From Weddings to Work

A quick introduction ­—Hey everyone! My name is Ila Sethi and I’ll be interning at the Public Health Foundation in Gurgaon, Haryana with my fellow intern, Nancy. I’m a rising sophomore in the College majoring in Biological Basis of Behavior and minoring in Health Care Management. At Penn, I am part of the Integrated Studies Program. This focus on typing disciplines together is what drew me to apply to intern at PHFI, whose mission statement describes the importance of using interdisciplinary sources in public health work.

In case you couldn’t tell from my name, I am Indian-American. I hope this opportunity will allow me to see an India beyond my relatives’ homes and further give me the opportunity to travel to the (many) places in India I have yet to see. I’ve only ever really come to India to attend weddings. My parents have been extremely protective over my sister and me on our visits, making us take a rickshaw for two blocks instead of walking if the street looks fairly crowded.

When I’ve told Indian family-friends that I plan to intern in India over the summer of all times, I’m met with a mixture of confusion and surprise. They ask when my mom is flying out, or my dad, who I’m staying with- when I tell them I’ll be going with another girl my own age and no one else, and staying without relatives, well, they can’t really imagine why.

Admittedly, the heat is incredible.  I’ve spent only marginal times outside, and each experience leaves me wanting my shorts, t-shirts, and the beach. Between the heat and the jetlag, I feel groggy and sluggish- except of course, in the middle of the night, when I should be sleeping.

I am from New Jersey, but from looking at me, many assume I am from India, and subsequently, that I know what I’m doing. They immediately speak to me in Hindi, and although I do know the language, I am often left flustered and them frustrated by my lack of awareness.

I might wear Indian clothes, look Indian, even speak the language, but with many things here, I am completely out of my depth. Nancy asks me questions about India that I have no answers to ­— I might be able to tell her that Café Coffee Day has great cold coffee, but I don’t know why so many Indian women wear nose rings, or why Indians take their coffee with milk. My parents may have grown up here, but I know India in only a very superficial and transient way.

I hope that over the next ten weeks I will begin to feel like India is less my parents’­ home, and more of my own.

 

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About Ila Sethi

Class of 2020, majoring in BBB ||| Public Health Foundation of India in Gurgaon, Haryana