When I was considering coming to India, I was weighing a bunch of different factors. I was nervous about spending two months so far away from everyone I love with three people I had never met before. I knew I would be studying abroad this fall and that I probably would not have time to go home between my India and Australia adventures. Saying yes to CASI was accepting more than just ten weeks in India – it was saying yes to saying “see you in seven months!” to everyone I love: to my family at home in New York and my family on campus at Penn. I was accepting ten weeks of the unknown, confirming that I wanted to face every unknown hardship that would come up.
There were definitely times where I was uncomfortable being a white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, young woman in India. People would take pictures with/of me, and sometimes they would ask first. I did not want to go to the gym with my co-interns because of the long walk to get there and how many eyes looked at us along the way. I attracted more than enough attention just by existing, and wearing workout clothes (however modest) only made us stand out more. When our taxi driver was driving us to the airport in Delhi, I am pretty sure the driver spent more time looking at me in the rearview mirror than looking at the road. I never walked more than five or ten minutes from our hostel by myself.
Around halfway through my internship, I couldn’t help but feel that my sense of wonder was just a little tired. I was tired of being watched, of feeling trapped because I knew walking outside meant people would stare at me. I was tired of not knowing if I would have hot water to shower or how many more days it would be until I could eat a vegetable. I was especially tired of trying to calculate a 9.5-hour time difference… there is nothing like a 9.5-hour time difference to make you question how you ever actually passed a math class.
There were times I didn’t feel like myself because most of the things I usually associate with my identity weren’t available to me (either due to lack of resources or my discomfort with doing them). I didn’t feel comfortable going to the gym or walking around outside. I couldn’t cook or eat fresh vegetables, and I didn’t have a strong Christian community. These are things that fill most of my time at Penn, and part of me felt empty because I could not pursue them. I generally consider myself a happy and joyful person, but there were lots of times during my internship that I did not feel that way. I would dream of playing beach volleyball at the lake, of being able to drive around with my friends and know what the songs of the summer were without needing to check the Billboard charts. There were many days that putting on a smile felt like a challenge, and all I wanted was a long workout, some kale, and a hug.
I’m settling in to life in Australia now, and I am feeling a lot happier and more confident. I have a newfound gratitude for things that I knew were a blessing but never had to live for two months without, like brushing my teeth with water out of the faucet and being able to take a warm shower at any time of day. I know that I am doing the things I love to do because I love to do them, not out of habit, and that’s a good feeling. In Sydney, I can wake up before the sun to go to the gym, and I feel perfectly safe walking there and wearing shorts when I run. I am thrilled to walk the 15 minutes uphill to the grocery store because there are SO many vegetables in such a small place, and I can take them home! I have only been here for a week, and people have mistaken me for a local a few times already. As you can probably guess, that never happened in India.
The toughest re-adjustment has been trying to cross the street. In India, there are basically no laws on the road and you just have to hold your breath and try to make it to the other side whenever you are 51% percent sure that you will make it across. There were hardly any stop signs or traffic lights, let alone cross walks or pedestrian signals. In Sydney, there are crosswalks galore! People actually respect the signals, too, which is hard for me to understand and adjust to. People wait on the sidewalk for the light to turn green before they walk, even when there are no cars around. I’m not very good at doing that. I’m more of the fast-walking, “they don’t want to hit me either” type, and India was generally suited for that kind of attitude. I’ve been told jaywalkers are regularly fined here in Sydney, so I guess I need to grow in patience.
If you have any questions about my time at Aravind, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. I’d be happy to answer any questions you have about Aravind or my experience in India!