Light & Love to Kolkata.
Just like when I got back from abroad before, my experience adjusting has been me diving head first back into my American life.
I find people saying things like, “I saw all your pictures, what were you doing in India?!”. I even got someone who said, “oh, were you building houses there?”. Having a casual conversation about trafficking with friends at school is still a conversation I am learning to navigate. I usually just get the response of, “oh wow, I cannot believe that happens” or “wow you’re so brave to do that”. What drives me crazy is the fact that I did not go to India to be called brave or strong. But I did go to India, and, now, I never want this experience to go underutilized. I went to India to find a love for a new part of the world, to understand how the power of business can be used to help issues of social justice, and to take time to invest in myself.
I am the youngest of seven kids. I have always beat to my own drum because I have six siblings paving the road ahead of me. I know, whatever I do, my parents have probably already be there, done that. Within my friends, I have always been the one in the group that would do something bizarre or out of the ordinary, and someone would say “oh that’s so you” or “you would do that”. So when I decided to hop on a plane and head to work in India for the summer, it didn’t throw anyone for a curve ball.
But this meant that everyone thought it would be a breeze for me.
While traveling gives me this sense of empowerment and independence, and while also feeding my curiosity of the unknown, I am no graceful traveler. People, outside the U.S., will always be fueled with curiosity of my bright blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair and freckled skin. The girls at work had never seen anyone quite like me before, so they called my skin red and thought my freckles were just a bunch of pimples (this was a fun test of my patience). I would even get a sense of anxiousness when an Indian man would stare at me too long, making me feel so aware of my gender. I would cover my face with my scarf as I walked by the trash on our walk from cafe coffee day to the office while the local would trek by not even noticing the stench. I even had multiple conversations about if ice cubes were safe or not to drink, telling them that if they were kidding or wrong, I would be back tomorrow letting them know about my illness (you could never say this in the U.S. to a restaurant). Basically, I am more of an awkward giraffe than a sneaky chameleon when I travel. This being said, blending into the culture of Kolkata was no easy task for me, and I can whole-heartedly say that this summer was one of the hardest tasks I have embarked on.
Looking back, I know days were long. I remember sometimes Ali and I thought we wouldn’t make it until lunch even, but it’s interesting to think that when I think of India now, it doesn’t feel that way. I think of the girls and how they drove me nuts as if they were my little sisters, but the love, familiarity, joy, and inspiration they provided me are ineffable. The way I come home and just dive back into my life here, making it seem like India was more of a dream or this other life, makes me endlessly guilty. I think of how the girls are still facing the streets of Kolkata and the long days at work, never knowing the kind of world I live in here. While I am so thankful to be back here and enjoying the life I missed so dearly, I think of my friends, family, and work in India each and every day. I have this sense of guilt as I am dreaming about my post-grad life and adventures, while they have never had the chance to dream. Ali once told me to send an old friend light and love and let them go. I like to think that this idea applies to every sense of my life. I can’t sit and wallow that I am no longer at work with them anymore, but I can send them light and love and let them go, inspiring me to work hard and make them proud. With this, when I visit them next, I will have something noteworthy to share with them.
For now, while talking about my experience is awkward and hard to put into words for me, I am thankful for the support of my global fellows, Ali, my friends who walked with me through my experience, and future events in life that will allow me to use what I experienced here. Thank you to all who have made my India experience a reality.