“What Did You Do in India?”

A seemingly simple question that I get asked regularly upon returning to the states, but one to which I haven’t found a perfect answer. When posed this question, I think, I could explain the skill gap and Reaching Hand’s work through skill training centers, or could talk about spending Christmas on a houseboat during a lovely trip planned by Noel, or any of the other amazing people I met along this journey.


From a professional standpoint, I learned to embrace the fact that implementing ideas is hard, that many of the best ideas come from the communities themselves and that it’s vital to spend most of one’s time listening rather than answering. Although I didn’t know much about the skilling sector when I joined Reaching Hand, my work was nearly a perfect fit allowing me to combine my passion for student-centered education and meaningful employment while building a solid foundation in for a future career in program management. I’ve learned how to adapt my communication style to the context. In both personal and professional endeavors, it’s important to have a plan B (and perhaps C and D). Perhaps the most important takeaway from my fellowship, will be that it really is all about the relationships.


It’s finding the fellows you can lean on when you have a bad day, the mini-mentors you meet at work who help you navigate the office, and the warm, hospitable people you meet in your larger host community.

Shalet, one of my mini-mentors at work.


So, a few words for the new AIF fellows who will soon be embarking on this journey: things will be ambiguous, confusing, and mildly frustrating at times. That doesn’t mean you should give up, but perhaps re-evaluate your strategy alongside the community members and team members at your organization. My second piece of advice would be to say yes (within reason of course) to the plethora of opportunities that will come your way. Finally, appreciate the flexibility you’re given during your fellowship and make the most of it.


Back to my original question, “What did you do in India?” I’d prefer to answer by talking about the incredible people I met and learned from along the way. Without those people, the things I did at work would have never been possible.

Abby is enthusiastic to explore southern India after previously living in Chandigarh and Delhi. Although she was raised in the uniquely homogenous Cajun culture of Louisiana, she has always enjoyed learning about diverse cultures- particularly working with refugees resettled in Baton Rouge. After working for the past year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in an Indian government school, she is excited to collaborate with Sparsha in order to work at the intersection of public health, child rights, and education. She also hopes to utilize aspects of her child rights curriculum, which she developed over the past year in Delhi. Her past experiences in lobbying, fundraising, and working, for the U.S. Congress, have taught her the values of patience and collaboration in order to create positive change. While in India, she hopes to see lots of pongols during Durga Puja, find exceptional momos (steamed, not fried!), and run in road races throughout the south.

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