Some Final Thoughts

Sorry for the extremely late post! I had to give myself a bit of time for the experience of being in India to sink in while I’m here back in the U.S. I think being here in Philly for a little over a month now has given me time to reflect back on my internship with CORD in Sidhbari.

First off, I think the trip back was the longest trip I’ve ever taken in my life! I started off with an overnight bus trip from Dharamshala to Delhi, which took about twelve hours (from 6pm to 6am the next day). That was probably the toughest part, because even though the bus was really nice, I just couldn’t fall asleep with all the bumps of the ride. But I got to have some really interesting conversations with the girl who was sitting next to me; she happened to speak English fluently. Me being a huge movie fan, we started talking about our favorite movies, most of which were the same: The Dark Knight (I’ve seen that around 20 times probably), The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (extended edition for the win!), and The Shawshank Redemption, to name a few. That and some other conversations about life in India, etc. helped make the trip go by faster. When I arrived in Delhi the next morning, I was lucky enough to spend the day at the home of the Chief Statistician of India, since my flight from Delhi wasn’t until 1:45am the next day! Due to my being extremely sleep-deprived (maybe delirious is a better way to put it), I basically crashed and stayed asleep the whole time, which was totally okay with me. Then the flight from Delhi to JFK was 15 hours, so to keep myself from losing my sanity I watched four movies. Then I had a four-hour layover at JFK, and finally flew into D.C., where I would stay with my sister for a few days before going up to Philly. To sum it up, the trip—from the time my night bus left Dharamshala until the time I touched down in Washington, D.C.—took about 55 hours!!

Now that I’m settled in back at Penn again, I can begin to better appreciate what happened in India. I am first of all so grateful for my fellow interns and friends Ravi and Michelle. I could not imagine doing this trip alone, with the language barriers I faced and the potential isolation I could have went through had they not been there. Many of the evenings after going into the field, when it was time to eat dinner or just relax, they would be there to have a stimulating or even just goofy conversation about something that had happened to them that day. That was always such a joy and a breath of fresh air.

It was also a super awesome time when the LEAP interns came to visit us in Sidhbari! Some of my best memories from India are from that day, when we spontaneously decided to go to a wedding ceremony and take part in the festivities, including the dancing—but, most importantly, the eating.

Another thing I’ve taken away from my time in India is a greater perspective of my life back home, which was something I had hoped to glean from my experience there. The region I was in was, for the most part, farming land, extremely rural. And most of the people I got to meet first hand were themselves farmers, and I had the wonderful opportunity to go into their homes and learn a little bit—perhaps a small piece—about their lives. But although my project was focused on maternal and child nutrition, I think I also learned from these folks a little bit about life in general. Most of the families I interviewed were poor. They didn’t have the kinds of materials I possess and, admittedly, take for granted so much of the time: TV’s, Apple computers and iPhone’s, high-speed internet; even cars some of them didn’t possess. But they had family, and they had food and water, shelter and, for the most part, health and, although I won’t assess their own lives for them (especially having gotten such a small glimpse into their lives), many of them seemed content. Narender, my supervisor, had a couple of discussions with me, Michelle and Ravi about the “core necessities” of life, family being one of the most vital. So if anything, these lessons have given me perspective about my own life in the U.S., and what is and should be most meaningful to me (family, friends, home).

I will always be extremely grateful for this immersive experience and can’t wait to greet the next wave of CASI interns! Go CASI!

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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.