Back in the USA

Back in the US, things are a bit different. I’m very happy to have showers with walls that are always hot. To have toilets that you can throw toilet paper in and a bearable outdoor climate.

But there are so many things about my time in India that I already miss after just a few days of being home. The beautiful bright flowers on every tree on every corner, spending time with my extended family, sitting in the sun with a cup of chai and a good book after work.

It feels so strange to be home. What felt like a long, scary trip across the world turned into one of the most fun adventures I’ve ever had. To start, I would like to reflect on my internship. I was so excited to contribute to the work of my nonprofit in a meaningful way which I’m proud to say I accomplished. This experience impacted me professionally by confirming that in my future career, I need to feel like my work is making a difference, a difference that I can see and feel and quantify. This experience taught me that I’m capable of working in a completely foreign context and even thriving in it, which gives me confidence to pursue global work after I graduate this year.

In my public health classes at U of M, we learn a lot about social determinants of health like poverty, housing, and education, but I’ve never focused so closely on these aspects of health as they relate to children. I loved being able to see how what I’ve learned in the classroom in Ann Arbor could be translated to the field all the way across the world. This experience re-energized me for my final year at UM in terms of academics – I really want to soak in as much knowledge and skills as I can in order to contribute better to the field work I hope to do in the future. I’m so excited to have some real-world experience to bring back to the classroom as well because the information I learn now will be that much more important, relevant, and stimulating for me.

Lastly, I can’t begin to qualify how I’ve been impacted personally by this trip. It has been so fulfilling to finally get to meet so much of my family and reconnect with people who all share some part of my identity. Traveling alone has proven to be a very empowering and transforming experience. I learned how to be happy by and with myself, was able to navigate a new city and make good friends along the way. I engaged in new experiences and hobbies that I plan to continue now that I’m home.

Final Days in Bangalore

I can’t believe that I already leave India tomorrow. I remember first arriving in Bangalore and feeling so daunted and intimidated by this whole experience, and now that the end is arriving, it doesn’t even feel like a month and a half has passed. Somehow it feels like I’ve been here for so long since I’ve grown so accustomed to life here – drinking chai all day, eating new fruits, meeting new people in the most unexpected ways.

I’ve made some very close friends here, Sarah and Vrinda, and for that I am so lucky and grateful. I was even able to take a weekend trip with them to a town called Pondicherry after only hanging out once. We had such fun adventures there and I can’t imagine having that experience with any other pair of people and having as much fun as we did. If I hadn’t been vulnerable and talked to these two interns, my time here in India wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable as it has been –I have hung out with them everyday since that weekend trip and we have made so many memories.

I’m so happy that I was pushed out of my comfort zone so many times to the point where now so many things feel comfortable that wouldn’t have a mere 6 weeks ago. I went to Cubbon park here in Bangalore with a couple of interns, and we just walked up to this guy meditating by a tree and started talking to him because we couldn’t tell where he was from. We ended up talking for hours and he told us how grateful he was that we approached him – he had only been in Bangalore a couple days and had been feeling quite lost and lonely in the city so he came to meditate to soothe himself, and we aided that process. I was so happy we were able to bring him comfort and peace because I remember feeling exactly as he did when I first got here. Turns out he was German. We both have come a long way – and I hope I can bring my new sense of what is comfortable and adventurous back to Ann Arbor in a few weeks.

1 project down, 1 more to go

Yesterday I gave my presentation on the transformation of Vyasarpadi due to an NGO called SCSTEDS (Slum Children Sports Talent and Education Development Society) to my two supervisors at CRY. Despite major internet difficulties that didn’t allow for the photos and videos to load, the presentation went well! They said they would be able to use this work for many different occasions, so it felt really satisfying to be able to deliver useful, meaningful work for such a noble cause as improving child rights (and in my own homeland!). It was very rewarding to hear my supervisors acknowledged the many barriers I faced (time constraints, traveling constraints, language barrier, etc.) and commended me for the work I was able to accomplish despite all of that.

My next project is to create another presentation in the form of a funding proposal for SCSTEDS/CRY to further help these organizations improve communities and lives. I have a way shorter time period to complete this now that I’m nearing the end of my internship, and I’ve never created a funding proposal before (let alone in presentation format). If nothing else, I’ve learned that India is full of adventure and reward if you’re open to it, and I suspect this won’t be any different. Stay tuned!

The Halfway Point

I have already completed half of my internship. Time really flies. 

As I mentioned in my last blog post, there have been times that I’ve been riddled with loneliness and can’t wait to return to my family, my friends, and my familiar life. Since then, I’ve made a lot of progress in terms of investing myself in this experience. At my accommodation, there are not many people my age and people tend to only stay for a few days at a time. However, I made an unlikely friend, Stanley. He’s a father of two young children from Goa who often travels to Bangalore because of his job. He says he knows the best seafood place nearby that we can make a visit to. I am proud of myself for making such an unlikely friend, and thankful for the kindness that keeps being shown to me in the most unlikely places.

It was only a couple days ago that I realized my time in India is already halfway done. After making a concerted effort to be as engaged as possible here, both by going out and exploring on my own and with new friends, I can’t believe how much progress I’ve already made from the first few days of being in Bangalore. I have never been so comfortable on my own and I am so relieved to see (part of) the positive and empowering side of the transformation of traveling abroad alone.

Working with my NGO, CRY, has been a very interesting experience. For the first week, I was researching all about the Indian caste system, education system, and public health system. This was all background information for me so that when I went out in the field, I would be a bit more knowledgeable about the conditions that allow problems of child rights violations to exist. 

The office in Bangalore has mostly women working in it, which is a welcome change from all the masculine presence I’ve seen in most public places. The employees are happy here – we are encouraged to take breaks whenever necessary, I am offered chai (Indian tea) at least 3 times a day, which tastes amazing. One day, I even sat with my supervisor just talking and eating different types of mangos from the nearby market. 

My main project has been doing field work in Chennai. There is a small village called Vyasarpadi where an NGO that partners with CRY has made huge strides regarding child rights and greatly improved the community as a whole. The leader of the NGO was a railway worker, never went to college, and one day decided that a change needed to be made. My job was to go to this community and capture this story of hope through interviews with the leader and children affected by this NGO. On Monday, I will return to Bangalore to put together a presentation describing their “then versus now” story in order to inspire hope and change in other communities in India. I am so excited to be able to do such meaningful work here and I am determined to live up to their expectations. Wish me luck!

Written on 7/11/18

Rainbows and Sunshine

     As soon as I stepped off the plane into Delhi, beads of perspiration formed on my forehead and my skin was covered in a film of heat and dust. I’d been warned about the huge crowds of people I’d get lost in, the poverty I would encounter, the adventures I would embark on, but nothing could have prepared me for the 115 degree heat. I was so grateful to see my Mom’s cousin – my Masi – in the sea of drivers waiting for passengers. I’m really here, I thought. This is really happening right now. Ready or not.

     The first week or so in India flew by. I am so fortunate to have family spread out all over India, so I was able to travel from Delhi to Chandigarh to Mumbai before even starting my internship in Bangalore. I only have my nuclear family in the US, so it was amazing to see so many relatives greeting me with open arms and way too much food, even relatives that I didn’t even know I had. I was constantly being taken to places and people I just had to see. I maneuvered through Lajpat Nagar, a vibrant, crowded market in Delhi, visited the famous Rock Gardens in Chandigarh, and ate delicious Indo-Chinese seafood in Mumbai. So far, all rainbows and sunshine. I felt energized and eager to tackle my internship with CRY (Child Rights and You) in Bangalore.

     Once arriving in Bangalore, I was greeted so warmly by the director of my hostel-style accommodation. I was given chai and cookies before I could even set my luggage down. I met the cleaning lady, the cooks, and security guards, and all their smiles projected such sincere kindness and hospitality. I was assured I could come to them, no matter what time, with anything I needed.

     Despite such gracious hospitality, once I settled into my room for the night, I couldn’t help but cry. Loneliness, homesickness, and more loneliness suddenly washed over me, just as I saw the monsoon clouds abruptly appear and release their ferocious rains onto all the beauty beneath them earlier that day. Everything that seemed so beautiful and inviting suddenly seemed so immense, unconquerable, vulnerable. I couldn’t believe that I had chosen to be on the other side of the world for the next two months all by myself. It all felt scary, crazy, impossible.

     It was illogical to think that this whole trip would be magical and fun as my young, inexperienced mind did. People rarely reveal the struggles that come with traveling abroad, and I’m learning that traveling abroad alone is its own special type of challenge. We are used to seeing the breathtaking landscapes captured on social media, hearing countless stories of adventures and friendships once travelers return home. I know I will see those landscapes, form those friendships, and tell those stories, but for now I am learning my first lesson: it’s not all rainbows and sunshine.