After departing Los Angeles sometime after sunset, the arrival in New Delhi a day or so later at sunset was truly something poetic. In many ways, I hit the ground running. After the AIF orientation week, I spent a week orienting myself to Delhi via the housing hunt, followed by another week at Pravah’s staff retreat in Orchha.
Only after all of these journeys, did I finally move into my apartment with my flatmates. There were times over these 2-3 weeks where I was anxious about getting settled and moving into our flat, but – in reflection – I would not expedite the process, as many great interactions have happened along the way.
Perhaps the retreat’s immersion, causing my prompt dive into this organization, was the most intense part of the past few weeks. Nearly 40 staff members, interns, and myself boarded a rail train in New Delhi one Monday morning, just before sunrise. The expectation that the 5-hour train ride to Jhansi would resolve my missed sleep was quickly lost, as I found myself 3-4 hours into the journey engaged with one of the staff members about captivating life conversations. We talked a little about the organization, but mainly we talked about bigger questions, like the relevance of a college degree, and the importance of doing great work. We also joked about smaller things, as he challenged me to read a short Hindi passage, and decided my ability to do so was a sign of true intelligence.
Our arrival to Jhansi was followed my cab rides to Orchha and then the retreat, the immersion, the challenges (i.e. concentrated intellectual stimulations) began. Towards the end of a round of energizers – where I had the pleasure of speaking one-on-one with many of staff members, there was a ‘speed dating’ activity where we were to choose one other person to converse with for 15 minutes, prompted by the question: “What are your aspirations?” It seemed simple enough until my partner asked me directly, and I really had to revisit the heart of my aspirations for this year in India. She and I began discussing her experiences as a graduate student in the US, and we connected about our experiences in these cross-cultural spaces.
The rest of the retreat continued on in much the same fashion – challenging conversations. Challenging because of my still-young knowledge of Pravah, basic Hindi skills and minimal shared experiences (both personal and cultural). As excited as I am to be involved with the work of this organization, it reminded me of the longstanding discourse on who is and must be involved in social development for maximum success.
The challenges of my retreat experiences were not just intellectually stimulating but also personally refreshing. I had the opportunity to talk one-on-one with one of the co-founders of Pravah – who is a very inspirational artist, and with a staff member of Commutiny: The Youth Collective (CYC), a partner organization of Pravah – who told me how her volunteer experience led her to officially join the team.
This was the sunrise – a brilliant kaleidoscope, hinting at all the greatness that is to come.