When traveling, when do you first interact with the culture of the place you are visiting? For me, it’s always on the plane ride. This is where you sit near a person returning back home, listen to the pilot and cabin staff speak to you in a different language, watch a safety video that features different cultural quirks, and get a taste of the nation’s food (albeit, airline food). It’s a tiny sliver of the differences that you must embrace once you land and exit the airport. I always experience a surge of emotions during this time. Excitement, nervousness, fear, adventurousness.
On my final flight from Dubai to Delhi, all I felt was nervousness. What would the next two months bring? Would I be able to survive the heat? Could I make it through markets and bus rides when I can’t speak a word of Hindi? Would I ever enjoy a coleslaw sandwich?! (Airline food, am I right?). After 21 hours of travel, I finally landed in Delhi. As I walked off of the plane and through the jet bridge, a wave of hot air hit me. I had been monitoring the weather in Delhi for a month now and finally felt what 104 degrees felt like. After collecting my bags and failing to connect to airport Wi-Fi to order an Uber to my Air BnB, my first test lay ahead of me. Could I order a taxi without paying the foreigner’s tax and arrive at my Air BnB alone and unassisted? The answer: No! I was too ambitious.
The 45-minute car ride from the airport to South Delhi was amazing. The first thing I noted was that driving in India takes real skill. Although there are dedicated lanes for traffic, trucks, tuk-tuks, cars, and motorbikes, vehicles do not drive one behind another within the boundaries of the white lines. Instead, they squeeze into spaces between vehicles and honk to communicate their traffic movements. Crossing the street requires even more skill. Pedestrians walk alongside vehicles on highways and large, busy streets, and make their way across traffic without the help of crosswalks and walk signals. I’m from New York City where jaywalking is a way of life, but I don’t know any New Yorker who could pull off crossing these streets without breaking a sweat.
I also was able to get a glimpse of outdoor markets, street food, public transport, offices, and homes. While observing all of this, I couldn’t help but compare Delhi to Dakar, Senegal. The similarities felt endless. From the traffic, to the pedestrian crossings, to the storefronts, to the roadside vendors. I felt a sense of familiarity and immediate comfort. My feelings of excitement overtook all of my other emotions.
So I’m in India and you are probably wondering what I am doing here since I am writing for the Nic School’s summer internship blog. I am spending the next two months in India to participate in the Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy India Summer School for Future International Development Leaders (a mouthful, I know!). The purpose of the program is to provide professional development to graduate students and NGO professionals. During the program, participants from India, Sweden, and the US take development and management classes and apply what they learn during field research in a rural village in collaboration with an NGO partner.
I will dedicate this blog to sharing my personal experiences in India as a first-time visitor in the country and the region, and also I will share my perspectives as a student interested in becoming an international development practitioner. During my time in India, Rajasthan more specifically, I hope to re-discover development. In undergrad, I majored in Geography and Sociology. I specifically focused on international and urban development, and social inequalities and social justice. Although I worked for an international development non-profit for two years before starting the Master’s program at the Nic School, I did not work directly in the field as much as I would have liked. Therefore, I am hoping that through the India Summer School program, I will learn and practice the skills to be adept at working with people on the ground.
Instead of jumping right into the program, I decided to take one day to explore Delhi and get to know India. So naturally, I went sightseeing (lol). Please enjoy my pictures of the amazing sites in Delhi – still trying to figure out how to use my selfie stick! Until next time.