Travel is fatal to prejudice

Chelsea MuennichowUniversity of California, Berkeley


“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. Broad, wholesome, charitable views cannot be acquired by vegetating in one’s little corner of the universe.” – Mark Twain

This quote has resonated in my mind since the day I first encountered it. Not only am I constantly reminded to be open-minded and accepting of all cultures I encounter, but I am also constantly seeking new experiences and adventures to broaden my horizons and open my eyes to different cultures and traditions than my own. I was driven to come to India for a two-month internship for more reasons than I can number. The first would be my unending passion for traveling, for experiencing new foods, interacting with new peoples, seeing sights I have only ever dreamed of or read about in my history books. But my desire to visit India stems deeper than this. I have always had a strong interest in Indian religion, and culture, ever since I began my yoga teacher training and began studying Buddhist thought in India, as well as studying different Sanskrit mantras. The ancient tradition and wisdom of yoga, auryvedic traditions, and Indian religions have always fascinated me. I have wanted to visit this magically chaotic place ever since I can remember. Specifically within the scope of this internship, I have always had a passionate interest in global medicine. I have traveled to Honduras in the past to set up medical clinics for individuals who had never before seen doctors, and spent time studying hospitals in China. Having the opportunity to complete valuable clinical research in a hospital in Eastern India has challenged me in many ways, and has been exactly what I was searching for intellectually, socially, and emotionally.

I have heard it said there is culture shock, and then there is India. Despite having visited quite exotic locations in the past, India has opened my eyes to another world in ways I could never have predicted in my wildest dreams. The second I stepped foot in Mumbai I was instantly greeted with wafting aromas of Indian spices and magnificently colored sarees adorning women—alluding to a not-forgotten traditional past. India is a place where cows have right of way on the road—yes, even over people—and where you can wake up on a sleeper train to Agra to find an Indian family sitting on your legs because whereas you rented yourself an entire bunk to sleep on, they rented themselves one bunk for all eight of them. (Although you will later find that they are really sweet, and they will ask to take pictures with you and for you to speak English with their little children to help them practice and you will move over and share your bunk with them and eat biscuits together). It is a place where while on a ferry admiring a young woman’s adorably chubby baby, you will suddenly find her hand the baby to you to hold and play with for the remaining duration of the two hour ferry ride. It is a place sweet and salty, dirty and chaotic yet beautiful and ornate. It is a place where culture has been uniquely preserved over thousands of years, in the language, in the traditions of the people, in the food, in their clothing, jewelry, in the bindis worn on the little babies’ heads. I am so grateful for this opportunity to expand my influence as an individual and broaden my perspective and insight to a land so foreign to me that before I had only visited it in my wildest dreams. I equally grateful for the ability this internship has given me to shape and change my perspective on peoples and ways of life around the world. I will carry with me what I have learned here for the rest of my life, and view the world through a novel lens of newly acquired eyes. Until we meet again, India.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” –Marcel Proust