Americans, Canadians, Maltese, Germans, French, and Indians from other states were among the few that were a part of the diverse community at the International Rotary Youth Leadership Awards three day residential workshop. The place was far from home – at a natural and refreshing setting in Panchgini, India. At the very outset, the place and my enthusiasm accorded with the participants I was about to meet.
After the preliminary session, I was excited to meet a lot of new people and engage in several leadership enhancing activities over the next two days. In about ten minutes after the session, I was able to make five new friends. Four of them were Indians, while one was a Canadian. His name was Nicola. Given my interest in watching English television shows, I was able to grasp his accent quite comfortably. But there was one thing I wasn’t able to grasp that day. While walking towards our residence building; I casually put my hand over his shoulder. He jumped my hand off and exclaimed ‘That’s gay!’ I wasn’t sure whether he was serious or was it out of fun. In India, it’s quite acceptable and common to put your hand over your male friend’s shoulder and walk around casually. It just shows your affection and friendship. I did not ask him for an explanation that day. I rather apologized on the spot, considering that maybe it was his background that made him react that way. Over the next two days; I did not expect his interaction. Yet I respected his thoughts in every way.
With previous day’s experience still fresh, the next day offered its own unique challenge. After breakfast, all the participants headed towards the field. We were allocated in different groups – consisting of 10 members each. Each group was provided ten wooden sticks and few woolen threads. Using only the provided resources, we were asked to create a structure where in maximum group members can accommodate. The structure would be later tested for its strength by dragging it up to a distance of 1 meter. There was a time limit of 15 minutes to build the structure. As soon as our group received all the required stuff, few members started assembling the sticks on the ground. I stood patiently for a while and then requested everyone to brainstorm and plan. After much negotiation, we circled around the sticks. Everyone had different and unique inputs. At first, I was frustrated with the fact that everyone was talking at the same time. Moreover, each member had a different and sometimes conflicting opinion on how to structure the house. But later, as we embarked upon the stage to receive our runner up prize, I realized that considering multiple perspectives from different people actually helped us to rule out the possible faulty structures and finally craft a better structure. Also, I was able to analyze the issue from different members’ perspectives and enhance my level of thinking. That being said, it was going to be difficult to end this journey and depart from that place. The place from which I had learnt to undertake leadership, interact with like-minded and different-minded people, and finally establish my opinion amid the huge pool of ideas. More importantly, I had learnt to respect the culture and opinions of different people trying to establish the same goal.
On our final evening, after the closing ceremony, Nicola asked me to take a picture with him. We stood together and surprisingly he put his arm over my shoulder. I looked at him awestruck. He just smiled at me. After a while, we both smiled at the camera. Click!