Pre-Departure Letter from Michelle
Having spent four months with the Brahma to Buddha program in India over the past year or so, I have some recommendations that I wanted to share with you before you depart for India on February 18…
These are fairly simple things to do or keep in mind that can really help to make your time in India more enjoyable and make you a more culturally sensitive traveler.
1) Packing hints: Culturally appropriate clothing. What does this mean? When you are packing for this program it is really important that you bring clothes that will be both comfortable and suitable to the locations we are going to.
For female students this means loose fitting shirts that have sleeves at least the length of a usual t-shirt. Shirts that have spaghetti straps, are sleeveless, tight-fitting, or mid-riff baring are not appropriate and can lead to troubles that can almost certainly be avoided by more conservative dress. If you wear pants that have a low-waist line you need to have shirts long enough to cover your mid-riff. If you wear a skirt, it should be at least to your knees.
For male students it is best to have pants and shirts with short sleeves as well. Local men in India almost never wear shorts and if you wear them it will set you apart in a way that is not helpful.
For all students:
It is important that your clothes be clean (no holes, stains, etc.).
In Ladakh and Dharamsala you will want some warm clothes, and you’ll probably want a pair of nylon, lined sweats for trekking or doing yoga too. (You can buy warm, used clothes inexpensively in Ladakh and you might want to just plan on bringing an extra $20-$25 US to buy a winter jacket and extra layers as warm clothes are bulky to carry around)
Jeans are not always the best traveling pants for India, but some of the fall students brought some and found having a pair to be useful, so you might want to consider this. A variety of cotton pants can be bought easily and inexpensively in India. Jeans are available too, but it might be hard to find styles you like, so if you have a favorite pair of jeans or parachute pants, bring ‘em along.
Remember that having a light weight long sleeved shirt or two to wear in the warmer regions during the dusk to dawn phase when malarial mosquitoes may be around is important.
If you don’t have clothes that meet these criteria…. go buy some or bring money to get some as soon as we arrive. Your clothes are a huge part of the first impression you will make on people and in some cases will determine how you will be treated. The culturally sensitive clothing issue is especially important, please don’t arrive in India with a backpack full of tight-fitting t-shirts or short skirts as this really makes a bad impression and is also very likely to lead to harassment.
2) Get a journal (a spiral notebook is fine) and start writing in it soon! What are your hopes and dreams regarding participating in this program? What do you expect it will be like? What do you think you will learn? It will be interesting for you to think about these issues before we meet as a group and begin orientation on February 16th. Answers to some of these questions will be good to talk about when we first meet and are getting to know one another.
3) Have you read any of the books on the recommended list yet? Viewed any movies? Please do this! In terms of films, at the very least watch Gandhi and Kundun (the life story of His Holiness the Dalai Lama) or Tibet, Cry of the Snow Lion. Doing some pre-departure reading is important. You will learn a lot when you arrive in India and are immersed in the culture, but you will have an enormous head start and will adapt easier if you have a better understanding of what to expect before you get there.
If you don’t have time to read a lot pick at least a couple books to get your started: for example, Holy Cow, An Indian Adventure, by Sarah MacDonald or Pilgrimage to India: A Woman Revisits Her Homeland, by Pramila Jayapal are both easy reads that are first person accounts of travels in India, including to the regions you will soon be visiting. If you would like other recommendations of good reads feel free to contact me and I’d be happy to talk to you about your interests and books/films that you might enjoy before we go (or buy to bring along and read on the plane or in the early days of our program).
The Lonely Planet guides (both the all-India book and the Northern India book) have a wealth of information about places we will be going and also good general background about the culture, history, language etc. You might want to consider getting one of these and reading the all the introductory sections as well as the regional descriptions of the places we’ll be going.
4) Just a reminder: Global LAB has a no drugs and alcohol policy. This is for your own safety and the safety of the group. If you think you might not be able to make it three months without using drugs or alcohol you should not come. Please arrive completely committed to abiding by this policy.
5) If you have not been active recently--change this! We will be walking a lot during the first days in New Delhi and throughout the program. Trekking in Ladakh is particularly physically challenging and you want to be in shape for this. Go for walks, do aerobics, find some way to increase your fitness level before you head for India, and it’ll make it a lot easier once you get there. Once you are all packed try walking a while with your full pack! If you can’t carry your pack comfortably around the block, you are going to have trouble walking from the train station to the guest house, etc. You may need to pare down your bag or practice walking with a pack to get used to it.
On the issue of fitness/wellness: if you are a smoker, before going to India might be a good time to quit. In the high altitude areas it will be hard to breathe or move around easily until you acclimatize… if you smoke the altitude adaptation is harder and the trek especially will likely be more difficult for you. Also, virtually no Indian women smoke, so if you are female and a smoker, this will draw attention to you in a very unfavorable way.
6) Did your doctor prescribe a preventative malarial medication for you? If so, check this carefully as some medications you need to start weeks before you arrive in a location that has malaria. Be sure to take care of this (and all health needs) in a timely way. If you take any medications on an on-going basis, try to get a three month supply as getting prescriptions re-filled could be difficult in some places. We recommend you NOT get Larium prescribed as it has some very bad side effects for some people and there are safer alternatives.
7) If you have any questions, do not hesitate to get in touch with me. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or if you’d prefer to talk on the phone we can work that out too (you can call me at Global LAB’s tollfree number: 800 984 4522). I am looking forward to meeting you soon for pre-travel orientation beginning on Feb 16! You will all be receiving a call from one of the program directors in the two weeks before our program begins, but if you want to talk sooner, just give me a ring…
Director of Programs
PS- If parents want to get in touch with me, that is fine too. I have three teenaged children (all have traveled in Asia on group programs in recent years; in fact my fourteen year old daughter spent a month in Sri Lanka and India this past January…). I am glad to talk with parents about any pre-departure concerns they might have about sending their sons and daughters so far away!