Like most of us, when I am unfamiliar or confused about something I turn to the vast and glorious world wide web in hopes that the gaps in my knowledge are filled. The prospect of spending nine weeks in India left me with ambivalent feelings, but alas, I knew that I could rely on the handy dandy review sites that have kept me from making numerous mistakes thus far — or so I thought.
My name is Charitha (Cherry) Moparthy and I am a rising sophomore in the Wharton school studying statistics and health care management along with data science. I will be interning at the Madurai branch of the Aravind Eye Care System along with my amazing co-interns: Nadha, Anjali, and Catherine. With my interest in pioneering innovative health care models and systems, I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity to intern at Aravind whose mission to prevent needless blindness by offering high quality care for low prices and in many cases, for completely free appears to be quite an enigma in the larger health care ecosystem. Mostly, I am so excited to see everything I have read (and fangirled) about in live action.
As for being in India for nine weeks, I initially felt comfortable with the thought because I had been born and raised in Andhra Pradesh (the state closest to Tamil Nadu which houses a majority of the Aravind system) and even went to school there for a few years. I was used to the food, the people, and the culture (but not the heat as I found out in Delhi). It wasn’t until about 12 hours before I boarded my flight in Tallahassee, FL that I suddenly became extremely nervous about spending 9 weeks on my own. I could almost physically feel myself being pushed out of my comfort zone and my daily routine essentially being torn to pieces. I also realized that the India experiences and summers I loved so much were in a way curated for me by my relatives. Hopefully, creating a routine for myself in Madurai will largely put the butterflies to rest.
Now to the part where I quickly discovered that reading online reviews to make decisions will lead you to “truly unique” experiences in India. The very first review that caught my attention was discovered when LEAP intern Ria and I were looking for places to visit in Delhi.
As we prepared to explore Lodhi Gardens and Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi the next day, my mind went back to this review. “I am visiting impressive buildings, so I should most definitely avoid wearing shorts.” This ended up being great advice as it kept me from sticking out in the crowds and maybe even from getting ripped off as a foreigner, but I can confidently say my entire outfit was soaked with sweat within 20 minutes of stepping outside.
The second review that marked my time in Delhi and more specifically at the India Habitat Centre was of a restaurant at the hotel called Oriental Octopus – an east Asian restaurant which due to its name we believed would have a very casual vibe. I saw great reviews of the place such as “Good food, efficient service, warm ambiance”. Excited to try the food, we went to the entrance of the restaurant and found a man cleaning a wine glass. Whether it was due to the hunger in my stomach or my “keen” intuition, I decided this would be the moment where I let go of my Western manners as I believed they weren’t efficient in India.
As Ria, Nadha, and I confidently barged into the dining area instead of waiting to be seated, we were met with quite frankly the most fanciest fine dining restaurant I have ever been in. I was expecting Panda Express, but instead saw candlelit dinners and elegant dishes. After a period of waiters and diners awkwardly staring at us as we paced the dining area clearly looking out of place, we got seated and ordered our food. Once our food arrived, we were all ready to dig into our dishes when a waitress appeared and said the words we would later come to dread, “Let me serve you”. The next five minutes were some of the slowest of my life as she went around the table placing a piece of shrimp in each of our plates, followed by the dumplings, followed by the noodles, and so forth in extreme silence while the three of us fine diners nervously squirmed in our seats. At that moment I thought “Wow, good food, efficient service, warm ambiance — I guess they weren’t wrong.”
Preparing for Madurai, I now know from my short stay in Delhi that even when I know what to expect, unexpected things will happened. I look forward to starting another chapter at an amazing institution and city and of course to reading more reviews.