The Tipping Point

Vaccines. Sandals. Sunglasses. Laptop. Camera. Books.

As the items pile up in my suitcase so does my excitement. India began as a distant image, a place somewhere on the map (somewhere under China). I vaguely had heard about elephants, curry, and very hot weather (and food poisoning) in this exotic country but did not know much more. Having lived most of my 18-year old life in Vancouver, Canada, my closest interactions with India has been with Indian friends who often seemed to not know much more than I did.

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“Almost” packed (who am I kidding)

However, while researching for this internship, I learned that India has 1,652 distinctive languages, is the birth place of 4 of the world’s major religions and has the 2nd largest and fastest growing population in the world. It is a country that finds strength in diversity. Currently thinking about studying Biological Basis for our Behavior and Economics in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, I am intrigued by the structures and cultural attitudes that have led to this unity based on tolerance and acceptance. India has successfully gone through the test of wars, modernization, and imperialism and stands firm as one (and not to mention maintaining one of the largest democracies in the world). But it is not all good. India is also marked by widespread poverty and deep economic stratification. While it stands together on a political and cultural level, it remains divided heavily by gender and class.

As my friend says “if you want to see the world, go to India.” India’s success and shortcomings provide very complex but insightful opportunities for learning. As an aspiring social entrepreneur (one who creates businesses that are both financially sustainable and aimed at creating social good), I feel like an internship in India will teach more more about social impact than I will learn in years of classes. Here in my air-conditioned room with unlimited access to chocolate snacks and craisins (some cross between cranberries and raisins) I can read about social problems all I want but something really needs to be said about getting on the ground and experiencing it all for myself. Knowledge is powerful but wisdom is the root of change. Going to India will definitely be a shock at first but it is through these raw, intimate experiences that are not filtered by the lens of tourism or media that we discover ourselves and our world.

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Already experiencing some Indian culture

I will be interning at LEAP skills academy in the city of Yamuna Nagar (which I still can’t pronounce) in the province of Haryana. LEAP is a social enterprise (perfect for my interests) that focuses on educational development for college graduates and aims to tackle the issue of structural unemployment that is so prevalent in India. 1 in 4 workers joining the labour force this decade is expected to be Indian but there is a great paradox of employers unable to find employees and students unable to find employers. Finding employment will provide students with a steady source of income and begin the first step in fighting poverty. Education has been determined as one of the key factors for upward mobility but for it to be effective it is key that the right skills are taught.

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Me trying to look like an entrepreneur (did I succeed?)

I am not yet sure of my specific duties at the organization but I am ready to apply myself to any tasks that come up. Always eager to try new things and to learn new skills, I will constantly be on the lookout for ways that I can help. In this case, helping others is definitely also helping myself and I expect to also learn a lot from the challenges that I will face. Whether I succeed or fail, I will do my best to make an impact and leave a little (or a lot) more wise than I started.

This summer I am hoping to be immersed in a completely new culture. I want to see how others think and approach problems. Each culture has a unique attitude towards life and will come up with different ideas. Having lived in a Western society most of my life I have only been exposed to a single way of thinking. To make an impact in this interconnected world I must be open-minded and expose myself to the wonderful diversity that this world offers. I love to talk (sometimes too much) and I am looking forward to chatting with the people that I meet on my journey. I want to hear their stories, fears, desires, hopes, and dreams. Each person has something unique to tell and their stories will become a life-changing part of my story.

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About Bill Cao

I am a rising sophomore pursuing a dual degree in Management and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. I am interested in social entrepreneurship and love reading, traveling, exploring.