As a first generation Indian-American, I’ve always had one foot in the societal norms of the United States, and one in the cultural traditions of my family and ancestors. A typical year of my childhood consisted of attending grade school in the sleepy, southern city of Charlotte, North Carolina, and then shipping off to India for a couple of months to spend time and laze around with grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts. Trips to India were always under strict supervision; a relative was never far away to tell me where to go, what not to eat (for fear of digestive problems), and what not to drink (for fear of contaminated water).
What will I learn about myself in the upcoming ten months as a Clinton Fellow in Udaipur? I have been given a rare opportunity to focus on my development both professionally and personally, and intend to use it as fully as possible. Professionally, I will endeavor to assist communities in need, utilizing the finance and business skills that I had originally intended to acquire for use in the for-profit corporate world. Personally, I have a chance to explore my Indian roots and heritage without a safety net nearby. At first, I will certainly play the all-too-familiar role of the bewildered NRI (Non-Resident Indian) trying to get his bearings in the midst of the ordered chaos that is India. To exacerbate the confusion, I will be in an unfamiliar locale attempting to speak an unfamiliar tongue. However, just maybe, getting rid of the safety net will lend itself to an experience that will facilitate a deeper linkage and appreciation of my mother country. Or maybe I will play the (again, all too familiar) role of the NRI who is relieved to return to a country where people follow traffic rules and don’t stare at you with a friendly curiosity if you look like you’re not from the area.
I hope to finally grow outside the role of the typical tourist NRI and become a meaningful, productive member of Indian society. Whether or not I am successful will be known at the end of these ten months – whatever the outcome however, I look forward to the opportunity and challenge of discovering my identity in the setting of my mother country.