Trail of Perseverance

Have you confronted different cultural and ethical norms while abroad? How are you managing working with these differences?

We are staying in a rather western style location here at the Hanifl Centre, so we have not been super immersed in Indian culture, however our Indian guides have given us a taste as to what their culture is all about. One of the biggest differences I have noticed was that they tend to speak much more indirectly compared to Americans, who seem to not know what you are thinking or feeling unless it is directly stated. During our lessons, our guides (particularly Shantanu) deliver messages using metaphors or personal stories. For me it is almost a way of saying, “this is how I interpret your thoughts as it relates and reminds me of when I did ____.” At the beginning, I found it incredibly hard to follow, but as I talk to him, I realize that it is a brilliant way of speaking. It not only ensures that they are deeply trying to interpret your message, but it is also a way of understanding how other people understand what you are saying. I learn more about Shantanu even when I am talking about myself. 

We also had a bit of time to go to a nearby market and we also passed many small villages during our trek. During our shakedown, we learned that it is common for small villages to openly accept guests or backpackers on their property as long as you ask respectfully and offer your kindness as well. We met a local and he immediately accepted all 15 of us on his property and walked us all the way to an area he felt was suitable for us. We shared our dinner with him (and his adorable puppy) and he left us for the night to get comfortable on his land. This is never something that would exist in America. In fact, some people in America get shot for simply pulling into the wrong driveway. It is not the norm to accept locals, as strangers are viewed as dangerous. But here, locals have welcomed us with open arms even when most of the people on his property did not speak his language. He gave us kind smiles, gestured to take pictures, and admired us as we watched the sunset over the mountains. I figured the culture shock may get difficult, but these interactions with both our guides and the locals have made me more comfortable than I would be at any strange property in the United States. 

Can leaders ever follow other people—or do they always need to lead? Why or why not?

The only way for a leader to truly grow is if they follow other leaders. I believe that leaders need to recognize the importance of following others as it fosters a culture of collaboration, empowers individuals, and leads to more effective decision-making. While leaders are often associated with being at the forefront, setting the direction, and making the big decisions, it is essential for them to also listen to the people around them. By following others, leaders create an inclusive environment where diverse perspectives are valued, and enable teams to work together towards a shared vision. I think this helps foster creativity, innovation, and honesty as all people feel heard and respected. Leaders who follow other people demonstrate humility and a willingness to acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers. By actively seeking input and insights from their team members, they can tap into a wealth of collective knowledge, resulting in more informed and well-rounded decisions. In essence, leaders who embrace the act of following others build stronger relationships, foster a collaborative atmosphere, and ultimately achieve greater success for the groups that they lead. 

What are you looking forward to on the upcoming trek? What are your anxieties/concerns and how will you predict addressing these?

I am a bit anxious about this longer trek as I was clearly the slowest and struggled the most on the shakedown. We are now carrying significantly more weight so I feel like it may present its own challenges. Additionally, the elevation gain may be even more difficult on my already failing lungs. I hope that the team is able to be patient with me, especially since we had a bit of conflict on the shakedown. I also know that we may be splitting our group in half so that it can be more manageable, and I am hoping it does not divide our group at all. However, we took the time last night to talk about our concerns on the trip without the presence of our guides and teachers and I believe it was productive. I know that the stresses of this difficult trip has the potential to bring at the best and the worst in people, so I am hoping we are all able to look back on the conversation we had to ensure that we are all there for each other.