5 Countries, 5 Insights

2014 was a great year for me – I was able to unearth many dimensions/blind spots of me and became more aware of myself. Happy New Year to all of you!

From a rural and orthodox society in South India to the sophisticated Switzerland, there are so many great experiences that I have encountered and these experiences have shaped me. I am grateful to these experiences and through this post, I want to share my learning from these experiences living in Japan, USA, Sri Lanka, Switzerland and India.

Japan: Japan is the first country that I saw outside India. Everything about this country was an eye opener for me. If you ask who is the great leader from India, we would say Mahatma Gandhi. What about USA? Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln… What about Singapore? Lee Kuan Yew and similarly, every country has their own share of great leaders. I tried to ask this question in Japan when I was studying there. Who led Japan in their transformation after the world war tragedy? I asked many people during my time in Japan. The answer I finally got through my own reflections was ‘Every Japanese’. Japan changed my idea of Leadership. It is not necessarily an individual who creates a vision and drives his followers towards the vision. Here it works like how fish schools and bird flocks work together where everyone leads and follows at the same time. It is magical. in Japan, collective consciousness can be experienced and Japan reminds me of my favorite quote that I learnt from my rowing coach at Wharton ‘The melting of the individual into the collective consciousness is the ultimate realization of the human potential’. I met my wife there and I got a scholarship to study there and this country has given me so much. In fact, I like Japan so much that I named my daughter ‘Midoari’ which means green in Japanese.

United States: I am a claustrophobic and United States is one of the few places where I don’t feel claustrophobic. I don’t feel constrained here in any way – thoughts, feelings, actions.

I lived in the silicon valley in California and in 2001, I was watching a TV show in which there was a program where the anchor was going to different places and asking people ‘why they do what they do?’. One of the subjects was a sex worker and her answer was ‘Because I like it’. I was taken aback. I grew up in a conservative rural town in South India and I had a mental framework of ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ loaded with heavy judgments. If this question was asked in India, the answer would have been ‘i was cheated’, ‘a friend dragged me into this profession’ ‘family circumstances drove me to this job’ etc. and it is perceived as something ‘bad’. I became more aware of how my ‘morality’ is shaped and this experience taught me how I can be myself inspite of the situation. The emphasis on freedom of speech and self expression in this country has helped me to work towards becoming myself and overcome my false identities shaped by external factors.

SriLanka: I knew Srilanka through the great Indian epic of Ramayana and never did I realize that this beautiful island was going to be my mother-in law land. I am fascinated by the beautiful landscape and most importantly, the warmth of the people here. The smile and the warmth that I experience here is the best I have ever seen and this is not driven by any pride for their country, or religion or anything. Srilankans are genuinely warm and their smile is captivating. Before going here, I didnt know that it is basic courtesy to smile at another person when you look at them. When they smiled at me, I used to wonder why they are smiling and whether there was anything wrong with me. It took a while for me to realize that it is a basic courtesy and I became aware that I don’t have a smile in my face. Sri Lanka taught me the power of a smile and helped me to get my basics right.

Switzerland: Switzerland is an incredibly well organized country and I am fascinated by their urban planning, city design where you can get out of a plane and reach home in 40 mins through public transportation, closeness to nature, tastefully designed buildings, focus on outdoors & fitness, extensive and exhaustive public transportation, direct democracy and it will go on forever. What fascinates me beyond everything is the quality of their human capital. Last year, I took 5 driving lessons to familiarize myself with the Swiss traffic conditions. The instructor charged CHF 95 per hour which is unusually high but every day when I finished the class and paid his fee, I felt guilty that I was paying him less. Here was someone who is charging me a fee that is super high but when he delivered the service, I felt that it was very low. Paradoxical! He was so good, so well trained, so much service oriented and he was just giving everything he can. I experienced this on many occasions in different circumstances and I learnt to give more value than what I get. A life lesson!

India: I spent all my formative years and most of my life in this great country. Every day, every moment is an opportunity to learn something new in India. It is simply unpredictable and what is fascinating about India is that we complain all the time about the various challenges on a daily basis when we live here but the moment we leave India, we start missing India.

Last year, we encountered a massive traffic jam in Geneva when one car got stuck in a main area and as a result the whole city was paralyzed. We all had to go back home. If the same thing had happened in India, we would have got atleast 5 different options to go to a destination. The insight for me was this – ‘In the developed world, When things go well, everything goes well. When things don’t go well, nothing goes well’. The traffic jam is one example. We have seen in the past how hurricanes in the US affected daily lives for months. In India, it is slightly the opposite – ‘When things go well, nothing goes well. When things don’t go well, everything goes well’.Even after the bomb blasts in Mumbai, the ‘paani puri’ shops sprung up within a few hours and life became normal in a matter of hours. It is this ‘resilience’ that brings the dynamism to India. I learnt to accept and appreciate ‘Chaos’. Chaos can be beautiful too!

Image Courtesy: media.thenewindianexpress.com; http://www.theatretrain.co.uk/; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/; wikimedia.org; http://images.travelpod.com/

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the author are purely personal and are not related to his organization or affiliates.

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