Learning and Re-learning Abroad

After I travel abroad (or have any big, perspective-altering experience), it usually takes me months to fully process what I’ve learned. I usually don’t even bother reflecting on big takeaways until weeks after returning home. However, the impending blog post deadline is a great way to speed things up, or just a good excuse to reflect on some of the realizations I’ve made over the last ten weeks. Here are a few:

-Patience: I’ve been here since mid-May, and our intervention (deworming tablets, iron supplementation, and free fruit in the morning, along with heath and nutrition training for all migrant workers) was just rolled out about 10 days ago. While it’s frustrating in some ways to only see the beginning stages of the culmination of our work, I’m elated that we accomplished even what we did. I’ve had to be patient with people who take weeks to email me back, with accessing the resources that I need like translators or transportation, with the iron capsules that were supposed to be ready weeks before they were, and mostly with myself. I have high expectations for myself and what I can accomplish. Especially when traveling to a completely new place, I have to recognize that my own lack of rapport, cultural understanding and language skills will provide set backs and challenges.

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Waiting forever for staff to show up at a government office. The sign says “Government’s work is God’s work.”

…and that brings me to flexibility: This is one that I learn over and over whenever I go abroad. The more rigid I am with my schedule, the more unhappy I’ll be. In India (and wherever you are in the world), things very rarely go as planned, and we often have a choice in how we deal with these situations. The quality of wifi connection does not adhere to my need. I won’t always be able to get to factory unit 12 on time to conduct my interviews. Or, maybe I’ll arrive on time after the 45 minute trip and have no translator to help me conduct them. There are countless potentially frustrating moments, but this summer has given me invaluable practice in embracing them and adapting myself and my own plans instead of taking out my frustration by blaming uncontrollable circumstances.

-Focusing on people’s admirable traits: Doris, one of the HR staff from factory unit 12, successfully consoled 153 terrified workers while they received blood tests. Prem, another HR staff from unit 7, is the only man I know who can lead a training session for female workers on menstrual hygiene. Dr. Leena is incredibly loving, and cried with me when I was sick. She continues to buy me brownies on “doctor’s orders” so that I fatten up. Chitra, our supervisor, only has one day off per week (Sunday), but spent so many of those helping us do hostel visits or other work. This Sunday, she invited us for brunch and woke up at 7 am to prepare it. I don’t know how I’ve deserved this stroke of luck, but I’ve been surrounded by some of the most generous, loving people that I’ve ever met.

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Breakfast at Chitra’s!

-The limits I set for myself will become real: During the beginning stages of researching anemia and nutrition amongst migrant workers, I don’t think I really believed we would be able to accomplish anything. Without the incredible support and push from the Shahi staff, I am almost sure that this idea would have become a reality. The work has helped me to realize how real these self-placed limitations can become, and how trusting in myself to push beyond my previously conceived boundaries is incredibly important.

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The enormity of Shahi’s working population was very intimidating when planning any kind of training or project

And a few less important things that I’ve learned:

  • How to eat chicken with many bones in it
  • How to cross the street
  • How to eat rice with my hands
  • How to tear a chapatti with one hand
  • How to pick out a decent mango

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Mango vendor near our hotel

  • The exact spot in our hotel’s hallway where I can sit for the best wifi
  • KFC is great in India, but beef burgers are generally not
  • Bangalore restaurants and pubs ALWAYS have awesome lights

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About amysindiabound

My name is Amy Summer and I'm a cultural anthropology major at the University of Pennsylvania concentrating in medical anthropology and global health and minoring in international development. I'll be a rising senior this coming year, and I'm hoping to work in the non-profit field for a few years once I graduate. I love to travel, cook (and eat, of course), and write. Over the summer I'm working on the Shahi experts internship team in India. I'm hoping to experience what it might be like to work in international development or the corporate social responsibility division, all while gorging myself on naan, dosas, butter chicken, and biryani.