Saying Goodbye

I can’t believe it’s my last blog post in India. I think I’ve been avoiding writing this one. I hate summing things up. (so I should lead by promising that this doesn’t cover a tenth of what I really have to say about this summer). And even more than summing things up – I hate endings and goodbyes.

I’m thinking back to the end of this past semester. It had been a really crazy, exciting, fun-filled, and incredibly stressful semester (as I guess most are at Penn). And If I’m being perfectly honest, when it was over, I don’t think I felt ready to come to India. After two years in college, I felt like I’d finally settled into my groove: I had my friends, my clubs, my major(s) – everything was falling into place, it felt like home.

I remember my last night in school, wondering why I was going so far away from a place where things felt so good.

But then I remembered a quote I’d heard somewhere once:

If change is frightening it’s a good thing because it means you’re grateful for what you have.”

 And I remember having a really profound minute (profound moments hardly last longer than that), in which I reflected on how far I’d come in the last two years, and how lucky I was to have so many things – both at Penn and at home in New York City – that I was afraid to leave behind, if only for 10 weeks.

But of course that’s not the whole story. Because I wasn’t just afraid about leaving Penn, I was nervous about my first visit to a developing country

And I can’t pretend the lack of certain simple creature comforts haven’t been challenging:

I miss having a sidewalk to walk on so that I don’t have to worry about being run over whenever I walk outside.

I miss being able to stick my head under the faucet and drink when I’m thirsty.

I miss Mexican food.

I miss fast internet.

All of these are small, first world problems. But I’d be lying if I said they’re never on my mind.

And then there are bigger things.

I look forward to being back in a place where I’m not confined by gender-specific expectations. It gets tiring to feel like a second class citizen.

I look forward to being back in New York and not having to worry that the cab driver will stop at some warehouse stuffed with expensive goods where a smiling, sycophantic salesmen will endlessly try to sell things I don’t want.

I look forward to understanding what’s going on when I’m traveling.

Which brings me to the double-edged nature of traveling in a country like India. On the one hand, it’s exhausting – you never really can know 100% what’s happening, because all the directions and instruction are being shouted in a foreign language and things can change inexplicably in an instant.

For example, last weekend I traveled to Amritsar with Bill. We bought our ticket online beforehand, got to the station an hour early, everything as careful as possible. We asked someone for the bus to Amritsar, we boarded the bus and settled down. And then we showed our ticket to a man sitting near us to double check, and we found out that the bus we’d bought tickets for had been cancelled and we had to buy new tickets.

No had one bothered to tell us. or if they did, they said it in Hindi and we had no chance of knowing.

And yet – on the other hand – this kind of traveling is so exciting. You learn how you can manage on so much less or in such strange or different circumstances. You never know what to expect wherever you go. How the people there will react to you, what the landscape will look like, what crazy driver will be driving the bus – it’s certainly far more exciting than my usual bus ride from New York back to Penn. And I do think I’ll miss the excitement. Often there’s nothing harder than simple, predictable routine.

That also goes for the work I’ve done here. Sometimes it may have felt here like I was working pretty hard for summer vacation. And yet I was recently filling out some paperwork for school in which I had to describe the various projects I’d worked on this summer, and I was suddenly filled with a sense of accomplishment. LEAP’s mission is to prepare Indian students for their career, but I think interning here has in many versatile ways prepared me for mine:

I’ve had the opportunity to: write official statistical reports, work on designing classroom curriculum, spend hours researching about pedagogy and classroom management, think about effective ways to build an alumni base, try my hand at designing a promotional video, write promotional material for a website, and also conduct various workshops for teenagers, college students, and adults.



Laura and I running a workshop on improvisation and classroom presence

It’s been a true start-up summer, giving me experience in a wide variety of fields and especially in the one I’m quite interested in: education.

And it’s given me a lot to think about – vocational training (LEAP’s main focus) is not a field I’ve ever thought about much, because it’s nowhere near as glorious as the way we like to talk about education and empowerment in America. But it’s very reflective of the reality of a country like India.

It goes without saying that I will miss my co-workers at LEAP: so warm and welcoming, so passionate and hardworking, so eager to share their food and their experiences of Indian culture, so quick to offer their help and advice, so excited to learn more about us and our lives back in North America.


A going away party for two of the trainers

It is strange to realize that I don’t know when I will see them again.

And to end off: I want to return to the last piece of that quote from above for a second, that part about being grateful for what you have.

Because all other complicated feelings about India aside, I hope I return to America with a profound sense of gratitude for what I’ve been given in life.

I’ve missed my friends and family: I’m endlessly grateful to have had them supporting me from a far and to know I’m going back to be among people who care about me so much.

In the grand lottery of the seven billion people living on this Earth, I’ve pretty much hit the jackpot. Sure, there are plenty of people in the world wealthier than me, but the truth is that I’ve never lacked for what I need in life: I’ve always had a roof over my head, never had to worry about never had to travel in unbearable heat, always had a clean way to shower and relieve myself, always had nutritious and sufficient food, never lacked for a solid, well-rounded education.

power outage

Working away during one of many power outages

And that brings to my final point: what I’m most grateful for is knowing that I’ve been given the tools to essentially do whatever I want in my life. I’ve been given the power to shape my life as I wish and, even more than that, to shape the world around me – or at least have a small impact on it. That’s a lesson that India has taught me – and I hope it’s one I never forget.

P.S. the big thing I’ll miss about India: the food. hands down.

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About Leora

University of Pennsylvania (C'17) graduate. Former Nehru-Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in India. Education and youth development professional. Itinerant reader, writer, and movie junkie.