The Fulbright Pre-Departure Orientation is this week in Washington, DC. I am even more excited after meeting my fellow Fulbrighters who are heading to India, some alumni from past years, the USIEF staff from India and the U.S. State Department staff. There are a number of scholars who are focused on two of my areas of interest - social entrepreneurship and water issues – but, as far as I can tell, I am the only person researching philanthropy in India. The Fulbrighters I've met are interesting, adventurous and engaging. And the USIEF folks work hard at creating a mutually supportive network once we are in country.
I was particularly intrigued by the cross cultural presentation we had. Culture is simply defined as the norms, values and attitudes of a particular people. But culture is fluid. Just when I declare "This is how the Indians do it," there will always be exceptions. India has over a billion people with 22 officially recognized languages and a diverse geography. It is the birthplace of four major religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism – and the third largest Muslim population of any country. So, it is hard to generalize about culture in India. Being aware of and reflective about all the deeper unspoken understandings and often unconscious rules is going to be important to my success in India.
Studies have shown India to be more community oriented than individualistic. This means that "we" is more important than "I" and the influence of family, caste and faith is strong. Decisions may take longer because many people need to be involved and praise should be directed towards teams rather than individuals.
I have tried to do some of this already in my dealings with Indian colleagues. In a recent email exchange, I profusely thanked an individual who replied "I would thank you not to thank me." Then he added in what I thought was a very Hindu response, "I am only doing my duty." So I came back the next week and thanked his whole team for the help they provided.
Of course, I will make many more mistakes along the way. But with humor and humility, I hope that my cultural competency will continue to grow.