Alumni

Paths

Photographs courtesy David Sanford

MY FATHER
My parents were Midwestern farmers, and my father came back from World War II a hero. The foreign service was just being created then, and they were looking for people like him. He was plucked to be part of it. You go for three years. It was almost like he’d come home every three years and say, “Well, we’re going to Taipei.”

David Sanford in IndiaMY EARLY TRAVELS
I was very young in Taipei, and then he was stationed in Washington, D.C., and then we went to London. We came back for a year, and then we went to New Delhi, India.

MY FORMATIVE YEARS
That period in New Delhi was pivotal for my perception and development. I went to an international school funded by the U.S. government. It also brought in embassy dependents. There were Kenyans, French, English, Egyptians. My French teacher was a Hindu woman, and my science teacher was a guy from Missouri. When I returned to the U.S., I was a duck out of water. I hadn’t watched TV in three years.

MY MAJOR
Studying psychology was an attempt to answer my primordial question about who I am. After graduating from Richmond, I defaulted to what I knew and joined the Peace Corps.

MY INSIGHT
Three weeks after graduating, I was on a plane to Iran. I was in a small village, totally immersed in Farsi. That’s when I really began to understand that it was more than psychology, that there’s something called cross-cultural communication — the mixture of psychology, sociology, anthropology. All of those together. That led me to graduate school at the School for International Training in Vermont.

I've been writing this book for most of my career, and I didn't know it.

MY PHILOSOPHY 
My first exposure to Buddhism was a survey course at Richmond called Non-Western Religions. I became curious, and then I discovered Tibetan Buddhism. Buddhism is a philosophy of how to live one’s life. It’s how to show up and be present. I wasn’t looking for Buddhism. I was looking for something that helped me make sense of my world. I was interested in meditation.

MY JOB 
In 1994, I started to consult on my own. Someone will approach me and say, “Some Brazilians are moving to the United States, and they need to understand how to work in this environment.” Tonight, I’m a resource for a British couple in London. I’m going to Skype with them about what to expect when they move to Colorado.

MY BOOK 
I’ve been writing this book for most of my career, and I didn’t know it. Initially my target audience was Indians in India working with Americans, but as I dove into it, I realized it’s for Indians wherever they are.

MY ADVICE 
Keep an open mind. That’s easy to say but not always easy to do. But be open to different being not wrong. Be curious and be willing not to judge. That’s extremely important.