Instructive Infuriation: The Challenges and Rewards of Learning to Expect the Unexpected

With only one week left before I return to the U.S., I’ve had some time for reflection upon my experience here in India. To put it plainly, I consider it to be one of the most rewarding, if challenging, experiences of my life. Certainly going into the field, which involves the task of finding villagers to interview—and thus requires a copious reservoir of perseverance—has been a challenge (see my last post), but it seems to me to be the customs of daily living, here in India, that differ so vastly from that to which I am accustomed back in the U.S. The daily living, and perhaps the mentality even.

I recall the words of wisdom from previous CASI interns expressed in the Survival Guide: Here at Penn, you are used to having full control over your schedule…But the most important lesson to learn in India is how to let go of that control. You will learn to embrace the idea of possibility and that things rarely go as planned. Truer words have never been spoken! But alas, my nature, engrained into my being for the past 21 years, is to plan things piece by piece, moment by moment, and expect that things will pan out fully and exactly as planned. That, combined with my unwavering predilection for wanting things when I want them, and you have a recipe for disaster…or an opportunity.

Back at Penn, or even just the U.S. in general, I have resources at my fingertips that are taken for granted. I have a shower with temperature that can be controlled by the flip of a handle. I have laundry machines that make washing and drying clothes only a miniscule effort. I have fast internet that allows me to access any kind of information—whether academic articles, news, social media, or just Wikipedia for tid-bits of knowledge—whenever I want. I have a gym nearby to work out. I have the convenience of relatively rapid mail delivery. In case something goes wrong—say, my Macbook hard drive crashes (*foreshadowing*)—there are the institutions to deal with those issues. Sure, during the past three years of college things haven’t gone as planned at times, but the vast web of connections and networks (people, services, and information) in my vicinity allow for a somewhat taken-for-granted immediacy of identification and response.

I LOVE bucket showers, don’t get me wrong. It’s not my intention to complain about how simple routines of daily living haven’t gone as planned here, nor do I want to suggest that these encounters with the unexpected have detracted from my overall experiencing working with CORD, which has been nothing short of incredible. It’s actually the opposite. While in the moment my blood pressure may spike or my temper flares, I feel there is something to be said about the long-term reward gained from an experience that directly challenges my short-comings (impatience, etc.) time and time again.

Here are some of the circumstances I’ve faced: The internet barely works, if at all. I want to look something up related to my project, which is trivial back in the U.S., and the page won’t load. The internet stick has 0 balance, and the folks at the Mobile shop are unable to recharge it for some reason. I am unable to withdraw cash from 95% of the nearby ATM’s, and have to walk almost 30 minutes to do just that. I order two books off Amazon, and they are delivered to the wrong post office. I save my day’s work on a flash drive, and then the flash drive doesn’t work the next day so I have to start over. And, as hinted at previously, my Mac hard drive crashes, and I am unable to use my computer for over a month (This happened about 3 or 4 weeks ago). The closest Apple store is 6 hours away by bus, and that isn’t feasible. Who knows if I’ll be able to recover any data from the hard drive when I take it to an Apple venue in Philly?

These are just a few curveball instances I’ve faced here. There are plenty more. They are terrible, but also great. Infuriating, but pedagogical. I think staring my short-comings in the face is as instructive as it is unsettling. Maybe I’ve become more patient and have begun to accept the unpredictable nature of life. I feel that in the future, when something goes wrong, I will be more readily prepared for it and, rather than being flustered, learn to cope and deal with the issue calmly. I have already become less irritable. I have learned the intrinsic value of bad experiences, not just good ones. And how success is often the product of repeated failure. I have become equipped with a mentality that won’t allow me to throw in the towel when things don’t go the way I want. A mode of thinking that is prepared to navigate strong winds, rather than sunshine and rainbows. Never have I so strongly embraced the idea of the unexpected!

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About Kurt Koehler

Class of 2016, Majoring in Health and Societies with a concentration in Public Health. Intern at CASI CORD, summer 2015.