Hindsight 20/20 (Let’s Chaat, episode 6 transcript)

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Anjali: Hey, you’re listening to ‘Let’s Chaat: Stories of Fellowship,’ the podcast of the 2019-2020 cohort of the American India Foundation Clinton Fellows. We are a group of 20 young professionals in various parts of the social or development sector in India. I’m Anjali Balakrishna, one of the fellows in this year’s cohort, and I’m your host.

This is the final episode of our series. Over the last five episodes, we’ve chatted about our memories and stories from the fellowship, living and working in various parts of India. 

Over the past five weeks, we’ve had episodes on the themes of Brokenness, Jugaad, Heat, Lost and Found, and Movement. Every fellow has interpreted the themes in such varying ways, which has given us such great diversity of stories and experience.

That’s one of the reasons we titled the series how we did – rather than just one dish, chaat is a diverse category of snack-type foods, and other dishes can even be made into a chaat-form! From aloo tikki, bhel, pakore, samosa, dhokla, and a variety of puris – pani puri, dahi puri, sev puri. The chaat options are endless and all delicious. A perfect food to enjoy while chatting with friends. 

So to top off this meal, our sixth and final episode today is titled ‘Hindsight 20/20’ This is a very special episode because all 20 fellows of the 2019-2020 cohort have contributed short audio clips of themselves sharing a bit of hindsight, now that our time in the fellowship has ended. 

Together, we present:

Fellows, together: “This is what I wish I had known.”

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Arya: I wish I knew how important it was to carry Odomos no matter where I went in India. For those who don’t know, Odomos is a mosquito repellant, and I think it’ll be your best friend during your fellowship or your visit to India!

Ayushi: It’s not a rosy journey, but a roller coaster ride. 

Dominique: I wish I had known how much time and effort it can take to find a development-sector employer that meets the income requirements for an employment visa. If you think you’ll want to work in India after the fellowship without a large gap, start early!

Donald: One of my favorite songs, called “Things in Life” by Dennis Brown says, “It’s not every day we’re gonna be the same way.” And I think my fellowship experience has been about changes, and totally not expecting any of those changes, and having that be the way of life. 

Eric: It’s not so much what I wish I had known, but what I wish I had felt more deeply. That our relationships between our self, our friends, and our family are the most essential aspects to what it means to live a fulfilling life. That going off to India was never meant to be an escape to the ones I had already established, but a way to grow new ones in pursuit of a better self, in pursuit of healthier relationships, of pursuit of a healthier humanity. 

Jane: How important it is for outsiders like me to realize that acting like my habits are normal and their habits are different reinforces a message that their way of life is weird or wrong. Comments like, “Wow, you guys get up early!” or “How can you bear to take a cold shower?” can unintentionally send the wrong message.

Jessie: I wish I would’ve known how quickly ten months would go by, and also that I didn’t need to pack an entire suitcase full of Clif bars!

Mantasha: For future fellows, I would say: growing and changing isn’t always easy – there will be no end of tests and trials. And you have to either play against it or turn back to the point you started. So be ready for all those twists and turns in this amazing fellowship journey. And also, don’t try to save your off earlies, like I did! When it came time to use those leaves, lockdown happened! So step out, explore new places, food, cultures, and visit your co-fellows!

McKenna: “Woah! Um, did you guys see that elephant back there?! Go back!” It was the early hours of the morning, and a few friends and I were driving from Lucknow to Benaras. Neither one of them (including the guy driving!) had seen it. But we turned around, and sure enough, we had passed an elephant getting her morning bath! We pulled over and I had my first not-at-a-zoo interaction with an elephant! Always keep your eyes open for random adventures.

Naomi: Before going into the fellowship, I wish I had talked to some previous fellows. This experience was so unique, and I don’t think I fully knew what I was getting into!

Pallavi: To always stalk up for those midnight hunger pangs, because they hit you, and they hit you hard! And you better be prepared to feed yourself with whatever snacks available, so stock up on them!

Sri: In a country like India, asking for help goes a long way! First, it serves the purpose of helping you adjust to life in a new country, and makes your life a lot easier to ask for help along the way. And friendships also come around faster because you meet people, and talk to them, and open up to them.

Tenzin: My advice for next year’s fellows would be bring some nice clothes! You’re not always going to be working, you’re not always going to be getting your hands dirty. You’ll have fun, you’ll go out with your co-fellows to nice places! So definitely bring some more dressy clothes. And you never know where you’ll be invited by your host organizations – any weddings you’ll attend, or parties. So be open to that as well, and that will come in handy!

Ismael: My advice for those in the fellowship would be to take advantage of every opportunity that’s given to you – both professionally and personally. The fellowship is a sandbox experience for you to make mistakes, and to grow and to learn, so my advice is to aim to make as many mistakes as possible! Because it’s the only time you get to have that as an experience as an opportunity to learn and to grow.

Anant: One piece of advice I’d give to the upcoming fellowship cohort is before you land at your host organization site, try to learn at least a few basic phrases of the local language – at least a little bit of the basics – so that you can get around easier and communicate (at least at a basic level) with people at your location. That makes it a lot easier in the first couple weeks just to get around and get accustomed to things.

Anjali: I wish I had known that having paneer tikka sandwiches available as airplane food on domestic flights in India would ruin airplane food for me anywhere else on the planet, probably for the rest of my life.

Chenam: Don’t underestimate the cold of the Himalayas. So pack layers – lots of them. And if you can, invest in a good heater as early as you can.

Sahana: Don’t plan so much before. Just go wherever your host site, and then make your planning with the organization and the community. Because what we assume beforehand is not something what we see on the grounds. So we need preplanning, but we don’t need a lot of assumption and expectations.

Aishwarya: Before finalizing your projects, ask these important questions: Why do I want to take up this project? What purpose do I serve? How is this project going to create a meaningful impact on my professional growth and my host organization? Am I thinking big enough, or is there scope for more? Have really strong reasons for your why, how, and what. And more importantly, be vulnerable true to yourself.

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Anjali: I wish I had known to leave my expectations on the plane, step into the sunshine, and let India surprise me. 

Thank you everyone, and thank you listeners. We’ll chat again soon – phir milenge, chalte chalte! This has been Let’s Chaat: Stories of Fellowship.

McKenna is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Medha in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. For her Fellowship project, she is expanding partnerships with educational institutions to scale up an existing 21st-century career skills training center designed to improve employment outcomes for youth. McKenna graduated with a degree in nutritional sciences. During her undergraduate years, she participated in research on the iron fortificants and protein quality of different fortified blended food products used by the U.S. Agency for International Development to address malnutrition and iron-deficient anemia in developing countries. After several years of nutrition research, she began questioning the underlying causes of malnutrition and poverty in the developing world. She diversified her work to investigate the social and economic factors that impact health outcomes, such as a community advocacy group for affordable housing in Manhattan, Kansas, and eventually to Split, Croatia, in 2017 to learn more about socialized healthcare systems. A childhood exposure to Indian culture left McKenna with a lifelong passion for the country, which led her to spend four months studying abroad in Bangalore at Christ University. She is excited to return to India in a professional capacity as an AIF Clinton Fellow. During her year of service, McKenna is looking forward to evolving professionally, engaging with the cohort, and gaining new perspectives on the development sector.

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