Earlier this morning, I stepped out of a crowded bus and onto the familiar streets of Bangalore. Gabby, Raisa, Lawrence, and I had just weathered a fourteen-hour bus ride back from the coast of Kerala, an Indian state in the south-west of the country. Ambitious for a weekend trip, I know, but the opportunity to sink our feet into the sandy beaches of the Arabian Sea was too tempting to pass up. I may be from a landlocked suburb of Philadelphia, but for some reason, oceans and beaches have always been where I have felt the most at home. Working in Bangalore, hundreds of miles from the closest ocean, only made my homesickness for the beach grow.
But as I arrived back in Bangalore after more than half of a day in transit from the beach, I turned to my friends and smiled, “It’s nice to be back home.” After a few moments, it kicked in that I had instinctually referred to Bangalore as my home. At first this seemed odd to me. How could I put a tiny room on a congested road in the outskirts of a foreign city on par with my town in the suburbs or my familiar room at Penn? Over just one weekend, I had developed a homesickness not for Pennsylvania, but for Bangalore. I missed its terrible traffic and its perpetual flurry of honks, its eclectic mix of storefronts and its colorful signs in a language that I recognize but cannot understand. In just a few short weeks, Bangalore transformed into yet another place I could call home–its hectic, colorful, busy unfamiliarity and all.
I look forward to sharing more about my experiences working and living in this simultaneously familiar and completely foreign city this Summer. When I got the news that I had been accepted to CASI’s Shahi Exports Internship, I was so incredibly excited for the chance to translate my studies into something more tangible in a country that I had always wanted to visit and explore. I am studying Health and Societies (HSOC) at Penn with a focus on Health Policy and Law. This major has taught me to think about health in a holistic way, in the context of a society’s history and people and culture, which should prove especially helpful for my internship this summer.
Shahi Exports is the largest ready-to-wear garment manufacturer and exporter in India. At Shahi, I will be working with the company’s Organizational Development (OD) team to develop a project to improve working conditions and quality of life of workers at Shahi, the vast majority of whom are women, and many of whom are migrants from rural regions of the country. This internship presents a unique opportunity to put my interdisciplinary study of health into practice. Although my project is in its early stages, I am looking to develop a standardized counseling program for the workers at Shahi to address their very real but often unaddressed mental health needs. Many workers, particularly low-income migrant women, deal with a very unique set of issues at work and at home. The current counseling program is quite underutilized, and I am working to improve the program with the goal of reaching as many of the workers at Shahi as possible.
I cannot wait to share more about my travels in India and work at Shahi—it’s only been two weeks but it feels like I already have a years’ worth of stories to tell.