Hello! My name is Celeste Xu, and I’m a rising junior in Penn’s Life Sciences and Management (LSM) program. I’m originally from Buffalo Grove, Illinois, which is ~30 miles north of Chicago. This summer, I’ve been placed at Aravind Eye Care System in Madurai, Tamil Nadu along with my co-interns Manya, Aravind, and Suhaas. After a solo travel journey lasting 38 hours (Chicago -> Warsaw -> Delhi -> Chennai -> Madurai), I have finally settled into my home for the next two months.
On my way here, I spent my time listening to music (albums by Fred again.. have been on loop, which inspired the title of this first blog post) and reading. My current read is a memoir my friend Stephen gave me called In Love with the World: A Monk’s Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. In the book, Rinpoche leaves his monastery, where he enjoyed lifelong privilege and stability as a lama, to embark on a wandering retreat through India that he dubs an “ego-suicide mission.” His journey faced many more twists and turns than mine has, but several aspects of his experience resonate deeply with me. As Rinpoche wrote, “This is what I asked for…circumstances so unfamiliar as to make me unfamiliar to myself.” By immersing myself in South India and Aravind Eye Care System this summer, I hope to discover radically new ways of thinking about healthcare and to reevaluate my own abilities, beliefs, and aspirations.
As the only CASI intern this summer who is not South Asian, I’m acutely aware that this trip comes with unique challenges for me. This is my first time visiting India, and I was nervous about the differences in culture and language. I’m lucky to have traveled extensively throughout China and to have visited many other countries, but navigating India has been a bit trickier. The heat and humidity here is intense, and the nighttime ride from the airport to Inspiration (Aravind housing) was a chaotic first glimpse into Madurai as the driver wove and honked around cyclists, autos, pedestrians, and cows.
So far I’ve enjoyed plenty of delicious tea, idli, chapati, fruit, rasam, sambar, papadam, kheer, etc. in Inspiration’s mess hall. The mess hall is where I first met an amazing group of Zambian trainees, including Bryson, Christopher, and Peter. We’ve been exploring Madurai together and sharing plenty of laughs along the way.
Madurai is steeped in Hindu culture, and it’s evident everywhere, from the famous temples to the spiritual foundation of Aravind. The low cost and high quality of the treatments offered, as well as the massive quantity of patients served daily, all contribute to Aravind’s impressive outcomes and reputation. Srilakshmi, our main contact here, has outlined four primary projects for CASI interns: “patient engagement for improvement of adherence to self-care instructions, improving patient workflows in outpatient clinics, creating self-paced online modules for routine training sessions, and documentation of clinical protocols.” Stay tuned to hear more about these projects and our progress.
“Now the challenge was to let go of the resistance to the very changes I had arranged for, and to accept that [this] could be as much an occasion for joyful living as any other circumstance that I had ever known.” (Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche)
Here’s to a summer of joyful living and learning!