I am the type of person that typically likes staying inside my comfort zone, but I have been wanting to change that. So when I was selecting my study abroad program, I wanted to challenge myself to do something different. I wanted to have an experience that would humble me. I wanted to have an experience that would shift my perspective. After completing a 10-day trek, staring into the grandeur of a snow-capped ridge in the Indian Himalayas at 14,700+ feet elevation, I think it is safe to say these criteria have been met.
When we arrived at our first campsite the night before our trek had officially begun, I was excited. As someone who has always had an appreciation for the outdoors, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to spend time amongst one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world. Right away, I had expected to find splendor and tranquillity in my surroundings– and I did. What I didn’t expect so soon was a broader lesson about culture and humanity that I came to know the very first morning of the hike.
For the first day of the trek, I volunteered to be a designated leader. As designated leader, I would ensure the group’s water drums were filled, manage lesson and departure times and ultimately guide a small group on that day’s hike (with the help of Gaurav) among other responsibilities. Immediately after leaving the campsite, we headed up a steep incline that brought us to a small village. G turned to me once we reached the top and suggested that I ask a local for directions. At first I was thinking to myself things like “why me?” “I don’t know Hindi” “how could I possibly gather information meaningful to me from someone who doesn’t speak my language?”. But G assured me he would be there to help translate, and he rehearsed and few phrases with me so that I could initiate the conversation. Shortly after, I approached a woman who was standing outside of her home. Even though G had told me what to say, I was still anxious. What if I said something wrong or offensive?
Sure enough, the woman understood my broken Hindi and kindly offered directions on how to proceed on the trail, which G interpreted. I was grateful for her patience as I stumbled on my words, and wanted to thank her for her help. That’s when I turned to G and said “how can I thank her?”. “Say ‘dhanyavaad’, ” he said, and so I did. But G didn’t stop there with his instructions. He further explained that I should join my hands together in front of my chest as I said it. I expressed my thanks a second time with the addition of this gesture and the woman’s demeanor lifted even further. A warm smile came over her face, and she swiftly moved to embrace me. In that moment I could tell I had done something important.
In America, we say thanks someone who takes our money for things we buy at the store. We thank the person who only casually asks how we are doing. We say “thanks, have a good day!” to the police officer who just gave us a speeding ticket. Like the period at the end of a sentence, saying thank you marks the end of a transaction, an end of a conversation, or an end of an interaction. I learned that saying thank you in Hindi is more like joining a cycle of exchange rather than exiting, creating a possibility of a new relationship, and is an ask for the opportunity to return a favor.
This simple interaction was one of the most impactful moments that took place over the duration of the trip for me. It helped me realize the overwhelming power in language, which is something I have not taken all that much time to consider in the past. The words we chose create an incredible range of emotions and feelings, which quite often can be drastic as someone loving their life and sabotaging it. This experience served as a reminder of the immense impact our words can have on others.