I’ve been back on Penn Campus for two days now and I have completely lost count of how many times I’ve been asked this question and how many times I struggled to find words to describe my summer. Do I start from the incredible systems Aravind has in place, the amount of information I learned about a hospital environment, or the number of wild animals I’d see chilling on the roads? I always feel like my standard 2 second response of “I was working at a eye hospital in India” doesn’t do my experience any justice whatsoever.
After my internship, I stayed with my family in Andhra for a few days and it felt so strange because all of a sudden the city I had grown up in felt foreign compared to Madurai. Every time I’d see anything that resembled Madurai or Aravind, I’d go off on some crazy tangent about the summer while my family tried to keep up.
Even sitting here at Penn feels surreal because part of me is still in a different universe where life was slow, food was spicy, and traffic was chaotic. It feels so strange to walk down Locust and not see dogs, cats, cows, buffalo, horses, and goats. It feels even stranger when I’m not eating the delicious chapatis at Inspiration for lunch. My first day back in the United States, I realized how instinctive it was for me to simply jaywalk (which is highly frowned upon in my suburban community) and had to actively keep myself from “just going for it” at every intersection.
From not having to worry about where my water is coming from to crossing the street without any fear, things that were so normal a few months ago seem completely foreign, and as these events occur, I start reflecting on what I really did this summer.
What did I do this summer?
- I worked for an amazing organization where compassionate, high quality care was prioritized.
- I learned to adapt to Indian workplace etiquette by developing habits such as being comfortable pushing for what I need, taking criticism in a positive manner, and coping with and embracing the idea that there is always more left to do.
- I ate the most amazing (wallet friendly) food that left my taste buds in awe.
- I was mentored by my supervisors who taught me the importance of not taking anything for face value when working with groups of people who have different priorities.
- I experienced care like never before from individuals who would sacrifice their weekend to ensure I was having a great one.
- I engaged with my culture and religion (Fun Fact: Madurai is known as “Temple City”) and developed my identity as an Indian American.
- I met and conversed with people of all ages, ethnicities, and professions (hospital managers, residents, fellows, environmental engineers, computer scientists) over meals at the Inspiration hostel.
- I had an unforgettable experience.