After graduating early from Marymount Manhattan College and getting some support as a Jeannette K. Watson Fellow, I got on a plane for Delhi, India for a three month internship at Hindustan Latex Family Planning Promotion Trust (HLFPPT). HLFPPT is one of the oldest social marketers in India and provides some really innovative yet practical solutions to gaps in family planning and reproductive, maternal, neonatal, child, and adolescent (RMNCH+A) health. Here, I have been making films about different programs like the Mobile Medical Units, which are trucks or boats equipped with medical staff and medicines to serve people living in remote areas in Rajasthan or people living in slums in the most populated state, Uttar Pradesh, which is where I have been based. HLFPPT operates more than 130 vans in other states across India. I have also been HLFPPT’s go-to copy editor and designer for many reports and new marketing ventures, so it feels pretty great being useful AND doing work that makes a difference that I can so clearly see.
Let me now add that this is actually my first time out of the country, except for my few trips to Niagara Falls before you needed a passport. So as I anticipated, I have been met with some major insight and lessons. Among the plethora of trivial and substantial ones, I’d like to share a few.
1.) You learn more by listening. I knew this already but practice it daily because I had never heard Hindi other than the occassional subway conversation between strangers. Many of us practice “listening” when we cannot help but witness everyone else’s lives y by in New York, but there is such virtue in treating your surroundings as learning lessons. Now I can generally understand conversations in Hindi and keep my eyes open wider. After all, communication is over 90 percent non-verbal. (Thank you MMC Communications Degree!)
2.) Our job exibility is unique. Because of the caste system here in India, people cannot oat below or above their prescribed work channel. For instance, when I mentioned being a nanny for two Upper East Side families in college, my coworker was very surprised. From my conversations with coworkers, it is not acceptable to take a service job in India if you are of a certain class/education level/income background. Obviously this poses some major class tension, but Americans have the opportunity to spend some time in another’s shoes, or “jootis” as they might say in Hindi. Savor the days as a nanny who is called a “fat rodent” or is told to “go do some laundry” by ve and eight-year-olds. Unfortunately, I can speak from experience. The patience and learned lessons as eager coffee baristas and American Apparel staff will serve us for years to come.
3.) Traveling makes it harder to be ignorant. For instance, in the US, we often complain and even make fun of Indian call centers. Perhaps it is a way of dealing with our frustration of being on the line for so long? But the thing is, over here, that job is a good one. Perhaps at home, it’s not as respected as a profession, but it surpasses the safety and consistency and value of wage laborers/migrant workers, sex workers, or people in service jobs. Those people should be commended for hard work too, but remember that having an of ce job here requires education. In fact, based on the current listings, you must have the equivalent of a high school diploma, need two languages, and some work experience. Consider what a feat this is if many children are forced to cut education short to work or get married. And if you are lucky enough for higher education, you have three undergrad years, two in post graduation diploma (Master’s), then placed in a job! The point is that we shouldn’t be so quick to judge people based on the educational privileges we have been afforded, nor should we accept the education system as is if it isn’t working for us.
I cannot say how many more lessons that I have learned and will continue to while taking the remainder of my time here to see Kashmir, Kerala, Goa, and Nepal. Traveling, let alone living in a foreign country for an extended period is one of the most valuable experiences you can give yourself. I’m heading to Cape Town, South Africa for my final summer internship as Jeannette K. Watson Fellow and could not be more excited to continue this rich adventure. I’ll be making a pit stop in New York, so see you at graduation!