Day 5, but most of the city
continues until the 10th when a procession brings Ganesh back to the water.
It is a truly beautiful festival. It also led me to believe that India is a
very religious place, but the really cool thing about the Ganesh festival
is that it isn’t just celebrated by Hindus. It was created to unite all
people despite caste or religion during the British rule, and it still
remains a festival for all people. I dropped my impression of religious,
and decided it was much more of a beautiful spiritual tradition. The
festival unites family, friends, and strangers, and I think that makes it
so much more than a religious holiday.

First Impression: Dirty

The first time I walked into the Pune city center, I noticed trash. It was
everywhere, on the streets, in the rivers, on sidewalks. I carefully
stepped around it and went about my day. As time went on, I became less and
less aware of it, and more aware of how hard Pune is trying to combat it.
The Green initiative can be seen all around Pune, from the paper straws, to
wooden spoons, to the banning of plastic Ganesh idols in the city. I didn’t
think I would be able to find a peaceful, clean park in the city, but I was
so wrong! There are so many beautiful green spaces in Pune, and the Pune
Okayama Friendship Garden is definitely on the list! It is so quiet and
gorgeous, and it’s right near the city center! I also learned more about
single use waste products, such as food packaging and toiletry packets,
that are made specifically like this so they can be cheap and easily
accessible to lower income populations. I dropped my impression of thinking
India was dirty because I could see all the progress it was making in this
field as well.

The main thing I’ve learned in India so far is that first impressions can
be completely false- and set a dangerous precedent. If I held on to any of
these impressions, I would be forever frustrated that India isn’t living up
to my expectations. By letting them go, I am opening myself up to new
experiences and allowing myself to enjoy India the way it is today.

I started my apprenticeship this week, so stay tuned in the next blog post
to the ups and downs of working in an Indian government school! It has been
eye-opening to say the least, and it’s only been 4 days!

With love,

Leonie

For more pictures and the full blog post, visit my blog
www.livingcuriously.blog.



Leonie Tollefson