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The Center for the Advanced Study of India provides funding and support to undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania to conduct independent research and volunteer internships in India. Funds for the CASI internships are made possible through the support of Penn’s Office of the Vice Provost for Global Initiatives in conjunction with Penn Abroad and Penn’s Global Internship Program (IIP) and through the generous support of CASI donors.
Updated: 3 hours 58 min ago

Stares to Smiles

Sat, 07/01/2017 - 07:58

As we cross the halfway mark of this journey, it beguiles me to think of the countless experiences that I have had in such a short amount of time here in India.

Throughout these first five weeks, many personal and professional discoveries have been made. Prior to this internship, peers often referred to me as a driven individual, sometimes to a fault. Once I am given a task, I will work as diligently as possible until said task is complete. Since starting with Naandi, I am now more flexible in the work place. A changing assignment fair amount of stress—are now seen as opportunities for me to shift my focus to something new and equally exciting, without causing me much headache at all.

This newfound ability for increased adaptation to the environment is most evident in how I respond to one word: bugs. Here in the Araku Valley, I dare to say that I have encountered a larger variety of creepy-crawlies and flying friends both inside and outside of our house than I have in my first twenty years on this earth. Prior to my internship, I mentally prepared for the heat and the hot days ahead; but, mosquitoes aside, I neglected to prepare for the vast number of insects that I would soon encounter. From moths the size of my hand to an indigenous breed of flying ant larvae, I initially did not respond with much grace to the bugs that I have seen.

Over time, however, adjustments have been made. While still somewhat jumpy every time I see a red ant (to which I have a mild allergy) on me or inside my clothing, I handle the encounter much more calmly than I did at the start.

I have learned that the “Indian stare,” which often lasts a few seconds too long, can often be broken with a wide smile and the utterings of the phrase “Namaste” or “Namashkara.” In every village entered thus far, curious Adivasi’s peered outside of their homes to see the foreigners who had just appeared in a large Mahindra Jeep. Their harsh

an interviewed village family

looks reflected a sense of confusion as to why these strangers had come. Questions of “Why are they here?” and “How did they get here?” likely rang through the brains of the inquisitive lot as they gazed at us from both near and afar. Children stop their games of tire rolling and tag to catch a glimpse of people unlike any they had encountered before. Whether they giggled and started following us when we looked in their direction or ran away, returning to their games, we provided them with brief moments of interest and sparked some form of a questioning as to what exists beyond their village.

These same behaviors extended beyond villages, to the town in which we reside. Due to scheduling and shifting monsoon rains, Gabriela and I decided to workout outside of the guest house in which we reside rather than being driven to the nearby Coffee Processing Unit (CPU). Located at the top of a hill, we ran sprints. Prior to our start, I anticipated people would look at the tall foreign girl running up and down the street, but the reaction received far exceeded said anticipations. From young children to their elderly grandmothers, people from all the nearby houses came outside to watch us run. Every

some of our neighbors

time we got to the bottom of the hill, kids would wave and say hi with bright smiles on their faces all vying for our attention, one even giving me a yummy mango as he figured I’d be hungry from all of my running!

Following the hill sprints, one female in her early twenties came up to me, and we started talking. What I first noticed about her was that she was wearing basketball shorts, a very unconventional look for females in the area. Next, she further surprised me by asking, in perfect English, “What is your goal?” I explained to her that I am on the volleyball team at university and am preparing for our upcoming season. Then, I returned the question to her.

The young women shared how she is training to be on the police force here in the Araku Valley, which is why she is allowed to wear basketball shorts. Then she said that her hope is to run like me, and asked if could she join me next time I ran. I happily agreed.

Two days later, at 7am in the morning, she was outside of the guesthouse ready to start our sprints. I taught her a warm up to follow and shared how to most effectively run the sprints for a good workout. We ran and ran and afterwards chatted for a few more minutes before getting ready for our respective days. In those few minutes, I told her that she can always do that sprint workout and overtime she can increase the number of sprints and the distance she runs. The joy that I brought her in those moments was truly touching and reminded me of how much we in America often take for granted. It is not common for women to run down the street to exercise here in India, making it difficult for young adults like the one who lives down the street to have an idea of ways she can prepare for her police force physical examinations.

some village children and an elder

As I head into my remaining four weeks of my internship, I cannot wait to see what I can both teach and learn from the members of the Araku Valley community. No matter what lessons I learn, however, I will always make sure to start with a smile to see if I can turn a stare into an opportunity for mutual growth.

Strangers and Travel to Little Lhasa

Fri, 06/30/2017 - 03:43

I don’t like making broad sweeping generalizations, but during this past month in India, I feel like strangers have been so helpful to me – whether it is with directions, helping me find change, or translating. Maybe it’s because I’m a desperate foreigner, but each time someone helps me, expecting nothing from me in return (except maybe friendship?), I am more cognizant of their kindness.

The epitome of my “desperate foreigner moment” so far happened at the end of our trip to McLeod Ganj, a hill station located in Himachal Pradesh in the foothillls of of the Himalayas. McLeod Ganj is named after Sir Donald Friell McLeod, a lieutenant governor of the state of Punjab back when the British were unabashedly proud of their empire, and is currently nicknamed “Little Lhasa” since it is the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile. I left work early on Friday, to meet up with the three LEAP interns, Hari, Jodi, and William, and one of the PHFI interns, Nancy, to take a ten-hour bus ride up to our destination; the bus was scheduled to leave at 8 and arrive at 6. Little did we know that we had to wait for an hour at the bus station, take an hour-long taxi ride in the grueling Delhi traffic to another bus station, and then endure 12 hours in a bus uphill (to be fair, the bus was extremely comfortable –  I slept like a baby).

At our destination, I was immediately amazed by the breathtaking view of the valley beneath us and the cool mountain air – a respite from the dust and air pollution of the city. Because McLeod Ganj is the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile, the Tibetan culture was prominent. Over the day, we feasted on traditional Tibetan food, including momos (dumplings) and thentuk (noodle soup), visited the Kalachakra Temple, and walked around the Dalai Lama Complex.

Sunday morning, we woke up to the rains of the monsoon, but I was determined to climb Triund Hill, the most popular attraction near McLeod Ganj, where, during clear skies, one can see the snow capped peaks of the Himalayas. Although some people in our group expressed justified concern for the torrential downpour and dangerous conditions of the trek, I stubbornly – and maybe a bit bull-headedly – expressed that I was determined to climb the hill. Fortunately, during the trek, the rain stopped, the trail was not overly muddy, and the view was amazing! However, once at the peak, the view was underwhelming, covered in fog (the journey is what counts)! 

So much fog.

The next day, we took it easy, and after eating dinner, we headed off to the bus station an hour early; our tickets said it would leave at 9:30. Once we got there, mentally prepped for our 10 (+/-) hour bus journey back to the capital, we received a message that the bus was delayed. 10 minutes later, we found out that the bus was cancelled. It was also the last scheduled bus for that night, and the sky was pitch black.

In a frenzy, we asked whoever hadn’t gone home what to do; some suggested taking a taxi, other staying an extra night. In retrospect, given that it was night, we probably should have stayed another night and taken a morning bus. Finally, a lady approached us, explaining that they were looking to split a 16-person van back to Delhi. But soon after, she came over and told us with an apologetic look that the groups would have to find separate transportation.

Imagine my confusion when another man from a different group, also having missed the bus, tells us that the groups had found a 13-person van back to Delhi but couldn’t fit Hari, Jodi, William, and me. I personally was irate at this newsm but the man offered to help us find a taxi back to Delhi – and not only did he help us, but along with his friends, also negotiated for a full hour with two different companies for the price of the taxi. Part of me wondered why they were being so nice, so I asked him. His answer – “Well, first of all, why do foreigners not talk to Indians?” I was taken aback. Then he said that strangers do not usually go totally out of their way, but they wanted to be nice. Fair enough. At the end, we got home to Delhi on time, even made it to work for a few hours, and still keep in touch with the people who helped us. I believe that tough situations create friends out of strangers, and this experience proved that for me.