The mini bus turned off the highway and began to putter down a single lane dirt road, jostling my colleagues and I back and forth in our seats. Motion sickness medicine was quickly passed around the bus. As we went further along, frantic phone calls to the organizing team from the Mumbai office began. No one was sure whether we were on the right path or hopelessly lost. Eyebrows rose as we bounced our way into the middle of nowhere, only to be stopped and asked to walk the rest of the way – which was luckily only a short trail away.
We walked up to a campsite on a beautiful ledge in Lonavala, a hill station about an hour’s drive from Pune, where the Akanksha HR department had set up the organization’s annual staff retreat. Tents peppered the ledge, and we settled in for an evening of relaxation and bonding. The retreat provides an occasion for the Pune and Mumbai teams to meet up and reinforce relationships between team members.
As a relative newcomer to the organization, the retreat was a great way to get to know my Pune colleagues better and to meet the Mumbai team for the first time. Away from official spaces – the office and our schools – and away from the constant pull of technology that is unavoidable in the city, conversation flowed easily. It was fun for me to see the amazement of my city-dwelling colleagues, some of whom were experiencing camping for the first time.
The overnight stay was a welcome break from the city. We spent our time zip lining, trekking, taking a lot of photos, enjoying the sight of stars, and singing around a bonfire.
The retreat also showed me how fully my colleagues have embraced me during my stay here. I have been incredibly fortunate to be supported by my new friends in Pune. One of my biggest fears leaving Orientation in September was moving to a city by myself. I knew that I didn’t face the challenges of living in rural India, but I also didn’t have the pre-established support network that many other urban fellows have. It has been humbling to be so fully included and loved by my coworkers and friends. I came to Pune as a stranger, but halfway through my fellowship, I am surrounded by a newfound family.