Dear Pre-Aravind Anjali,
Right now, I know you’re stressed because you’re packing for a trip where you’ll buy all of your clothes after you arrive, but not to worry, you’ll have no trouble finding them (though you should know you are not good at bargaining).
I want to tell you how much you’ll learn this summer, the most important being that loose cotton pants might actually be the most comfortable article of clothing ever designed for heat and you should buy as many as you can before you leave. In all seriousness though, I wish I could explain what Aravind is before you arrive there, because I know right now you don’t know much besides “it’s an eye hospital” and “it’s big.” So, let me try. Yes, it’s huge. It’s efficient. It’s clean. And it serves over 2,000 people every day, over half of whom receive care totally free of charge. I know you’ll struggle accepting that it’s completely self-sufficient because it’s almost unheard of that an NGO doesn’t rely on donations, but, I promise, its model of hyper-efficiency actually makes it profitable – Aravind is constantly improving, innovating, and growing, and that will teach you a lot about the attitude that sets apart Aravind staff from everyone else.
I know you’re worried about being in India for the first time without your family there. You’ve never traveled to southern India, and you definitely can’t speak Tamil (let’s be honest, your Hindi isn’t that great either). Know that sometimes adding an Indian accent to your English makes it easier to understand and that most people will know you’re an Indian-American as soon as you open your mouth. Be prepared for frustration — mostly with yourself for being unable to communicate with a lot of people — but also for the growth that will come from learning to adapt to new situations and the joy from those times where you can communicate with someone without sharing the same language.
Finally, I want you to keep your mind open. Your perception of India, Indian culture, and your identity as an Indian-American will change every day. The experience you’ll have this summer will be completely unique. You’ll learn from some of the most knowledgeable, passionate, and kind people you’ve ever met; they’ll inspire you with the culture of respect that pervades Aravind and the humility and desire to learn you’ll feel in every conversation. You don’t know it yet, but soon you’ll want to be just like the people you work with – incredibly smart, but always learning and changing; clearly passionate, always focused on real ways to make your vision into reality; and truly kind, respecting, teaching, and learning from every person you meet.
Good luck this summer, and please, don’t forget too many malaria pills while you’re there; though, it’s probably too late for that now.
Anjali in August