Pushing My Boundaries

I am not a particularly outgoing or adventurous person by nature. I like to think through all possible outcomes before I make a decision. And although this way of thinking keeps me safe and my actions responsible, it also limits my possibilities. Coming to India alone for 10 weeks was my first big gamble. I have never stayed in a different country without being in the care of family or

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The Aravind Interns

friends, and jumping into India with classmates whom I had never really met is definitely the most adventurous thing I have done. Since coming to India and traveling around with the other interns, I have found myself doing things I would have never considered doing by myself or even with my family. It is because I am fully in control of my actions and decisions while among a group of my peers that I have been able to push myself to try new things.

 

 

 

The first hurdle was the non-A/C sleeper buses. Before coming to India, I had been warned by many friends and relatives to be extra careful as a girl. I wasn’t even allowed to bring any of my own clothes with me (as they consisted almost solely of shorts and T-shirts) and instead bought an entire wardrobe of kurtas and patiala pants, which are essentially the Indian version of parachute pants. Normally I am incredibly sensitive to heat and would never wear such stifling clothes in 100+ degree weather. But because of all the warnings I started to fear for my own safety and did not even question it. Now in order to meet my fellow interns in Pondicherry, I would have to sweat all night without A/C on a bus full of people that I don’t know. The thought of doing this certainly scared me, and more than that, terrified my parents. But after the first hour of paranoia, even though I still stayed vigilant, I found that as long as the other two interns were close by, I wasn’t as scared as I had anticipated. And after spending a couple days in Pondi, I realized that the bus ride was a small price to pay for an amazing reward.

 

While in Pondi, we visited Auroville, which is a kind of intentional community centered around universal acceptance that transcends politics and nationalities.

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Matrimandir in Auroville

And near Auroville, there was a small surfing school set up by children of Auroville residents. So of course we decided to go there and take surfing lessons. All morning I was openly dreading it because in the past I have even been scared of body surfing waves. I assured everyone that I probably wouldn’t even be able to enter the water. And once we got to the beach and changed into surfing gear, I was in an internal state of panic. When I heard surfing I assumed we would be out in the deep tackling waves that towered over my head. Instead I was pleased to find that the waves were essentially body surfing waves, and we were not even standing where the waves were breaking. Yet we were close enough to shore that I was always able to touch the ground. The class was structured as a step by step process that started with body surfing and finally went up to standing on the board, but right as we were about to try standing for the first time, an instructor saw lightning. So we were each allowed to try standing for one wave as we made our way back to shore. I pushed off with my board and the wave picked it up. I jumped up onto my feet and stood there for what was probably 0.05 seconds before I tumbled off, but for those mere 0.05 seconds I felt exhilarated. When we got back to the surf shop I couldn’t wait to come back, and kept suggesting that we drive back up for over an hour on our last day to surf again, even though at first I was the biggest dissenter. In the end, we couldn’t make it back, but I know that I am going to try surfing again soon, a thought I would not have even considered before I came to India.

 

 

My last big adventure so far has been hiking in Kodaikanal. I have never gone hiking before, and considering my utter lack of physical aptitude, I had never considered walking up and down a mountain in high altitudes to be a desirable experience. But nonetheless, I went with my fellow Aravind interns and some other friends we met at Inspiration hostel on a hike to dolphin’s nose (which is essentially a crag the sticks out over the mountain). At first the roads were paved and I thought that hiking was so easy, there was nothing to be worried about. But then we entered the real trail, a fairly steep mud path with footholds of branches and rocks. My pace quickly dropped to a near standstill, but I slowly made my way down, checking every foothold as I went. When we finally made it onto dolphin’s nose, my legs went stiff. When I was in 6th grade, I once got stuck on the playground equipment meant for the younger students because of my intense fear of heights. As I was about to walk onto a crag dangling over a multiple hundred-foot drop into the wilderness, my mind went blank. A tour-guide for a different group urged someone to go with me because he was worried about my panicked expression and unsteady stance. But I sat down

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Dolphin’s Nose in Kodaikanal

and scooted my way to the end of the rock, smiled for a picture, and scooted my way back to relative safety. I won’t even mention the climb back up the trail, which I assumed would be easier since I wouldn’t feel like I was falling. I will just say that I was mistaken, it was definitely not easier. At this point I still can’t say that I enjoyed the hike itself, but when I look back on the picture and remember everything that went into getting there, I definitely don’t regret it.

 

 

When I get back from India, I hope that the experience of coming to India in this manner and the experiences I have amassed while here will shape the way I approach life. I am not saying that I want to suddenly become a daredevil and challenge dangerous situations. I will still harbor my fears and act responsibly, but I never want to miss a potentially great experience, like this internship has been, because I am not confident enough.

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About Aditi Ahuja

My name is Aditi Ahuja and I am a biology major in the University of Pennsylvania class of 2018. This summer 2016 I am interning with Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai, India.