There is no doubt this past summer will have a special place in my heart. It played a huge role in solidifying my passion for research and introduced me to some of my now closest friends. Looking back, one thing I did not really touch base with on these blog posts is how my experience in India as an Indian-American was different from some of the experiences of the other SiSA Fellows.
India was an obvious choice for my first truly solo international experience. I visited family members in Andhra Pradesh (a state on the east coast of India) along with my parents a couple times before. As a result, I expected to be able to easily adapt to the Indian environment and have the security of relatives living relatively close by. Little did I know that interning in Bangalore, Karnataka (a state in the other side of the country on the west coast) would be a lot different from my time in Andhra Pradesh, albeit in more good ways than not.
For one thing, the weather was a lot more agreeable. Bangalore may be one of the best places to live in India during the summer for people not used to the heat. That being said, there were definitely those scorching hot days where we did not feel like leaving the lab, but, for the most part, Bangalore weather was rather pleasant.
Furthermore, there were a lot of people my age at inStem, and I am not just talking about the other interns. inStem was house to a great many junior research fellows just a couple years older than me that had just graduated college. Because of this, I was able to experience the summer along with others with similar interests that were willing and had time to hang out outside of the lab. We took any chance we got to go out and explore the city.
Living on campus was very convenient. Everything I needed to survive on my own was pretty much right there, from a source of food for all meals to recreational facilities to work out and have fun! For example, because the gym was so close to my room, I took advantage of that to go pretty much every other day, something I never did back at home. Unlike some of the other SiSA fellows, I had access to a dining hall where I could eat every meal for very cheap, because it was subsidized by the institution.
Another advantage in being Indian-American was that I did not immediately stand out. Like any country, foreigners are often treated differently, especially in shops and restaurants. One time, I let it slip that I was visiting from the United States when I was talking to my barber. Later that day, I found out I was charged twice as much as I was supposed to for that haircut. Never again did I make that mistake.
Language was one thing I didn’t think I would have all that much trouble with. English was relatively common and everyone at inStem spoke English, even though Hindi and Kannada were the more commonly encountered languages in Bangalore. Unfortunately, neither Hindi nor Kannada were languages I was familiar with. My co-interns and sometimes even mentors would tease me in Hindi because of this. Before long though, I got pretty good at understanding them, not because I got any better at Hindi but because I got very adept at reading body language. This one disadvantage quickly turned into quite the party trick. I would constantly catch them off guard by quipping back at them, sometimes even in Hindi. One thing though that I thought was hilarious was how I soon adopted the local accent. When I would call back home, my sister would always make fun of how much my voice had changed. After coming back to the States, though, it seems my voice is back to normal, although the accent leaks back out every now and then.
Overall, I very much enjoyed my time in India, and I hope to visit again someday, whether it’s to research again or to simply site-see, because India is a truly beautiful country everybody should get to experience.