India – Olya Clark (2012)

Olya Clark

Olya Clarkis a doctoral student in public health at UMass/Amherst. Olya traveled to India where she worked at an educational center, focusing on creating a program for abandoned  women.  Olya received a $1500 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Olya Clark’s travel safety tips:

My first travel tip would be to read the tips posted by the other Sara’s Wish Scholarship Recipients.  They contain much sage advice and here I will try to add to the list, rather than duplicate the excellent advice that has already been written.

My advice is simple to say, but hard to do: study the history of the places you are going.  Every place on earth has its own unique history: wars, imperialism and colonialism, exploitation and so on. That past creates the present into which we enter when we travel, and to be oblivious of that history puts us at risk. For example, it would be very hard for a foreigner visiting the United States to understand contemporary race relations in this country if they knew nothing of America’s history of slavery, Jim Crow, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.  Yet, the legacy of that oppression and struggle for freedom is with us every day, and every person is situated somewhere with respect to it by the color of her skin, even if they are “just visiting.”

Sometimes the history one needs to be aware of goes back hundreds of years, and sometimes it is much more recent than that. Unless you are the first outsider to visit a country, there will be a history created by those tourists’ actions that can also affect you.  For example, in India, where I spent my time, many outsiders travel to places like Goa. There, they seem only interested in the beach, in drinking, and in obtaining drugs.  Heedless of local social mores, many women sun topless on the beach.  These actions form a history that creates a climate in which women – particularly white women from the United States and Europe – are seen as morally loose and sexually promiscuous.  The narrative of this history puts all women who come after them at risk.

So my advice is to get yourself some books – preferably written by the people from the country itself, not other outsiders – and learn the history. It will make you safer and it will deepen your understanding of, and appreciation for, the country you are about to visit.