Looking to the next 10 months, I’m wary of approaching the fellowship with overly defined expectations, especially because this is my first time in India. While I’ve gone through the now all-too-familiar process of culture shock in other settings for field work, I have no doubt that India will find new and interesting ways to initially disorient and later charm me as I get adjusted to a new pace of life, surroundings, food, colleagues and friends, and language.
Having spent the past two years in graduate school, I spent a lot of time ruminating on strengths and weaknesses of different policy approaches and trying to better understand the connections between energy sources and use, environmental degradation, climate change, and the wider portfolio of challenges faced by developing countries. I have attended panels at international climate conferences where participants stressed the need to incorporate local perspectives and knowledge. But discussing is different from doing, classroom knowledge only goes so far, and connections that appear straightforward and intuitive on paper always prove more nuanced and complex in reality. In India I look forward to having many of my views challenged and enhanced as I witness global ideas taking root at the community level in the Rishi Valley. As primarily an urban dweller for the greater part of my adult life, I am also sure that transitioning to life in a rural area will be a transformative experience in and of itself.
Knowing that the best is yet to come, and my work in India will take a form I cannot predict in advance, for now my goal is to come with the right mindset to get the most out of the experience. My plan is to approach my time in India with a few key attributes: the patience required to listen, learn, and build relationships as my work progresses, the sense of adventure required to explore as many facets of India as possible, and the shamelessness required to thoroughly document everything along the way (because no matter how hard I try, I will never completely blend in, so I might as well be the camera-toting foreigner!).