Like clockwork, the winds would blow, the storms would descend, the luscious yet desiccated gardens would flood and quickly subside, the giant Labrador, Kelly, would come creeping into the fullest room to seek shelter from the imminent threat of thunder, and the wifi would slowly fade away.
The increasingly dizzying smells of curry, the decreasing utility of each bite of paratha, and the stagnant promise of buzzing crowds colored my bittersweet time in India. "A country of contrasts" is what my host mother calls it—a nation simultaneously difficult to love and impossible to hate. How do I criticize without being culturally inappropriate? Where should the boundaries of my judgment lie? Where can my love and appreciation be genuinely placed?
This post will reflect upon the ways in which my summer in South Asia impacted me personally, academically, and professionally. My response will be truly reflective in nature, as I’ve only just begun to process my experiences in India and what they mean in the context of my life back here in the States.
I am at odds with the nature of my personal growth in India. I cannot tell whether I’ve accepted the growth I endured or if I’ve remained apprehensive, as it manifested in so many unexpected ways. Here, I’ll present a few muddled quotes, whether they be from my host parents, the wonderful people I met at Bubbles, or passersby on the street, that sum up the crooked path of my personal growth.
“You can’t change everything about the world. Some things are just meant to be the way they are.”
On feeding wild animals: “You’re doing them a disservice. You’re depriving them of the skills they need to survive in the wild, on their own. It’s more selfish than altruistic, if you think about it.”
“You speak Hindi? You look Indian. You are like my sister. I give you Indian price.”
Along with my knowledge of Autism, my perceptions about the feasibility of meaningful academic research in such a short period of time changed drastically. At the inception of my Indian adventures, four weeks seemed an eternity. Yet, marrying the technicalities of academia with such a sensitive topic as Autism rendered that eternity a mere introduction. As time went on, my intention of prying into the lives of children with Autism and their parents became largely infeasible, and the impact of my presence in their lives appeared most constructive from the distance of an observer. Why should I have expected them to disclose their deeply personal and unimaginably difficult journeys at the drop of a hat? In short, I learned the complexities of doing meaningful, sensitive research, and consequently discovered why achieving such a feat takes far more than a month of breaching courtesies.
“What you’re experiencing—the people, the traffic, the smells—is sensory overload. That is what children with Autism struggle with every day of their lives.”
“I love the way these kids communicate. They’re so direct, so straightforward. Their senses are so keen; they can detect a perpetrator in a heartbeat.”
The knowledge I gained from a professional perspective is a bit more straightforward: working in the nonprofit world is no walk in the park, and exercising one’s passion through the world of work, though a worthy ideal, can create unforeseen barriers and an immense level of stress. On the brighter albeit still stressful side, my time in India gave me space to re-consider my intended career path and think deeply about what I’d truly like to accomplish in this world. The prospect of attending law school became increasingly dreary as I became acquainted with the potential to touch people’s lives through health-related causes.
While it’s a bit late in the game to become a doctor, I’ve begun considering degrees in public health that would marry my passion for social causes with concrete tools for making a positive impact on communities. Too many people, including children with Autism, live with ailments that are under-explained, under-funded, and vastly misconstrued in the public sphere. My time at Bubbles has inspired me to explore familial and communal relationships as tools to promote health-based education, tap into the subtle albeit profound social determinants of health (i.e. income, familial and communal support, and geographic location, to name a few), and ultimately improve health outcomes.
In short, my time as a Summer in South Asia Fellow at the Bubbles Centre actually, literally changed my life. Now, I’ll just have to figure out how to transform a law-oriented resume into something fit for a Masters in Public Health application. And sell all my LSAT prep books. Wish me luck.
That’s a really interesting comparison they gave you, pointing out that the chaos of your new environment can be similar to what a person with Autism faces every minute. What it takes to process that information must be so difficult, but luckily there are people like you working to improve education and research. Your life-changing experience is incredible as well, looking totally in another direction. Some people don’t have that experience until years later and changing courses can be a little more difficult! The School of Public Health is a great place, and they would be lucky to have you!