Life is back to normal now in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and as I’m going through the motions of completing mundane tasks like moving into my new house and going back to school shopping, I’ve found myself reflecting a lot on my time in India.
I talked a lot in my last blog post about my memories from India, and how I think of my time in India as just a collection of memories, rather than a story I can easily tell.
Memories are a funny thing— I have memories that are seemingly so insignificant from my childhood that have stuck with me for 15 years. I wonder, as I’m writing this on my 21st birthday, what memories from India I’ll still have 21 years from now. Even more importantly, I’ve found myself wondering how those memories will shape the person I am 21 years from now.
I’ve already noticed small changes in the person I am since I’ve returned. I appreciate small things about my home in the US now— the feeling of AC, a cold shower, and the organized nature of traffic. But Im also more aware of the things I miss about India, and how different my life might have been if I was born somewhere else. I think I’m more aware of the privileges I was afforded being dealt a lucky hand in where I was born and the family I was born into, and I don’t think I take those privileges as much for granted anymore.
Besides the small changes, I’m curious to see how this experience impacts me in deeper ways, in the the way I live my life, and the way I travel and see the world in the future.
When I embarked on this fellowship, I wanted to go in with as few plans as I could and figure everything out as I went along. The only goal I set for myself was to do as much of it alone as possible, and try to do this fellowship essentially completely solo. I’ve found that for me, being pushed out of my comfort zone has led me to experience periods of intense personal growth in my life, and I set out to try to make India another personal growth experience.
Traveling alone certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone, and was exceptionally difficult at times— like when a bus driver lied to me, telling me I was in central Delhi and dropped me off on the side of the highway at 1am, 50 miles from where he said I was. Or when I got scammed out of $100 at a train station, and didn’t have anyone there with me to figure out my next move with. But those setbacks were all part of the adventure, and I wouldn't be the same person or had the same experience if I didn’t have those setbacks.
Traveling solo for 10 weeks was one of the most empowering experiences of my life, and I hope that in 20 years, I’m continuing to seek out experiences that challenge and empower me. My fellowship renewed my sense of adventure and curiosity, reaffirmed my interest in devoting my life to protecting the environment, and taught me that challenge and being uncomfortable can lead to the best things in life.
As I return to campus and start to imagine what my post-grad life might look like, I hope that India will have taught me to be unafraid of the unknown and being thrust into unfamiliar situations alone. I hope that I return to my classes with a renewed excitement for learning, now that I have a more focused career path ahead of me. And I hope that wherever life takes me throughout this next year and after graduation, I always remember my time in India as one of the greatest adventures of my life.
On the whole, though, the time spend at Nandi Hills was beyond extraordinary and will always be one of my most memorable experiences in India. Unlike others, I haven't had the chance to see many monkeys during my time here in India, so I was very happy to find so many up their in the hills. We also spent a good bit of time just sitting on the cliffy areas to take in the breathtaking views.
While these outings happened on the weekends, during the weekdays I was in the lab. One of the newest and most unique aspect of this project was working with bees. This was my first time working with animals in research, and I had to catch and then dissect them as part of my project. Unfortunately, I am unable to post a video of me in action, but I do have a picture where I had caught two bees in one vial (a truly tedious feat)! All we had to do was drop some sugar water and pollen at the entrance, and a few bees would pop out. We then single (or double, in this case) them out using Falcon Tubes.
I hope you enjoyed this little sneak peak into my time here. This marks an end to a truly unforgettable time in my life. Can't wait for my next adventure!
When I think back on my time in India, I don’t see it as a chronological story I can easily tell to my friends. I see it as a tapestry of moments, all woven together that created a truly indescribable experience. There are certain moments, both good and bad, that I know will stick with me forever, and I reflect back on my time in India more as a list of these moments, rather than a story I could articulately write down.
Friends ask me excitedly “How was India?! Your Instagrams looked amazing!” and I honestly have no idea what to say. How do I sum up 10 weeks into a cliche statement about how it changed my life? I can’t, unless my friend has five hours to listen to me process my feelings about my two and a half months in India.
India was beautiful
Do I tell my friends about the once in a lifetime beautiful views of the Himalayas I saw backpacking through Spiti Valley, or viewing the Sheesh Mahal (Hall of Mirrors) in Amer Fort? Or do I tell them about the beauty I saw every day— in the smile of the sweet old man I bought chai from every day, or in the carefree happiness of children playing cricket at sunset in Jaipur’s central park?
India was lonely
Do I tell my friends about that time my train was delayed six hours and I was stranded until 3am at the dark Agra train station alone, and how it was genuinely one of the loneliest and most frightening moments of my life? Or do I instead tell them about how a group of women then pulled me aside and let me sit with them all night, braiding my hair and giving me the only food they brought for themselves? No matter which version I tell, nobody will understand how that experience moved me.
India was magical
Do I tell my friends about how in my loneliest moment of my trip, I bought a necklace with the Hindu goddess Kali engraved on it, in the hopes that this powerful warrior woman would protect me on my solo trip— only to meet my actual new best friend, coincidentally named Callie, the very next week? Both Callie and I agree it was destiny-- we were supposed to meet each other at that very moment.
Or do I tell them about the guru I met in Rishikesh, who approached me in a crowded marketplace to give me unsolicited life advice, only to disappear into the crowd— and then stumble across me again days later. I never knew how accurate or necessary that advice was until two weeks later, when I felt his words fall into a place in my life that was eerily accurate. It was magic, destiny, fate, whatever you call it— but I know for certain India is the most spiritual and magical place I’ve ever been.
India was eye opening
Do I tell my friends about the cafe I ate lunch at that was run entirely by acid attack survivors, their flesh burnt off their face at the hands of hateful people? Or when I was backpacking in Spiti Valley and met Nadia, a girl my age who opened up to me about how her best friend was murdered by her own family over religious differences? How do I talk about these experiences that I feel like I need to discuss and process, but discuss them in a way that is true to what I believe is the incredible culture of India, without being offensive or ethnocentric?
India was inspiring
Do I tell my friends about Frontier Markets, the incredible NGO I interned for that is changing millions of lives by providing clean energy access to the poorest people in Rajasthan? Movies like An Inconvenient Sequel portrayed India as a country completely unwilling to adapt to solar energy, but I was inspired daily by the companies and people I got to interact with that were committed to protecting the environment and climate for all.
India was complicated
Or maybe I just need to accept that my experience in India is not one that needs to be told to that person I run into on the street, or the whole class when my professors inevitably ask how we spent our summers. Maybe my experience in India is something that is just mine, something that I should accept is maybe reserved for my journals and my closest friends and family members that have hours to listen.