Post-Trip Reflection

Erin Haley

I’ve now been back in the US for a few weeks and I seem to miss India more and more each day; I’ve been out with my family for Indian food twice now and each time I leave wishing I could have the real deal back in Pune. When I first arrived at home, it was great to be back with my closest friends and family, but it only took about a week for me to understand the amazing experience I had left behind. There were many things I was incredibly lucky to learn throughout my experience, whether personally, professionally, or academically.

My time in India allowed me to develop quite a bit on a personal level. Spending two and a half months in an entirely new country with completely new food is a rather jarring experience; I had been incredibly excited to go to India up until my plane landed, realizing I was completely and utterly alone. This reaction surprised me entirely – I had traveled a lot with my family and thus always considered myself a ‘seasoned traveler’ who would never experience culture shock. Looking back now, that mindset was naïve and I should have known better, but I guess there is no better way to learn than by experience! It took me a couple of weeks to fully get comfortable in India, adjusting to the flavors, smells, culture, and being away from anything that ever felt familiar. However, I soon adjusted to my new world and the country I came to call my home for the next few months – I came to love India and its incredible culture. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone and taking an entirely independent trip made me far more comfortable as an individual.

In an academic sense, understanding the culture of India has become far easier since I’ve had the chance to actually live it. Staying in a hostel on a college campus allowed me to meet many students from all over India, each of which was incredibly excited to share stories about their family, culture, and often most predominantly, their local food. With the generosity of the Summer in South Asia Undergraduate Fellowship, these stories have become reality through travel to locations far outside of where my internship is based. I was lucky enough to have the time to visit the cities where many of my new friends were from, learning about traditions like elephant painting in Jaipur and trying local sweets in Agra.

Professionally, interning with an organization abroad has allowed me to take on a level of responsibility seldom offered to rising sophomores in the United States. As a result, I’ve come to understand many important skills necessary for success in the consulting realm. Primarily, consulting is all about asking the right questions – this is critical for workshop facilitation as well as carrying out a project successfully and to the satisfaction of a partner or client.

Overall, I couldn’t be happier with my experience in India, and I can’t wait to someday return to the country I came to see as my second home.

Traveling India

By Erin Haley

After the conclusion of my internship about two weeks ago, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to different parts of India, including Jaipur, Agra, and Delhi. Jaipur was beautiful and offered many historical sites to see, the favorite of mine being the Pink City and Galtaji, also known as the monkey temple. I even got to feed, walk, paint, wash, and ride an elephant! (See the pictures below for the Michigan-inspired elephant painting!) Delhi and Agra were similar in the sense that each and every time I turned around, I seemed to find a new piece of historical architecture to explore, making for an activity-packed few days.

This was a nice change of pace from Pune’s modernity; as much as I loved the city I came to call home, it was admittedly very nice to explore a few new cities that had many historical sites. Further, I originally (and wrongly) thought that I had experienced the full culture of India simply by living in Pune. Now that I’ve travelled to different areas of the country, I can see that India is a mosaic of many different cultures, each city and state claiming its own traditions and foods. I hope I get the opportunity to explore new areas of India soon!

Bureaucracy and Bakeries

Erin Haley

This past week has been filled with a variety of very confused emotions. I’ve been trying to get my visa extended for the past month and a half, only to realize on Tuesday that by the time I hear back about whether my request has been accepted or denied, it will be too late to make alternate travel arrangements. As a result, I had to switch my flight from August 23 to August 3 and let Atma know I will have to leave early. My initial reaction was a mixture of relief and frustration; I had spent hours upon hours filling out extension applications, running around the Foreigners Registration Office (FRO), and getting the right documents from Atma and local authorities. On the bright side, the times of FRO visits were over, but I felt like I had wasted so much time. As one of my coworkers said, the bureaucracy had let me down.

As the day went on, I started to think about all the great parts about going home early: warm showers, my grandmother’s cooking, and being free from hand washing clothes. I’d even get to attend my dad’s 100 kilometer race in Colorado, go hiking with my boyfriend, and see my high school friends before heading back to Michigan. The more I thought about it, the more I could see that there were silver linings to this abrupt change of plans.

However, my feelings would soon become more complicated. After work on Wednesday, my coworker asked me to come with her to a bakery that apparently is quite famous in the Pune area—one that I admittedly had never heard of. As we hopped out of our cab and waited for mawa cake and shrewsbury biscuits, I started to realize how much of Pune I still had not seen. I have been in Pune for close to two months, and despite traveling to various new neighborhoods every weekend, I still have so much to see and do. It dawned upon me then how much I loved and would miss this city that could always offer another market to shop at or a new street food to try. The weekend soon came and I made sure to explore new areas of Pune—including an amazing market—to make the most of my final few weeks.

There may indeed be benefits to heading home early, but I can’t say that I won’t miss Pune. The meaning of ‘bittersweet’ finally feels real. When the time comes to board my flight back home, I’ll be excited for what waits on the other side, but for now, I’m perfectly happy with my new home.

A few images from the market I went to

Working with Atma

Erin Haley

When I first arrived at the Atma office, I had little idea what kind of work I would be doing for the next two and a half months; I could well articulate Atma’s role in improving grassroots education NGOs, but wasn’t quite sure where I would fit in.

Now I’m six weeks into my internship and couldn’t be happier with the role I’ve found. I’ve been working with two of Atma’s partners, both of which are incredibly interesting and passionate organizations. With both partners, I’m helping with their website layout, design, and launch, while also working to craft a marketing strategy. Not only have I learned a lot about each of these areas, but I’ve also learned a lot about conducting myself as a professional. In the past six weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to sit in on and even lead workshops, communicate directly with partners, and take the lead initiative on projects. While this may seem like a lot of responsibility for a rising college sophomore, the team at Atma always makes sure I’m comfortable with the next steps in a project and offers guidance when necessary. Given that I’m interested in consulting as a career after graduation, my experience with Atma has been the perfect mixture of guidance and independence in the field.

However, there are definitely challenges involved with working abroad. Communication can often times be very difficult; while most people I’ve interacted with speak English, some are more comfortable with Marathi or Hindi and thus tend to use a local language in many conversations. While this can be a highly frustrating experience, I’ve learned to be patient and wait for one of my fellow Atma teammates to translate for me. This way, everyone can participate in the conversation in a language they are comfortable with.

Even though working in Pune may offer various challenges, my experience with Atma has been an incredible one, and I look forward to continuing my work throughout the next few weeks.

My Arrival in Pune

Erin Haley

When I first arrived in Pune a few weeks ago, I was entirely overwhelmed. I wasn’t used to the crowded streets or the spicy food, nor was I prepared for the communication difficulties I would soon face. After settling into the hostel, I had given myself a few days to adjust to the time difference and overall culture before going to work. During that time, my phone broke and I discovered that my computer charger would not fit in the adaptor I had bought in the airport, leaving me with a dead computer and no way to communicate with anyone from the office. Knowing that Uber was essentially the only way to get around Pune, I had no way to get to work, and even with transportation, I couldn’t access my email and therefore had no idea where I was supposed to report to for my first day.

I immediately started to panic, wondering how I could possibly be late or even miss my very first day at the office. I soon found a local store where I could buy a new charger, allowing me to charge my computer and email Atma to ask for the office location, but still did not know what to do about transportation.

I was soon met with incredible kindness from the other girls on the floor of my hostel. Someone from across the hall had asked me about my work with Atma and realized my predicament. After only knowing me for two days, she located an old phone and called her father to activate the SIM and reload it with data and a calling balance so I could get an Uber to take me to work, as well as communicate with anyone from home if need be. When she stopped me in the hall to let me know the news, I was entirely shocked and couldn’t express my gratitude enough for all the trouble she had gone through on my behalf. After refusing my offer to pay her back for the data and calling balance, she told me if I ever needed anything, she would be right across the hall.

The incredible kindness did not stop there; other students in the hostel helped me in any way possible, from a new friend coming with me to the local supermarket in which very little English was spoken to taking me out to dinner to recommending various places in Pune to visit. My experience thus far has been shaped by amazing people always offering to answer my many questions about India or suggest a neighborhood to explore alone on a long weekend. I can’t wait to see who and what the next undoubtedly special 2.5 months bring.