About the time you start packing your bags for your trip to India, the question dawns on you.
What am I doing?
Maybe it’s clear for you. You are training some colleagues. You are finding some suppliers. You are volunteering. You are choosing a vendor. You are attending a conference. (Do make sure you have the right visa for each of these!)
However, when you return and start unpacking your bags, you might suddenly realize the trip wasn’t as obviously successful as you thought it was. No one seems to be doing the things you trained them on. No one is replying to your repeated emails. All the processes you put in place seem to be falling apart.
You are left with a few pictures and a sinking feeling in your stomach that the trip was wasted.
Before you prepare for your next trip to India, remember this:
The absolute, primary goal of any short-term trip to India is to establish and build relationships.
But I’m just supposed to do my training. But I’m just there to distribute some goods. But I’m just there to listen to a speaker.
It doesn’t matter. These things may or may not happen, but they will never happen apart from good relationships.
How do you know your India trip was a success? You came home with a nice stack of visiting cards. You had a meal inside someone’s home. Someone posted pictures of you to their Facebook page. You know the names of the children of your most important team members.
Any trip to India must be primarily about getting into someone’s circle, or staying there. You need to meet people. Build relationships. Learn names. Learn families. See their network. Offer favors. Request favors. Do whatever you can to create a web that you can rely on when you come back from your trip. #See1See100
Other tips for getting the most out of your trip:
1) Don’t fuss about being treated like royalty. You will receive gifts. You will never open a door for yourself. The entire office will shut down when they realize it is your birthday. You will be offered enormous amounts of food. You will be forced to cut the queue at lunch to get your food first. You will be draped with a shawl.
If you come from a culture where these things make you uncomfortable, then learn to live with being uncomfortable for a while. It is much more important that you receive their acts of hospitality with graciousness.
But I don’t want to send the wrong message that I am more important than anyone else.
If you reject their hospitality, the message you are actually sending is that you do not appreciate it, and that they have failed to welcome you. You are robbing them of the honor of honoring you. You are the guest, not the teacher. Just accept it, enjoy it, and laugh about it later. #PowerPlays
2) Learn the hierarchies. As much as you might not like to think about it, it is best to aim your relationship building for the top. You might make fantastic friends with the freshers because you enjoy talking with young people. However, when you are back home and trying to get someone to follow up on a new project, it will be the conversation you had with the senior manager about his trip to Japan that will end up making the difference and getting the right strings pulled. You want friends in high places.
3) Keep your agenda as lean and simple as possible. You can create a plan to accomplish a 16-point agenda on your trip, but don’t be surprised if only two items get done. Meetings run late, appointments get cancelled, traffic slows down, the monsoon comes early. There are too many uncertainties to carry out everything.
Prioritize your agenda, and choose the one or two absolute most important outcomes. Focus all of your time on relationships building, and then these one or two things.
4) Trust people on the ground to do work for you. You cannot do India alone. You don’t know all the rules and how things get done. Let other people take up as much work as they are willing to do for you. It is not worth it to try to do something like book your own train ticket if you have never done it. You will waste too much of your time trying to learn the chaos of India, when you could be using it doing something more productive (like building relationships).
5) Don’t say anything dumb. Avoid common taboo topics in conversation. If you are always the funny guy in your home culture, remember that humor doesn’t always translate. Make sure you understand their humor very well before you try to use it. When in doubt, be sincere and direct. Avoid sarcasm, irony, and facetiousness. #ThinSkinned
6) Delay your judgment of cultural norms. Your two-week trip to India is not the time to start a crusade based on your limited knowledge of the caste system. You probably do not understand the depth of the issue and will come across as offensive to someone. Just observe cultural differences, and leave any judgment for a later time when you know more and you’ve had time to reflect.
A short-term trip to India can be a great experience, but it can also be a huge waste if you forget these things. Above all, remember that the only way to survive and thrive in India is to establish great relationships. Focus on that, and you will be able to ride out any thing that comes your way.
Anyone else have any tips for the short-term traveler? Or better yet, stories to tell?