When I moved to India in September 2016, I knew that I was embarking upon a transformational year. I knew that simply because I was doing something so out of my comfort zone, so far from all that I knew, I would have immense opportunity for personal growth; I also knew that because I would be working with Bempu Health, I would have the chance to develop a lot professionally. What I really didn’t know stepping onto the tarmac in Bangalore was how much the city would become home. I never would have predicted that 10 whirlwind months later, about to leave India and the life I created for myself there, I would be crying on my way to the airport.
When I moved back home to New Jersey nearly a month ago, I was inexplicably down for the first couple of days. Don’t get me wrong—I was beyond excited to see my parents and friends, and taking that first hot shower without having to prep the geyser felt amazing. But, I found myself longing for parts of Bangalore—the friends, the food, and mostly, the little things I did each day that had become so integrated in my routine.
I realized that there was actually very little that I did not miss. I did not miss the incessant honking and crazy Bangalore traffic, especially the riders on two-wheelers that would come out of nowhere as I walked to work. I did not miss the frequent occurrences of public urination. I did not miss the occasional cockroaches I would see at work.
But everything else, I missed. Even things that were unpleasant were so integral in shaping my experience in India; seeing fragile, low birth weight babies at the hospitals only made me believe in Bempu’s mission more; and, seeing people trying to beg or sell on the streets only made me think more critically about social impact and development, because I was seeing inequality up close.
The first Sunday I was at home, I found myself missing dosa. Buttery, crispy, perfect Bangalore dosas that served as the ideal Sunday morning breakfast or treat for lunch during a slower day at work.
I miss walking home from the gym and stopping along the way at Naturals to get my mango ice cream and handing the manager—who now knew me well—exact change with a thankful grin.
I miss the friends I made there and my team at Bempu, all of whom made the past 10 months incredible. I learned from them and learned more about myself just from spending time with them. I had hoped that I’d make friends in India, but never imagined I would be so lucky to have so many hard goodbyes at the end of the Fellowship.
I miss my weekly visits to hospitals around Bangalore as part of my work with Bempu. These visits provided perspective and energy for my work, and the chance to interact with families and babies always uplifted me.
I miss the genuine hospitality and warmth of people in India. When I would meet new people there, we would exchange numbers and always offer the usual, “we should meet up for lunch.” I was struck that in India, these offers were much more genuine that I had experienced in America. Even when I had not known people for long, I was always welcome without invitation or announcement to their homes or to join in on their plans. It was because of this warmth and hospitality that I was able to meet so many amazing people and develop such a nurturing support network, despite being so far away from home.
I miss my daily routine—walking to the Bempu office; walking to my gym where I would have my usual brief but delightful exchanges with some of the trainers and other gym-goers; walking to my grocery store to buy some ingredients for dinner; walking home while calling my Mom; settling in at home and hearing about my roommates’ days; finally, getting in bed with a cup of tea and resting after a long day on my feet. Having a routine was what helped Bangalore feel like home for me, and most days I was genuinely happy to get to walk around this amazing city.
I miss the daily interactions—not with friends, but with people I’d see throughout the day, everyday: my security guard, the cashiers at my corner store, the trainers at my gym, my pharmacist, the owners at my favorite restaurants, and even people I never once spoke to, but smiled at as we passed each other each day on the way to work. Again, it was these familiar faces that made Bangalore feel more like my city, my home.
Finally, I so miss the vibrancy and liveliness of India. When locals would ask me how I liked India, I usually told them that I loved it because it felt like there was more life in India. When I first arrived to Bangalore, I was overwhelmed by the noise, the traffic, the people; it felt frenetic and crazy. But during my second month there, something happened—I embraced it all. After this, what used to feel hectic just felt more lively. While I never got around to appreciating the traffic, the energy and spirit of the city were so vibrant, it gave each day a little more potential for fun.
While I’ve left India (for now, at least) there is a lot I hope to carry forward from this year. I really do feel that my time on the AIF Clinton Fellowship brought out the best in me, and these qualities that shined most in India are ones that I hope to continue to nurture and grow back here in America.
Through my work at Bempu, conversations with other Fellows, and simply walking around and seeing many different qualities of life in one city, I was forced to think more critically about social impact and development. I hope to carry forward this critical thoughtfulness in my future work, and even in my personal relationships.
The Fellowship brought me closer to my Indian family and gave me lifelong friends. I hope to only deepen these relationships despite new distances between us. Particularly, I wish to carry forward the sense of community I felt while on the Fellowship with my cohort of fellows; I know I am not done learning from these amazing new friends.
Getting the chance to explore India this year and really experience India on my own terms, separately from my parents, was truly lifechanging. I fell in love with India and finally have begun to understand its immense diversity and beauty. I plan on spending a lot more time in this country and hope to continue to explore more parts of it.
Most of all, being in India this past year made me more adventurous, more patient, and more adaptable. It helped me focus on the important things and let go of the others, not taking things as seriously as I tend to do. This adventurous, patient, flexible side of me is what I am most intent on carrying forward. The version of myself I was in India was a version I liked a lot.
While I’ve left that space, I am committed to carrying forward the lessons I learned and qualities I developed while in India back here in America. I am immensely grateful for this year, and will always look back on it as a year of growth and great happiness.