Long way from NY, but feeling at home.

aHi everyone! My name is Gabrielle (Gabby for short, although Raisa and Josh have taken to calling me Gobi here). I am a rising senior in the College of Arts and Sciences majoring in Political Science–with a concentration in International Relations–and minoring in International Development/Survey Research and Data Analytics.

I live with my two parents and two younger brothers in a relatively small town on eastern Long Island. My community is wonderful, but most families consist of the same structure, ethnic background, career choice(s), political affiliation, and overall mindset.

Penn made me aware of how much else is out there to observe, absorb, and value. Like Lawrence (fellow CASI/Shahi intern), this past semester I spent 10+ weeks taking classes at night, and working full time in Washington, D.C. In my research position I focused on labor migration and female labor participation as a necessary component of India’s economic development. It was my first taste of producing a tangible, practical output, from classroom theory. But I still sought more. I knew traveling and working in India would be a significant deviation from anything I had ever experienced. But for some reason, I did not have any reservations. The Penn in Washington program has an additional offering for a few students, referred to as Penn in Washington and the World. This program is designed for juniors who want to spend a semester in D.C., without sacrificing the opportunity to study abroad. It was perfect for me.

Once accepted, the process continued through Penn’s International Internship Program and the Center for the Advanced Study of India (CASI). A couple applications, and interviews later, I was formally accepted to the 10-week CASI program with placement at Shahi Exports. Shahi Exports is India’s largest exporter of ready-made garments. 70% of Shahi’s employees are women, and of those 70%, 15% are migrant workers from outer regions like Orissa. Over the years, and with great help from past CASI interns, Shahi has implemented relatively progressive Organizational Development (OD) initiatives focused on empowering women, improving hygiene and nutrition, de-stigmatizing mental health, developing soft skills, among others.

Interning at Shahi Exports provides a hands-on approach to developmental issues in female labor and high level economic migration that is incredibly individualized. As interns, we are expected to develop unique research initiatives to inform Shahi’s policies and processes related to employee needs (more on this in the next blog!). By focusing on women, our projects will hopefully help Shahi better understand the social and cultural challenges affecting absenteeism and attrition rates in their factories. I know there is much to learn from the employees themselves, and I want to ensure that their voices are fully heard. OD initiatives should continue to be designed with their direct input, and assessed by the program’s capacity to satisfy employee needs. Ten weeks will hopefully afford me the opportunity to observe where real change is being implemented, which programs to highlight, and where improvements can be made.

In my subsequent blog posts, I promise to include substantive content regarding what it’s like to be in India, and work here for 10 weeks. I am still acclimating to the curious stares we receive, the unique traffic rules (or lack thereof), the adrenaline rush of successfully crossing the 6-7 lane streets, the helpless feeling of not knowing the local languages. But by and large, the people I have had the pleasure of interacting with have been nothing but accommodating, patient, and caring. And I couldn’t feel any luckier to have been placed at Shahi with Raisa, Josh, and Lawrence. We became fast friends after beginning this journey together flying from JFK to Kuwait to Delhi, nearly passing out from the extreme heat at the Taj Mahal, taking two 14 hour bus rides for a weekend in Kerala, combining our beds to watch Bollywood movies together at night, and laughing through it all when things veered from the plan at every turn. While I do miss my family and friends back in the States, I somehow feel at home already here, and that is largely because of the incredible people I am surrounded by every day. So here’s to another 8 weeks (wow, time is flying!) of learning, creating, laughing, and growing together. Can’t wait to share this experience with all of you!

*Next step: street food!

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About Gabrielle Harrigan

Class of 2018. Majoring in Political Science with a concentration in International Relations, and minoring in Survey Research and Data Analytics. Intern at Shahi Exports in Bangalore, Karnataka, in summer 2017.