On being home

I am finally home! After a long 24 hours of travel, three different airports, and numerous new acquaintances, I landed safely at Flint airport just before midnight on August 29th. My sister and mom were waiting for me with a big welcome home sign and I could not have been more excited to be back. It is so good to be home and to be getting a bit of rest before I head back to school.

That said, I think the adjustment is going to be really tough. On my first drive through Rochester Hills, Michigan, I teared up at how organized traffic was. There was no honking and no swerving between lanes, just two lanes of cars following each other cautiously. I’m not sure that I necessarily miss the crazy overwhelming traffic of India, but being back is just so different.

Looking back, I learned so much in India. I think what I appreciated most about the program was that I was able to somewhat integrate myself into my work environment. I often get frustrated when I feel like an outsider or a tourist while traveling. I want to fully understand the culture and the day-to-day lives of the people who inhabit the country that I am visiting. This fellowship really allowed me to do that. By the end of my time at the birthing center, I knew most of the families that were coming in for appointments and births, and they knew me. My colleagues and boss knew what I was capable of and allowed me to work at my full potential. I am by no means an expert on India or the culture there, but I do feel like I learned a lot and will be able to relate to more people in the future. I am so thankful to have had this opportunity to learn!

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.

Final Thoughts

I returned from India a little over a month ago and in the time I have been back, I have been able to reflect on my time there. Living in India and working was an experience like no other that I have had in my life. I found a new freedom while there and a new sense of confidence in myself and my ability to navigate the world. When I think back to what my trip involved, from traveling alone, to establishing myself in a place that was completely unfamiliar, and navigating through new and confusing experiences, I am in awe that I was able to do it all. Before leaving for India, I was someone who lacked confidence and rarely put myself into situations where I felt vulnerable. In India, I was forced to take responsibility for myself and without the pressures I was used to experiencing back home, I was able to grow in new ways. Looking back, the thing that I miss most are the people that I met in India and being apart of a simple daily life that was both fulfilling and invigorating. I learned so much about social equality and the work necessary to make change. I feel a new passion about going into this type of work after I finish school. I think I will learn more about what exactly India meant to me as I get back in the groove of school. The time I have been back has mostly involved readjusting and reorganizing the things that I left unfinished before I left, and I haven’t been living the norm of what I am used to. However, I do know that this summer was one of the best summers of my life, I am so excited to take the skills and perspective my time in India gave me to find new places and learn about other cultures and people.

On meeting new people

During the infant massage instructor training that I attended, the trainer began the course by talking about how you meet people for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. The other women in the training were incredible and inspiring and I hope that someday our paths will cross again. We all exchanged contact information and promised to let each other know if we ever ended up in each others’ home countries, which ranged from the Czech Republic to United Arab Emirates. I still don’t know if I met them for a reason, a season, or a lifetime, but regardless, I’m thankful that I did.

Over the last week, I have helped in two deliveries and have been thinking about how and why we meet people. Here at the birthing center, helping in a delivery is not a small thing. Natural labor is long and painful and to accompany a family through that journey is a really intimate experience. I spent almost forty hours with one woman and her husband, and about fifteen with another woman, her husband, and her mother. Those hours are some of the most vulnerable of a woman’s, and often her entire support system’s, and you tend to get to know each other pretty quickly. When the baby finally comes, there often aren’t many dry eyes in the room. That said, it is a bit weird saying goodbye to a new family after spending so much time with them, with the knowledge that I will most likely never see them again. From each family that I’ve worked with, I’ve learned so much and grown as a healthcare professional and as a person.

I’ve also been thinking about leaving the birthing center and the entire incredible staff, who has taught me so much. It will be really hard to leave and I am endlessly thankful for all of the time they have poured into me.  That said, I definitely feel like I will be back in India someday. I don’t know how or why yet, but I do have a feeling I’ll be back.


These women are talking to the Accredited Social Health Activist (the woman wearing blue) for their village. The ASHA provides health counseling to her beneficiaries and assists them in pursuing necessary health services.

It is my final night in India and I’m overwhelmed with emotions and thoughts. I left Jhalawar Friday evening and spent the weekend in Delhi with Cearet and her family. This is all so bittersweet. I really cannot find the words to explain how grateful and thankful I am to have been here and to have been granted access into the lives and culture of so many beautiful people and places. I am humbled, I am thankful, I am sad, I am excited, I am nervous, I am elated, I am confused.

This is a picture of the road and homes we would walk past daily to get to the market. Flooding from the monsoon spread quickly.

Everything is ending in a way that I would describe as “full circle.” I stayed in the same hotel that I spent my first nights in Delhi at. Having this weekend in Delhi before returning to the states has been really helpful for the transition out of rural Rajasthan. I found myself close to tears in a Starbucks, and paralyzed with overstimulation in a shopping mall. The gradual process of becoming reacclimatized to western culture is overwhelming, and I am scared of losing the intensity of my emotions and memories as I fall back into my routine and lifestyle at home.

The woman pictured in this photo is an anganwadi worker, and here she is providing hot cooked meals to children in her village. Anganwadi centers are similar to nurseries with an emphasis on nutritional services. The hot cooked meals are a service provided by the government to combat high rates of childhood malnutrition in rural sectors of Rajasthan. 

  I’ve been asked countless times, “so how did you like the fellowship?” and each time I freeze up and find the words escape my grasp. I enjoyed it greatly, and am leaving with the most meaningful and fulfilling experience of my life thus far. But there were still days where I struggled with the distance and differences of living in a place so different from what I am accustomed to and some days I found myself feeling nothing at all. I don’t know how to summarize the complexity of everything that has occurred. I have been processing a lot of my thoughts, feelings, and the things I have saw retroactively, and am still working to better understand and explain the intensity and complexity of my last 7 weeks.

The three women on the left are frontline workers that we interviewed for one of our case studies. They provide primary health care and nutrition services to the women and children in their village.

As I was leaving Cearet’s home, her father asked me “Chalein?” I asked if the word meant ready, and he replied that it was more of a “Let’s go!” My heart lifted and I explained how this set of words keeps reappearing in my life in different ways. It was a strange coincidence and Cearet and I agreed that the word had a positive and uplifting feel to it. As we hugged on the metro line and said goodbye to one another we repeated “chalein.” This ending feels much less scary and sad as I begin to look at it as the beginning of an opportunity to start giving more and contributing to the change that is needed in the world. I wrote in one of my earlier blog posts that I would describe India as “a lot going on.” I still haven’t found a better way to describe everything here and everything  that I’m feeling.   It’s very frustrating not being able to articulate where I am at right now,  but to compensate for my absence of words I have included pictures of some of the people I met and the context of such. As words fail me and I struggle with the end of this journey and my return home, I just keep telling myself chalein.