Hi everyone! Coming at you from underneath a mosquito net in India, my name is Alexa Breyfogle, and I was born and raised right outside of Kansas City in Leawood, Kansas. I just finished my first year studying Economics at Penn, and I’m interning this summer at Samaj Pragati Sahayog, a non-profit focusing on community empowerment and development in central India. I’m really excited to have the opportunity to explore a developing economy first-hand, as well as the various producer companies that SPS helped create which help make the market and bargaining power within it more accessible for the farmers in the region.
I received my acceptance email while I was staying in a traditional hotel in Japan which makes my life seem much more cool and cultured than it really is. My parents encouraged me to apply for a passport the summer before my freshman year because they wanted me to take advantage of everything Penn had to offer. I hadn’t left the country since a family trip to Israel when I was 10 or 11, but travel and seeing new places was always something I wanted to do. My preparation process was decidedly bottom-heavy as I ignored everything but vaccinations until I got home from finals. Even then, I got three more vaccinations to humor my parents who were anxious about sending their daughter halfway across the world. I couldn’t pack any clothes except to make it through the first couple of days due to the dress standards in India for women. The temperatures would regularly be in the mid-90s, but it’s inappropriate for women to show much skin—especially their legs. All the pants I owned were either too heavy or were shorts, so I made the decision to pack leggings to wear underneath loose-fitting dresses in order to not stand out any more than a foreigner in non-traditional clothes would.
One of my suitcases is mainly a mix of American snacks, over-the-counter prescriptions drugs, and sunscreen—and that’s my checked luggage. It’s clear I’m not quite sure what to expect from my experience living and working in India for the summer. My friends’ reactions when I told them my summer plans ranged from enthusiastic and excited to incredulity that I would take such a bold departure from my previous summer’s schedule of nannying and working at a dog store. My parents were excited for me but wondered why I couldn’t stay home, but I want to prove to myself I can find my way around a new country and really (hopefully) have the opportunity to do something useful and good with my time.
My drive to the airport was hard but about as tough as I thought it would be. I teared up saying goodbye to my dog, there’s something about them not knowing you’re leaving for more than to go eat lunch. I arrived early enough to check my bag on time and then sat outside of security with my parents for half an hour saying goodbye. Getting on the plane to Toronto wasn’t that eventful; I sat next to a Penn alum and we discussed the various ways that the university had changed in the past 40+ years. Arriving in Canada and standing in a line that told me I was going to India was surreal, and it was then that it finally clicked in my brain that I was going to be living there until August. The longest time I’ve ever been to another country is 10 days, so working my internship for 10 weeks will definitely be an adjustment but hopefully will teach me a lot of rural development in India and about myself!