I learned more than I gave back.

The 24 hours I had to spend at Indira Gandhi international airport did not make me forget such an amazing summer I had in India. Interning at Aravind was certainly a big highlight of my life, and it was one of the greatest growth opportunities I have received from Penn, so far. That being said, all the lessons I learned over the summer weren’t free pieces of cake. I had to face challenges, and sometimes I appreciated learning the hard way.

Beyond acquiring professional skills in the field I worked in (public health/patient education), I was also provided with tools that are useful in any career or job. First, while at Aravind, I witnessed the importance of being committed and motivated to do the work we do because we believe in the good it does to the community, beyond our personal interests. This has been essential to Aravind Eye Care System’s uninterruptible progress. And so, I want to have a similar commitment in any future profession. Second, I learned that communicating clearly is indispensable in any kind of service. Third, self-guidance was a thing during my internship period. I realized how important it was to find ways to get things done without anyone to just give me everything I needed.

Facing challenges was another way for me to learn. Seemingly simple things like understanding my project and how to go about it weren’t very straightforward at the beginning. Fortunately, I know how to get started on a new project now. It turns out that knowing the right questions to ask and when to ask them is the key to go around any confusion. Otherwise, it becomes almost impossible to manage the little time we have to achieve our goals. Indeed, time management was another challenge that made me discover the trick about reaching out and asking questions. Furthermore, understanding different personalities and how other people think was not always easy, and I don’t think it should be. Rather, diversity is what makes our societies stronger, more beautiful, creating less boring places for humans to live in.

With all this load of life-changing experiences, I owe my gratitude to CASI and everyone who made my trip possible. Thank you so much for offering me a chance to grow both as person and as a future professional. India will remain in my memory, and I won’t forget the welcoming people I met, the language (Tamil) I almost learned, the weekend trips, the delicious food I liked when not too spicy, the heat I survived without burning, etc. The list is not exhaustive. Being back to the US already feels very different, not to mention being back into the school life. Although feeling safer at Penn than in India or Burundi is one of the differences, there is one big distinction between before and after the summer. That is, I am able to tell stories about Aravind and India to anyone who wants to hear about them… and I am proud to say that I learned more than I gave back, not that I didn’t give back.

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About Aimé Bienfait Igiraneza

I am a student at Penn, in the College of Arts and Science, class of 2020. As of now, I intend to major in Logic, Information and Computation, while being on the pre-med track. For the summer of 2017, I am a CASI intern at Aravind Eye Care System, in Madurai, India.