INDIA = POLAND? Or why I did NOT experience a major cultural shock.

Aleksandra SzypowskaUniversity of Cambridge


People would warn me when I told them of my plans to undertake an internship in India: ‘You’re going to a wild country, where streets are covered with layers of dirt.’ ‘Why don’t you go to the States? It’s a much better opportunity!’ ‘You will be surrounded by the poor and see a most severe hardship. Why putting yourself through this?’

And I do admit there is a lot of truth to some of these statements: the poverty around is heartbreaking, wages are ludicrously low, and indeed the piles of undisposed rubbish lay as far as the horizon. Yet, I feel quite like home. And this is because – surprisingly – I kind of have seen all this already…

How come?

Poor household; little wage in spite of everyday toil; a well with a crank instead of running water; a bowl instead of a bathroom; meals and tea prepared on a cook stove; a privy with a huge hole in the ground rather than a neat toilet with a flush; domestic animals roaming pretty much wherever they please.

That’s how rural India looks like in a nutshell.

But that is also the rural Poland of my childhood.

Little village in the Mazovia region; early nineties. A little girl playing with a tender guard dog; trying (with no success) to make friends with stray cats; cautiously breaking the ban on entering the mysterious dark barn. My great grandmother taking care of the household and the fields with her own hands – no complex machines, no combine harvesters. Each of my early summers looked just like this.

This reminiscence not only prevented me from the cultural shock but also, in a way, reassured me. For seeing the harsh conditions which the people have to endure here, I cannot but hope that there is a realistic chance to gradually make it better.

All in all, Poland was in a similar place, too, after the revolution of 1989. I probably belong to the last generation to remember it. Our Polish countryside needed about two decades and a lot of EU support to evolve into a modernised and up-to-date industry (though, of course, many changes are still underway). Hopefully, then, there is a chance for rural India, too: the government resources are there, the support from companies like Tata is there – all that we need now is patience, time, and the will to embrace the change for the better.

Step by step both Poland and India will get there.