At CUSSW, we are taught that self-awareness is essential to social work practice. It helps us identify our biases, develop our identity as practitioners and better understand the communities we live in and work alongside. With this in mind, I’ve been thinking about my relationship to Padaverdu (the village we live in), to SST (the host organization) and to India as a whole.
What is my role as both outsider and helping professional? We’ve spent two weeks becoming familiar with SST and the surrounding villages, but like any society the nuances and customs which define a culture are intricate. Right now, I see my role as observer, soaking in information and seeking understanding. I am not sure how my social work education relates to a rural context but by observing community development in practice, I see the importance of relationship-building, trust and cooperation.
Clearly, I stand out as a foreigner here. Everything from my size 10 sandals to my bright red hair sets me apart from those around me. I knew that people would be curious about me just as I was curious about them, but I had never felt the scrutiny that comes with being analyzed. At first, I felt ambiguous about my “otherness.” I was uncomfortable being examined, but wasn’t the very reason I came to India to study another culture? Although I look very unusual here, it’s curiosity which has overcome this difference.
I am learning that showing interest and demonstrating respect earn you some serious outsider "brownie" points. If this means I need to clear my plate regardless of what or how much is put before me, then by all means pile it on. The more I ask, the more people answer. The more Tamil I mispronounce, the more people laugh and gently correct me. At first I worried about being too intrusive or butchering the language but it honestly does not matter, as long as I show enthusiasm and demonstrate care.