Wednesday, 24 August 2016

There is no such thing as comfort zone

This article is a little mix of everything that popped up in my mind when I had to reflect upon my current experience in India. I have been living in a rural village of lower Himalayas in Northern India for a few months now, working towards social and sustainable development through micro-finance initiatives and projects, in the framework of an Indian NGO.

When I applied for this experience, I did not know what to expect. From the articles I have read, India is the place where the cultural shock experienced can lead some to severe depression and anxiety. From the pictures I have checked, India is a beautiful country gathering multiple extremes – landscapes, people, smells, colors… – all in one place. From the documentation I was sent before flying over, India is a very much challenging experience. From the endless talks I had with friends and acquaintances here and there, India can be either very traumatic or incredibly marvelous. I therefore ended up having mixed feelings about living in India for a few months, low expectations if any, and one overwhelming urge I couldn’t repress: going there, no matter what, for multiple reasons – experiencing something different from any perspective to challenge myself deeply being the main one I guess.

Fifty shades of outfits: India is partly famous for its bright, flashy, overwhelming colors that turn your perceptions upside down

So I did. I believe the first obvious striking thing in India is the standard difference with the Western industrialized countries that deeply highlights the meaning of comfort zone. Bugs everywhere, daily internet, power and water shortages, sketchy housing, antiquated transportation facilities, strong language barrier, farm animals enjoying your rooftop or terrace while you are working there… The simple fact that comfort is gone for real makes you break out of your comfort zone whether you want it or not. Then, there is the framework I am evolving in. Most of NGOs are grass-root level structures that require a detailed understanding of the community needs in order to work properly. You have to meet the people you are going to work with, talk to them, understand them, and assess their needs and wants not only to define the scope of their problematics, but also to reflect on your options, resources, and abilities to impact them within a sustainable perspective. You are your own manager, entirely independent, and it is all up to you to make the most of your time here.

All of the ideals and hierarchy patterns we are taught and raised in back in our traditional occidental universities or schools seem outdated, misplaced, and irrelevant here. The working style you have acquired so far, and the bubble it’s lingering into can do nothing but blow up out here. You have to think out of the box to cope with a contradictory situation: making things work in a long-run over here, even though being here for a very limited period of time. You have to be innovative and adjust your strategies and approaches towards the people you are working with. You have to attempt, fail, and start again with an improved methodology. Rethink everything you thought you knew, observe and analyze situations to come up with matching projects and processes. Basically, forget everything you knew and learn again.

Traditional flour making: girls of a Himalayan village pounding wheat grains to prep flour, the base ingredient of many Indian dishes, before monsoon starts.

I now must say the comfort zone I had back home is far from me right now, but I do not miss it, as I created a new one here. I enjoy being challenged every day, meeting the community members and listening to their stories, their needs, their lives. I enjoy perfecting my working methods towards them over and over again, and managing an indefinite number of stakeholders that keeps growing whenever an initiative is successful. I enjoy encountering new types of issues raising new ways to improve my social managing skills.

At the end of the day, India not only challenged nor strained me, it grew on me. I have evolved in the way I cope with a given situation. I now believe I can create as many comfort zones as I like to. It is up to you to feel home wherever you are. By taking time to change your perspectives and beliefs, you open yourself to new possibilities and ways to learn. My father used to tell me “there is no problem, but solutions”. Daddy, you were halfway right. This experience taught me there is indeed no problem, but opportunities, taking your statement to the next level. Each issue does have solutions but more than anything else raises opportunities that people have to seize.

When I applied for this experience, I did not know what to expect. When I wake up in the morning, I do not know what the day is going to bring up. But what I do know, is that when I am back in France, I will look for another amazing lifetime experience such as this one, and be grateful for the chance I had to go to India, and break out of my comfort zone in so many ways I realized there is actually no such thing as comfort zone.

Beauty is everywhere you want it to be: the colorful merging of traditions, globalization & wild landscapes can be as surprising as peaceful

Marine Cabrol - France 
MicroFinance Project Manager in Naddi 

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