Surgeries & ENABLE

I have visited a lot of hospitals and seen numerous surgeries performed throughout high school and college around Philadelphia. I even had the opportunity to see a cataract surgery performed in Bryn Mawr Hospital. Usually the average cataract surgery lasts 1-2 hours, requires a full operating room staffed with 3 or 4 nurses and an ophthalmologist. That is most certainly not the case at Aravind.

Aravind has about 10-12 operating rooms in their main hospital. On any given day, four or so may be dedicated solely to performing cataract surgery. In each operating room there are usually two operations going on, which means two doctors are stationed in each operating room. The doctors’ sole task is to perform the surgery. Everything from the patient arriving at the hospital, to getting gowned and showing up at the operating room is organized and operated by other staff within the hospital. This makes the system extremely efficient. The magic amount of time it takes for each surgery: 10 minutes.

Each physician will probably perform 50-100 surgeries in a given day. This is kind of amazing, especially considering they need to perform more surgeries due to the influx of patients from both Madurai and outside the city from their eye camps.

These operating rooms are pristine too, they have the latest technology (Alcon’s latest phaco-machine) and everyone is in the proper attire, which I cannot say for in the US- there have been numerous reports and studies that claim hospital staff within the US are not following the proper protocol for attire and hygiene.

I had the chance to watch several cataract surgeries along with seeing a cyst removal from a patient’s eye. Overall I was extremely impressed by their operating room layout and organization of hospital resources.

On another note, one of the more interesting organizations I have been reading about while I was in India is ENABLE. It is an open community that creates prosthetic limbs for children using 3D printers. Because children are constantly growing, children who are missing limbs need replacements to keep up with their growing bodies. This means a lot of money is spent on prosthetics especially as a child. 3D printer technology is a possible solution. It is extremely cheap to create prosthetics with a 3D printer, it just requires experienced engineers and doctors working together. As I have been working in Aurolab, I noticed they had a 3D printer available and one of the other interns at Aurolab also has experience with 3D printer technology. So both of us will be working together to try to get prosthetics to children in India who are in need.

I unfortunately cannot upload picture from my room in Madurai thanks to the slow wifi. I should have some upload later this week when I get access to my work computer. Next week I want to dedicate a post to my awesome visit to the eye camps here in Madurai! Stay tuned!!!

Join us today for CASI’s Annual Student Programs Open House!

CASI Student Programs Annual Open House
Wednesday, December 10, 2014, 2 pm – 5 pm, 3600 Market Street, Suite 560

The Center for the Advanced Study of India (CASI) at the University of Pennsylvania provides funding and support to current Penn undergraduate and graduate students to travel to India and conduct independent research and participate in volunteer internships based at selected CASI partner organizations. CASI also offers a nine-month post-baccalaureate fellowship, to support a recent Penn graduate to conduct an independent research project in India. Since 2007, CASI has provided funding to over 100 Penn students. CASI internships are made possible through the financial support of Penn’s Office of the Vice Provost for Global Initiatives in conjunction with Penn Abroad and Penn’s International Internship Program (IIP) and through the generous support of CASI donors. The December Open House is an opportunity to meet with past students to learn more about their experiences in India and discuss the application process for CASI Internships, Travel Funds for Research, and the Sobti Family Fellowship.

Join our listserv! Send an email to: casi-student-programs-outreach+subscribe@googlegroups.comCASI Open House

(Re)Introducing Passport to India

If you’ve spent a summer in India on a CASI internship or research assignment, you probably have an understanding of how valuable these experiences are. And unless you’re a jerk, you probably think more of your peers should take up similar opportunities in India!


I first came to India on a CASI summer research grant in 2010. I’ve now spent the past two years working in Delhi for a company called IndoGenius. Through a partnership with the US State Department and Ohio State University, we’ve re-launched an initiative called Passport to India, which was originally founded by Hillary Clinton in 2011. Our goal is to increase the number of young Americans going to India on study abroad programs and internships.

As US students who have been to India (or anyone else for that matter), we would love to get your feedback as we move forward. We have a brief survey open on our website:

Click HERE for the direct survey link. Completing it will enter you in raffle for an Apple Watch. So really you can’t lose. You can also like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

We’re working in a number of directions, but one of the most exciting is a MOOC on the Importance of India that will be available on Coursera in summer 2015. Hope to see you in class!

Just Run With It

Life has a funny way of making you be honest with yourself. It’s been three months since I left the Kumaoni Himalayas and I am infinitely grateful for the universe’s way of giving me a wake-up call. The past two years at Penn, I was significantly invested in research (both in terms of time and energy)—even sacrificing my academics at times to run experiments and feed my cells in preparation for motherhood. Why? Because it seemed to be the right thing to do given my Bioengineering major. I was convinced that if I didn’t like research I wasn’t in the right major/I had made bad life decisions. (I know, sometimes I can’t believe myself either!!). Now I realize there is no such thing as a bad major—every major is marketable in its own way and successful careers are almost 100% based on what you are willing to put into them, regardless of what you studied! That’s the best part. I have always loved, love, and will love technology, especially in the biotech/pharma/healthcare space– that’s why I studied Bioengineering. In fact, there is nothing that excites me more, and as far as industries go, life sciences is growing at a tremendous rate in the US. For me, there is something so attractive about putting technological innovation and business development in the same space. It combines my engineering background with my secret interests in strategy, commercialization, and management. I say secret because it isn’t until this year (after my internship) that I really took the time to explore the things I enjoyed but wouldn’t admit because I thought it was out of my realm. It takes courage and a lot of confidence in your own ability to adapt, learn-fast, take leadership, and communicate in an effective way.

This summer made me realize how capable I was (and how much I gained) in spaces of management and consulting. I developed infrastructures for trainings, mediated relationships between communities, worked in some of the most challenging team set-ups, and successfully implemented a plan to improve groundwater management in the Kumaoni Himalayas. There is nothing more amazing than realizing you are in love something that you have been exposed to all the time- it’s like suddenly falling in love with a friend you’ve known for a while. My relationship to business development and consulting work is very similar and the scope of my interests have grown to include consulting opportunities in the general and healthcare life-sciences industries, as well as in smaller biotech/pharma startups.


So where am I at? And what are my interests and plans? I joined Wharton Undergraduate Consulting this semester to work on a project for a rising social enterprise in Ghana looking to expand their market and increase their brand equity. It’s an exciting project because I bring a useful experience-base to the team—I am aware (through CHIRAG) of the challenges organizations (NGOs, social enterprises, etc.) face in developing countries and I am also very much into technology-based startups and product commercialization. The other aspect of what I’m doing is much more informal and equally valuable. I am having conversations. As I eat dinner, grab coffee, walk on Locust, do HW, sit in common lounges, or wait for OH, I perpetually have conversations. I learn the most by talking and listening to people! I see students not as students but as future leaders, entrepreneurs, chairs, and CEOs and I value them for the time and interest they take in speaking with me! Being free from desperation on expectation is a beautiful thing. I think the most successful kind of networking is that which you do naturally and without any desire to get something out of the conversation—instead when you are authentic to yourself and express interest in just speaking with a person because you enjoy it; they too will enjoy it more then!


I am happy to be in the place that I am in right now- which is 6 am in the comp lounge in Harnwell. But overall, I couldn’t ask for a better experience or support system as I go through the process to find an exciting and awesome summer opportunity which gives me access to the business side of healthcare/life-science industry. I have found advocates in the craziest places, people who are perpetually willing to help and advice. I want to thank everyone who has been with me and will continue with me on this journey of discovery.


Much love,


Photo Journal: Food

The food. Perhaps what I may miss most about India, haha. It is certainly a memorable part of my experience because:

  1. I found out I really like Indian food, and I can eat spicier than even some Indians (*cough* Reya *cough*)
  2. Somehow. SOMEHOW. By some miracle, Reya and I both ate hella street food / food in general and never got sick. I know, unheard of.

As well, Reya and I talked about how I should make a photo collage of all the food I ate, because that would be the most accurate representation of my time in India, so I have decided to dedicate my last post to the wonderful, delicious food of India. (P.S., Reya’s other idea for what I should blog about was an Aparna Wilder appreciation, with photos and quotes. Aparna, we really really appreciated you, as evident by Reya’s post and that blog idea, haha! But I figured a food photo journal would be more representative of my actual time in India ;))

Without further ado, I will now make myself and all of you readers miss / want to go to India.

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Poha for breakfast at a local food cart manned by a really nice lady and gentleman

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Rajasthani Thali. The food is never-ending, and the waiters speed-walk around the restaurant asking you if you want more of their item like every 2 minutes. Their briskness naturally made me eat really fast, so I ended up eating soo much. I didn’t regret it.

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“Chinese Indian” food — its own category of food. Manchurian with gravy and hakka noodles. (Fun fact, the first time we ate dinner at a Chinese-ish restaurant, I almost teared up because I missed Chinese food sooo much.)

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Hmm corn roasted over a coal fire. Crunchy.

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I ate hella chilies.

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Some sweets.Processed with VSCOcam

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Mango Smoothie with dried fruit. So refreshing.

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Bombay masala paratha with the most delicious chutneys. I cleaned up.

Bread Pakora - Delhi style

Happiness. Bread pakora (double fried) with potato curry — Delhi style. (My health definitely took a toll from eating to many fried foods and too much potato.)


The Benefits of the Untraditional Path

An internship at an NGO in India is certainly a unique way to spend the summer. While most of my peers in Wharton seemed to be doing some sort of corporate internship at a known company in the States (usually finance), I admit that many times during my time in India and as well as when I returned to Penn, I fretted over my decision of how I chose to spend my summer – not just because of the nature of the internship, but also simply because what I did seemed so different.

After many weeks of reflection and conversations though, I have resolved that I am grateful for going down an untraditional path. Experiencing a new culture, working in a unique environment, and exposing myself to so many different challenges has broadened my understanding of myself and of this world. This perspective is one that I would have never gained if I had stayed in my comfort zone and not broken out of the larger “Penn bubble” of people and experiences.

For one, it influenced my thoughts on my future career. It is so easy to follow the step-by-step map that our peers and society tells us to take; however, along that path, it’s hard to get the guts to swim away from the current, because all other possibilities seem so uncertain and so precarious. “Do something you’re passionate about,” has become a tried cliche that few follow, very much for the aforementioned reason. Heck, it is so difficult to even find what you are actually passionate about, when society tells you to try only a, b, and c instead. However, spending time in India and thinking about my future has helped me to recognize for myself that I rather go down an untraditional, seemingly risky path of uncertainty, in pursuit of a life that I find meaningful, then blindly follow the traditional path, with its own, often discounted, risks of dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

Importantly, this untraditional path has exposed me to more of the world — a different culture, different people, different experiences, paths, and perspectives. The “Penn bubble” is not just about spending all your time on campus or being surrounded by Penn students. It encompasses, as well, being exposed almost solely to how people at Penn think and what people at Penn do. With all the chaos in the news this summer that is still ongoing (Ukraine-Russia and the crisis with ISIS is just two of many, many issues), all that I, as a typical student, usually worry and obsess suddenly becomes ridiculous and steeped in privilege. Does getting a internship instead of b internship or this grade instead of that really matter in the grand scheme of things? I don’t mean to simply trivialize what happens at Penn and what we students think about and do. There is always chaos in the world, and there are always “greater” things to be concerned about. Our lives, and the real personal challenges and joys we have, are important too. I’m not saying it’s wrong to worry about what we worry about and do what we do. However, I maintain that it is important to take a step back and maintain a healthy perspective that is grounded in the greater realities of the world. Taking a trip down an untraditional path has helped ground me by exposing me and reminding me of life outside of Penn. It has added nuance to the way I think and what I do.

It is impossible to pinpoint the innumerable ways an experience can influence you, for better or worse, in subtle or dramatic ways, but these are two of many interrelated thoughts that particularly stand out during these weeks of reflection.

For anyone who may be reading this who is debating whether to try something “untraditional” consider this: whether the experience turns out to be “good” or “bad,” there are important benefits and always something to learn from trying things outside of your comfort zone. I know, for me, I am grateful for how this experience has changed my perspective and my appreciation of the untraditional path.

Through the Eyes of a Local

“You went to India this summer!??” The surprise and near wonder I hear in people’s voice is almost universal to the reactions I get when I tell people I spent my summer in India. Their reaction is very natural. There is something wondrous about traveling to a foreign (perhaps “exotic”) country, and moreso to spend an extended period of time there. Although, I really enjoy traveling, I don’t love it, and I am cautious to overly romanticize it. I read an article about how to travel long-term, and I think most people who have traveled a good amount (as I have) would agree with the article that traveling is worthwhile, but it is filled with many of its unique downsides as well.

One thing I was careful about when I came to India was to not just allow myself the easy, tourist experience. I am grateful for Reya who had a similar heart, and who as well had family in the area that could give me a taste of what it is like to live as a local.  Of course, simply spending 10 weeks in a city helps to give you a more “local” experience of India — or at least as local as you might be able to get, as a clear, temporary foreigner who doesn’t know the language. As well though, during my time in India I also got to spend some time with Reya’s family in Mumbai — an overnight stay where I got to know her family and cousins, in an experience that gave me just a bit of insight into what a parallel, nuclear family in parts of India look like — and Pune — in which I flipped through wedding photo albums with Reya’s great aunt. I also was able to some time at a local church in India, filled with English-speaking youth (Indians, but not locals to Pune, a young university city). Through this church, Word of Grace, I was able to talk to people my age and get to know about their lives. I was invited over to the pastor’s house on several occasions to eat a home cooked meal or study the Bible, as I met his young children and spent time with the church community.

Perhaps, the most standout of these experiences was when Reya and I agreed (perhaps foolishly) to take a 27-hour non-AC sleeper class train ride from Pune to Delhi. 27 hours. Sleeper class. Almost everyone told us not to do it. Our co-workers, who are definitely better-off than the large majority of India, would not take the sleeper class themselves, not only because of the duration of the trip and the non-AC, but also, to be frank, because the type of people that you would encounter in the sleeper class are much different. These people tend to be the lower-class and the middle-class (middle class being very different from what it is in the States), and most of the people we talked to had concerns for Reya and I whether we would be comfortable or even safe traveling on this train.

I was pretty adamant about taking the train though, justifying to myself that this is how the majority of India travels! And I wanted to experience it too, rather than just coming to India as a wealthier foreigner who avoided anything uncomfortable or potentially dangerous. Granted, it definitely could have been dangerous (getting harassed, getting our things stolen, simply getting lost because we were traveling by ourselves…), and there certainly needs to be caution in undergoing these “adventures” as well (caution that we took), but in the end I am grateful for the experience.

The 27-hour, non-AC part of the train definitely was not great, haha, but it was not as bad as we expected either. We got through it, just as the thousands of Indians who travel by train everyday get through it. And through it — even if, objectively, it was not a “pleasant” experience — we were able to experience for ourselves India more as it would be for a local.

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A young man looking out the open train door, as we drive through the varied states of India.

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The family of four and two other men who shared the same carousel with us. It was very small, but we made due. I am grateful for a nice (but relatively quiet) family to share the ride with.

These are not the exciting, exotic stories that people may want to hear about my trip to India. They are not the amazing adventures or the sensational sights that some people may associate with foreign travel. But they reflect a real, normal, and a times mundane part of India, that I am grateful to have experienced. I am grateful for these experiences, the people I met, and the insights into Indian culture in and of themselves, but also as well for how they ground my perception of India into something that is closer to reality.

For me at least, seeking for a genuine experience of a country is more honest and respectful of the country that I am visiting, for it leaves me with a more accurate picture of what life is actually like for the people of the country. It leaves me a better picture of what “India” actually is.