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Culture Reaches Out

Rena is a U of M pre-med student in the Global Future Physician course, who recently traveled to India as part of a 3-week experience. Below is a reflection on her experience.

Agriculture originated in the Indus River Valley around 10,000 BC. Although agriculture has changed extremely in the past 12,014 years, it is clearly still an enormous part of India today. This picture was taken at the Devaraja Market in Mysore, India. Typically, the market is filled with people standing shoulder to shoulder with one another, but Sundays are a different story. Fragrant herbs fill your nose as you step into the market and vegetation of every color on the spectrum is scattered around the market itself. When you stop and ponder at a foreign vegetable, market goers don't hesitate to introduce themselves and the vegetable at hand.
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This photo doesn't just represent the image of a typical market in India, but it also illustrates and highlights many aspects of Indian culture itself. As this picture was taken, it appeared to be a typical day here at the market. However, about 30 seconds after this photo was taken, many of the people in this photo approached us and tried their best to not only sell their products but also to introduce various indigenous greens of Mysore. During the entire duration there, it became clear to me that it is not taboo in Indian culture to reach out and converse with a stranger who is clearly visiting India. Everywhere we went, friendly faces approached us, and we learned more about various landmarks, groceries, and history than we could from any textbook in the world.

The trip to Devaraja Market marked one of the most significant trips because it was a clear window to the typical lives of the inhabitants of Mysore. Markets in Mysore are completely different from supermarkets in the US. Although those who visit the market are there to purchase groceries, they take the time to get to know the other people at the market as well as the sellers themselves. Because this trip occurred on the first Sunday that we were in Mysore, it really gave me great insight on what to expect for the rest of the trip. Being from America, I developed a social barrier where it was almost strange when people approached me. However, this trip taught me that Indian culture is extremely different from American culture in many ways and also foreshadowed that I would meet many unforgettable people throughout the duration of my trip.

- Rena, U of M Pre-Med Student

Much more than a Deer

Alina is a U of M pre-med student in the Global Future Physician course, who recently traveled to India as part of a 3-week experience. Below is a reflection on her experience.

After a long 4 hour drive, we were finally at the jungle retreat. Having seen it depicted in movies and books, I couldn't believe that I was actually in a jungle myself. The cool air, the sound of rustling leaves and birds, and the sight of beautiful hills all created an atmosphere so unlike the India we've been exposed to for the past two weeks. India proved to be a beautiful country, populated with kind and caring people, yet with many unpleasant sights such trash laying everywhere along the streets, chaotic traffic on the roads, and stray dogs and cows roaming freely through town. I came to believe that all of India was like that, but just in the neighboring state, we discovered a different kind of India - India that one can only imagine.

The image depicts a spotted deer that was standing not too far away from me. When we were sitting around the bonfire area, listening to the welcoming speech of the staff at the jungle retreat, I saw the deer standing near the woods observing our group. I ventured out to see how close I could get to it to take a picture, without zooming in, before it ran away. I made it this close (the distance the deer is standing from me on the picture), before my own thoughts about potential snake crawling around in the leaves scared me, and caused me to run back to our group.
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One might think: "What's so special about some deer that you saw in India? We have plenty of our own in Minnesota." Yes, that's true, we have a lot of deer and other wild animals here, yet this image shows me more than a deer - it shows me coexistence of wildlife and humans. In the presentation that night, we learned that the land we were on once used to be a farm, yet the current owners bought it, brought back the natural habitat - by planting the trees and plants that are native to that area, which in return caused the animals to come back, and the animals will only attack if they are provoked.

This presentation was one of the most eye-opening moments for me; plenty of times I have heard people saying that we are invading the land of the animals which in turn causes the problems we see today e.g. wild animals such as elephants coming into town and hurting people. But I never heard anyone say that wild animals and humans can coexist. If the humans use their share of land and precautions, they could live in close proximity with these animals for years with no harm done to anyone.

So if we keep our boundaries, the animals will keep theirs, thus it is actually possible for humans and wild life to coexist in close proximity.

This image also reminds me of another topic that was covered in the presentation- wildfires. It was said that their occurrence is actually natural and beneficial to the growth of certain trees. I always thought that fires only bring destruction and problems, whereas this showed me that even such things have benefits - we shouldn't try to control everything, some things just need to head on their own natural path without our human intervention. If we didn't try to control the wild fires in California, then maybe they wouldn't be so problematic and dangerous? Since there wouldn't be the accumulation of so many layers so the fires wouldn't become so big.

Even though this is just a picture of a random deer in the jungle of India, it reminds me of the trip that gave me so much valuable information, insights and things to think about.

- Alina, U of M Pre-Med Student

Be More Gracious

Peter is a U of M pre-med student in the Global Future Physician course, who recently traveled to India as part of a 3-week experience. Below is a reflection on his experience.

What a breathtaking finale to an incredible journey - seeing our group leaders honored by the Vivekenanda Institute of Indian Studies staff. This photo was taken on the last day of our trip and it was humbling, to say the least, to see such gratitude from the staff as well as from Dr. Wootten, Susan Wootten, and Dr. Pleasants. The exchanging of gifts and kind words capped off the three-week adventure perfectly as it portrayed the mutual respect and appreciation that framed this trip. Peter Ronning - web.jpg

We are so grateful for being able to stay with VIIS and learn about Indian healthcare and values. The values of a culture shine through in many different ways; whether it be through rituals, heroes, symbols, how they host guests, or even how they drive. The practices of a culture can be traced back to core values. Being a part of this honoring was so memorable because it was such an accurate tribute to the whole experience in India. It really allowed their values to shine through in practice, which taught us a lot about appreciation.

The whole trip was like a crash course in life. We indulged in Indian food, learning, yoga, behavior, and lifestyle. The graciousness of the Indian culture was a little uncomfortable at first, but only because we were unfamiliar with it. After experiencing India for a week or so, we became more familiar with the habits and practices of Indian culture, and so we were able to really appreciate the values of it. How each of us adapted to the environment was unique to ourselves, and that was one of the most valuable outcomes of the trip - what we learned about ourselves. I learned how I handle new environments and uncomfortable situations in a totally new light. I learned that it is better to be more gracious than less gracious. I learned about some true values of life that can't be learned or had with any amount of money.

My advice to anyone considering this trip, or any trip for that matter, is to go into with an open mind, a positive attitude, and ready to learn. Throw out any preconceived notions you may have about certain cultures and jump in. The real beauty in life cannot be read in a book or purchased in a store. In my opinion, real beauty in life is found through experience, understanding, and faith.

- Peter, U of M Pre-Med Student

Capture the Atmosphere

John is a U of M pre-med student in the Global Future Physician course, who recently traveled to India as part of a 3-week experience. Below is a reflection on his experience.

Whenever I go somewhere new I like to try and take pictures that capture the atmosphere or the vibe of the place. I feel like that is what I enjoy most about travelling, so that is what I try to capture in picture so that I can remember it later.

This picture, taken by someone else on the trip, does exactly that in my opinion. This is a large roundabout in the center of the city, right outside the central market called Devaraja market in Mysore. The place was absolutely crowded with Mysore residents. Vendors, shoppers, and people hanging out in the city were all together there, creating the vibrant, hectic, bustling city atmosphere that I was sort of expecting to see when coming to India.
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As two-wheelers, cars and trucks alike dodged the crowds of people and cows and dogs walking around, our leader in Mysore-Sindu Suresh, spoke calmly on her cellphone (seen in the bottom-left). This picture captures that busy, seemingly disorganized and chaotic atmosphere, with which Indians are completely comfortable, very well.

The dusty haze and late-afternoon sunset can also be seen in the picture, which is reminiscent of a really peaceful time and feeling we experienced every evening in Mysore. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Being able to get out into the city and see what it's like was a very valuable and meaningful experience. Simply seeing how others live their lives, even in a superficial way like walking around in the city, helps to broaden one's worldview, and increases our understanding of the fact that our way of doing things isn't the only way. It helps us examine our own environment at home and what it means to us. We went to India to study global health, Indian health systems, and social determinants of health in the developing world. But we also went to experience India, and I'm glad we were able to do that a little bit.

My advice to students for this trip in the future would be to spend your time exploring, and get out of your comfort zone. Make the effort to get out into the city and just walk around looking at things, talking to people, and experience Mysore, since you may never have a chance to go back. You don't even have to have a plan in mind; just take advantage of the vast amount of new experiences available in the city.

- John, U of M Pre-Med Student

Water Break

Matthew is a U of M pre-med student in the Global Future Physician course, who recently traveled to India as part of a 3-week experience. Below is a reflection on his experience.

In this photograph there are several cows that had come out of the fields to get a drink at the waterhole, a.k.a. the resort's swimming pool. I was the only person by the pool at this time, so the cows were able to comfortably walk up and drink all around me.
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Although this doesn't have any medical significance, I think that it is a great example of how it is possible to conserve, protect, and live in harmony with wildlife. This is exactly what the resort strived to do, and its success made me think of how similar strategies could be implemented in America. This is important because natural habitats are something America could use more of, and as cities continue to grow and the population increases, there will be more and more challenges involving animal protection and conservation.

I feel that we can learn from India, so that America does not make the same mistakes, and so that ways to protect our wildlife are implemented successful like at this resort. I learned that it is very possible for the modern world to live with wildlife, and that restoring wildlife areas is difficult, but not impossible. I also learned that I value wildlife conservation a lot, and I feel that it should be implemented all over the world in order to preserve all species. It should also be noted that preserving wildlife does not mean holding animals in captivity. As we saw, not all zoos around the world practice the same level of animal care we have in America. Although captivity can be used as a tool to help save endangered species, the focus should be on creating and returning the animals to their natural habitats.

- Matthew, U of M Pre-Med Student

We have issues

Hanna is a U of M pre-med student in the Global Future Physician course, who recently traveled to India as part of a 3-week experience. Below is a reflection on her experience.

These numbers in the picture might not mean much to you at first glance. They are prices in rupees for certain materials necessary to build an outhouse with a flushable toilet for a family in a rural area. Add them together and the sum looks large - 12,995 rupees. But that comes out to around 215 US dollars - a simple toilet facility that can improve sanitation immensely for a measly sum of $215.
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I will not argue that this amount could be expensive for many, particularly in rural India where many operate on a primarily subsistence basis, farming for their own needs and selling whatever else they can for a small total of money.

But for me, I look at that amount of money and realize with horror that it's less than the amount of money I brought to spend for "fun" in India. What does that say about me? Last year, my family remodeled our bathroom for around $5,000. A nice little update to spruce up our amenities. And yet, there are hundreds even thousands of families in India who lack basic access to a simple toilet facility.

Poverty is India has a very distinct face. It is the family in rural India without sufficient sanitation due to a lack of funds. It is the beggar in the market tapping on your shoulder. It is the children running up to your rickshaw with their worn-down and tattered clothing selling plastic balloons.

Food insecurity is also glaring. White rice lacking nutrients is a cheap, subsidized staple in most homes. The abundance of food that lines the market aisles is not readily distributed among a hungry population. Even if there is enough food in the home, it does not often add up to a nutritious diet.

Corruption is seemingly omnipresent. It is seen in the police officer on the street writing a ticket for not wearing a helmet on a scooter, only to turn a blind eye with a small rupee bribe. It is the guards at the tiger reserve we drove through, forgoing searching our vehicle for plastics with a 50-rupee note. There is the lack of environmental awareness that screamed at me as I walked through Mysore - the trash that litters every roadside, stray dogs that pose a public health issue, a layer of smog coating the air from the old engines that permeate the streets.

I saw these things and I thought, wow, India has issues. There is inequality and injustice and as an American with opportunity I want to do something about it. I felt strongly compelled to try to change these things. But then I was reminded - poverty, food insecurity, corruption, environmental destruction - they all exist in the US. They are a part of my everyday life, if not as obvious. Minneapolis experiences some of the most conspicuous contrasts between the rich and the poor. Rural and even some urban communities in the US often don't have access to fresh produce and are forced to rely on fast food - a phenomenon common enough to have its own term, "food islands". Corruption can be seen in the form of lobbyists who sway governmental policies in our capital. Environmental destruction is a reality of living in the US. Even if I work to minimize my footprint, the nation that I live in has wastefulness built into its very essence. But yet, I daily don't feel compelled toward the same kind of change back in the US as I did in India.

Perhaps, then, one of the most powerful lessons that India taught me was not even about the country itself, but about the USA. It was a reminder not to become immune to the issues present in my own nation. I wholeheartedly support the things that many NGOs and individuals are doing in India, and their grassroots development work is a model to aspire to around the world. The altruistic attitude of Indians who I met has inspired me to pursue organizations back home that are carrying out similar activities for our nation. This trip has motivated me to critically view how I look at the US and its problems, being mindful that while we are "developed", we still have many issues.

- Hanna, U of M Pre-Med Student

The Country's Future

Alex is a U of M pre-med student in the Global Future Physician course, who recently traveled to India as part of a 3-week experience. Below is a reflection on his experience.

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This picture represents India as a whole by encompassing multiple aspects of the culture, while focusing on the children who represent the country's future. I noticed the friendliness of the Indian people immediately upon arriving. The smiling kids in this picture depict the attitude that a majority of Indians had; they were always greeting you with a cheerful smile. This picture was taken at a village school, which shows that there are many programs both run by the government and non-governmental organizations to help educate all the children of India. A great initiative the Indian government has taken is that for each day a child comes to school he or she will receive a free meal. Not only does this free meal incentivize school attendance, but it also directly deals with the major issue of malnutrition and other dietary diseases prevalent throughout India.

My most memorable moment of the trip involved the half-day tour of both a private and government run hospital. Walking into the private hospital gave me the same clean feeling that a hospital in the U.S. does. Comparing this to the government hospital was quite saddening. The amount of patients huddled around a single doctor at the governmental hospital showed that privacy and personalized interaction was minimal.

This trip provided me with a greater appreciation for other cultures. Being immersed in an unfamiliar culture provides an experience and appreciation for cultural differences that simply cannot be achieved in a classroom alone. My advice to future students planning to take this course is to not be intimidated by the major culture differences that exist between the U.S. and India; embrace it and you will come out with an experience that means so much more than you ever thought it could.

- Alex, U of M Pre-Med Student

A Smile is Universal

Katarina is a U of M pre-med student in the Global Future Physician course, who recently traveled to India as part of a 3-week experience. Below is a reflection on her experience.

A smile is universal. Visiting the SVYM sponsored schools in the remote villages of Sargur and Hosahalli, though the children there may have been more familiar with other languages, a gleeful wave hello was exchanged and understood between us. Studying materials from languages and mathematics to physics, the sons and daughters of medical staff and locals at the Viveka School of Excellence were able to respond to a few of our questions and ask us some of their own as we toured a facility that provided an excellent education - one that may be stronger than the quality of education available to some children in the United States.

Feeling quite a bit like children ourselves as we explored their brand new interactive physics laboratory - the coolest playground any of us had ever seen - we learned more about how strong the instruction was in both the rural school as well as in the institution for tribal children. An engaging experience, it was well worth the wild ride out to the communities. Katarina Web.jpg

Not only was my experience with these children eye-opening in regards to how I viewed educational systems in India and at home, but it showed me something about myself. Being able to engage with these children, being approached and smiled at and engulfed with hugs was humbling: their ability to reach out to a total stranger was something I took away and was utterly thrilled to have experienced. It showed me that while I feel like I can communicate strongly in a professional setting, being able to reach out and connect with people of any age is a skill I knew best as a child, and that if I can, I should keep their enthusiasm and willingness to engage with strangers in the forefront of my mind. Though the interaction was not necessarily planned, feeling the need to take a risk and put myself in a situation where we could interact was worth it.

- Katarina, U of M Pre-Med Student

Lessons Learned

Katharine is a U of M pre-med student in the Global Future Physician course, who recently traveled to India as part of a 3-week experience. Below is a reflection on her experience.

This image was taken inside the Devaraja Market, the first place we visited once reaching Mysore. This is a picture of a woman stringing flowers together to make the garlands seen behind her. This picture reminds me of the senses I experienced in the market, especially the smell of the jasmine flowers. katherine web.jpg

This is one of my favorite pictures because it demonstrates the beautiful saris worn by Indian women and the nose piercings, another common trend. I did some research on nose rings in India and learned that woman traditionally pierced their left nostril because that brought good luck to childbirth. In modern time, Sindhu told me that it's more of a fashion trend.

This image also reminds me of other emotions I experienced while visiting the market, namely an overwhelming discomfort. When we got out of the van, all I noticed was people starting at me. It was a new experience for me to stand out so drastically. Although I recognized that they were staring at me because I was out of place to what they are used to seeing, I felt unwelcomed. Once walking through the market, all I could focus on was saying no to the people trying to sell me things and wondering what the people were yelling at me as we walked by their shops. It was uncomfortable to not only be part of the chaotic situation, but on top of that, feel targeted.

Yet, this feeling did not persist as the days passed in India. The people at the hostel and anyone I directly interacted with were so welcoming and kind. Soon into the trip, I stopped noticing that people were starting at me and felt more comfortable interacting with the people and experiencing the surroundings. Ultimately, this image reminds me of a lesson I learned, that uncomfortable experiences are not bad and they can be overcome.

- Katharine, U of M Pre-Med Student

Step Away and Go Experience

Vanessa is a U of M pre-med student in the Global Future Physician course, who recently traveled to India as part of a 3-week experience. Below is a reflection on her experience.

In many areas of rural India, roads are not paved, but instead are dirt roads filled with rocks or debris from the amount of trash left to bake in the sun. Roads are not smooth, or large enough for buses, and due to the lax laws caused by mutually beneficial corruption between the citizens and officers they are not safe either.

When our group traveled to Kenchanahalli, India to visit the campus of a Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement healthcare facility, these were the roads we drove on. These are the roads ambulances drive on to transport patients trampled by elephants, attacked by tigers or suffering from a rabies infection. I could not believe that the ambulance used to travel on these roads was as small as this one; it is both impressive and upsetting. Impressive that even with the harsh conditions and lack of sufficient healthcare for a majority of the population, physicians are still able to care for their patients.
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It was an unforgettable experience to travel from a government hospital to a corporate owned hospital and see the immense differences between the care of the two facilities. Seeing the lack of care in the government hospital really made me want to continue my pursuit towards medicine and hopefully serve in a similar community someday.

Hardly ever in my college career have I gone to a class where I left the class needing to learn and explore more. Sure I am interested in my major, but the lecturers that we had in India felt more prevalent to real life situations and more applicable for my future as a physician. I truly think this fact is invaluable.

Academics aside, there was one moment during the first week at our New Year's event that I will never forget. All of the students were celebrating and dancing in the Metropolis Hotel before the clock struck midnight and while we were all enjoying our second night in India, one older man decided to dance with us and videotape the entire event. I was creeped out at first, but during the rest of my trip I realized that people in India are much more friendly and willing to converse with you compared to people in America. This quality is one that I really ended up valuing during my experience.

My advice is short and simple and that is to keep an open mind and do not stay inside. Spend time getting to know the hostel staff and teachers, but when there is free time, step away from the journal and go experience India so that there are more stories to journal about! You may never have another chance to be in India, so experience it with the time you are given.

- Vanessa, U of M Pre-Med Student

A Picture Explains a Thousand Lessons

Alan is a U of M pre-med student in the Global Future Physician course, who recently traveled to India as part of a 3-week experience. Below is a reflection on his experience.

If I had to settle on a picture that would best described the hustle and bustle and the overall chaos of south India, I would chose this one. This shopping center near Devaraja market features India's multidimensional life style, with cows meandering about the streets, vendors displaying their foods and a distant matrix of cars and auto-rickshaws cluttering the streets.
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I found it astonishing, as nearly every single aspect of this picture somehow tied into our course work as well as many of our discussion topics. For example, one of the many focuses on this trip was food security and sanitation. This picture depicts a few street vendors displaying and exposing food to open air that is highly contaminated with traffic pollution and insects (many of which stem from local cows and garbage). Although this may look highly unsanitary to us, to the average Indian the food is more than safe for consumption.

One of India's unfortunately iconic images is litter excessively strewn in every nook and cranny. In this picture, a cow feasts on pile of garbage piled on the side of the road. It seemed as though no matter the venue, there is no shortage in human carelessness for garbage disposal. In fact I considered it a treat when I could find a garbage can into which my waste could be effectively disposed. We talked about waste disposal extensively towards the tail end of the trip and the solid and liquid waste management techniques that are being employed to handle the copious amount of trash accumulated from such a rapidly growing city.

Another fascinating, yet frustrating aspect of day-to-day life in India is the abundance of carefree meandering animals on major roads and city centers. Although these scenes present themselves to be extremely comical to tourists such as us, it seems to pose an extreme hazard on busy Indian streets.

However, the sounds and smells (good and bad) of India is something that will make a lasting impact for any visitor. I couldn't help but notice how oddly quiet the United States was when I returned, without the clattering of street vendors and the constant piercing of automobile horns zipping by.

For someone who has experienced India prior to this trip, the most memorable and impacting event in this trip was our visit to both the private and public hospitals. The visit provided me with an efficient comparison between the stark and disturbing disparities in the medical provisions of the public health sector and the private sector. I've never had the opportunity to draw such an analysis, for such prominent differences between these two sectors are not as easily observable in the United States. A major goal going into this trip was to solidify how both the private sector and public sectors function in India, and I feel that this experience helped tremendously in this achieving quest.

My biggest advice to future students would be to approach the trip with an extremely open mindset, knowing that they will have to be prepared to critically analyze their own culture in order to derive the most out of the trip. As much as this trip is about learning about another culture, it also provides a rare opportunity for one to test their abilities to constructively criticize themselves and their own culture and beliefs.

- Alan, U of M Pre-Med Student

Public vs. Private

Paul is a U of M pre-med student in the Global Future Physician course, who recently traveled to India as part of a 3-week experience. Below is a reflection on his experience.

In this photo, we were all in a bus going on a tour of the city of Mysore. In the background, there is a billboard advertising 3 new MRI machines for a private hospital. I think this photo is ironic because right in front of the billboard there is a group of people who seem to be waiting for public transportation, which led me to assume they probably don't have the financial means to pay the out-of-pocket expenses to have access to the MRI machines.

We spent a lot of time on this trip discussing how socioeconomic factors influence health in India, and it was disheartening to visit a public (government-run) hospital, in contrast with the private hospital we visited. The public hospital, which essentially served the lower-middle, lower, and very low socioeconomic classes in India, was crowded and run down, and it was hard to visualize how quality care could be administered. There was mold on the walls, birds and animals coming in and out of the building, virtually no privacy for patients, and waiting lines 100 people deep (all the while coughing together and creating an environment prone to the transmission of infectious diseases). The hospital had diagnostic machines; however they numbered very few in relation to the volume of patients, and cost extra to use. Paul Borowick web.jpg

The private hospital in comparison was much better-staffed, very well kept, and honestly looked nicer than some hospitals in the United States. It was important for us to visit and physically see the differences in quality of care available to different socioeconomic classes. The exposure we experienced caused me to be much more appreciative and grateful for the healthcare that is available to me. It also helped me to better understand the challenges to providing healthcare that come with a population of 1.2 billion people.

Something that was frustrating to me from the tours that day was how cheap the care at the private hospital in Mysore was compared to healthcare in the United States. Yes, I feel like I have received excellent care here in the United States, but after seeing how cost-efficient the private hospital was run in Mysore, it is clear healthcare economic practices should be re-evaluated here. India as country, alternatively, I believe should reallocate resources to better fund the government hospitals.

- Paul, U of M Pre-Med Student

Step It Up

Nicolette is a U of M pre-med student in the Global Future Physician course, who recently traveled to India as part of a 3-week experience. Below is a reflection on her experience.

This picture was taken 800 steps up from the bottom of Chamundi Hill, with 400 more steps to go! A group of us went to climb the hill at 6 am on one of our free days, and it was quite the experience.Nicolette Meyer web.jpg

Chamundi Temple, along with many other temples in India, is highly populated with tourists and native worshipers. The part that I found so amazing about those who went to worship was their public display dedication and devotion. I saw many 70-80 year old men and women, as well as very young children climbing up Chumundi Hill, step by step and sometimes with assistance from a family member, bending down and rubbing the red, orange, and yellow pigment offerings on each of the steps. These steps were not uniform small steps; they were uneven, of different heights, and carved out of the side of the hill itself.

I think that everyone who made the climb can say that it was not an easy feat! The sheer importance of worship in the Indian culture was clearly displayed at Chamundi Hill and Temple and during my trip to India I began to see how culture affects every aspect in the Indian population's life. In particular, culture's affect on how health care is administered and how it is sought out and received is greatly influenced by cultural beliefs and practices; this is not always the best way to go about caring for someone's health. But these realizations also brought up questions such as "who are we, as Americans, to be telling people of another country what to do?" or "do American health standards need to be met all around the world, or do other countries have better systems that work for them?". Being exposed to a starkly differing culture was good for me; it gave me the chance to think about these questions and discuss them with my peers, and I believe it offered me an opportunity to keep an open mind.

- Nicolette, U of M Pre-Med Student

If You Give a Monkey a Cookie

Nakul is a U of M pre-med student in the Global Future Physician course, who recently traveled to India as part of a 3-week experience. Below is a reflection on his experience.

This photograph was taken during the Jungle Retreat in Tamil Nadu. A group of us elected to take the early morning safari tour into the jungle, and upon our return to the Jeep station, we spotted a family of monkeys in the parking lot.

Nakul Aggarwal web.jpgThis particular picture is of one of the monkeys residing into the shade of the public restroom building. He has found a cookie that someone littered onto the garden. He seems to have taken one bite of the cookie, and, at this point, his expression is distinct and incredibly insightful. What his expression conveys to me is an overflowing sense of bewilderment and uneasiness.

Obviously, this monkey is straying from his usual diet for this meal; the orange cream filled treat he has come upon is something exotic to both his taste buds and digestive system. In turn, I would argue that he's at least somewhat wary of eating the cookie. Nevertheless, he proceeds to scarf it down within a matter of seconds.

The scenario serves as an excellent analogy to our multiple discussions regarding food security and history in India. Dr. Balu, in his talk about Food Security, explained that before the introduction of rice to the nation, the staple grain of Indian households was millet. This grain was rich in all essential nutrients, including protein, carbohydrates, and vitamins. Rice was a cheap alternative, brought to India fairly recently as a means of providing affordable food sources to impoverished families. Although rice is economically favorable and widespread, the nutritional value is minimal, as it provides only carbohydrates. The monkey in the picture is in precisely the same situation as the Indian population once was (and is still living in). His natural diet comprised of very healthy vegetation and fruit is being corrupted by the callous attitudes of the outside world (and nutritionally hollow foods).

So what can we learn from this scene? Even though the monkey ultimately finished the cookie, he certainly gave it a second thought, pausing in confusion to examine what he was holding and perhaps questioning his hurried decision. However, we're more intelligent than monkeys, and yet we seem to be complacent about the generally plummeting quality of the foods we eat and the pervasiveness of processed goods. It is not exclusively India that needs to confront this issue; the entire global community must pause and reevaluate what's on our plates.

- Nakul, U of M Pre-Med Student

Walking a Mile in Somebody Else's Shoes

Andrew is a U of M pre-med student in the Global Future Physician course, who recently traveled to India as part of a 3-week experience. Below is a reflection on his experience.

Traveling to a foreign country can be just that, foreign! It's a crazy experience where everything is new. The sites, the smells, the people; everything! It was overwhelming, traveling to a new country. Obviously, leaving home to go to the complete opposite side of the earth was a bit unsettling, especially having to contemplate whether or not everything will be the same when you return home. At the same time though, it's exhilarating! The thought of experiencing a culture different than yours and immersing yourself in it is so intoxicating. You have to acclimate yourself to an entire different set of cultural norms. You have to walk a mile in somebody else's shoes.

We touched down in India after nearly 22 hours of strictly traveling. We cleared Indian immigration and customs (which is surprisingly easy) and grabbed our bags. Heads turned as a group of 20-something college students from America walked past. It was entirely uncomfortable. We were the center of attention because of dress, accents, and the color of our skin. Later on in the trip, entire families wanted to pose in pictures with us as well. I had never felt ostracized to that extent in my life.

At any rate, we boarded the bus to Mysore and off we went. Driving past piles of trash and mountains of rubble, you could instantly tell we were not in America anymore. We began to soak in all that which was India. Later that same day, we went to one of the largest markets in Mysore, which was a cultural experience to say the least.
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As time went on, we saw more and more of the Indian countryside and experienced an entirely different way of life. By week three, we had acclimated to the environment and were comfortable with our surroundings. All too soon though, we were boarding our flight to head back home. As I sat in my cramped airplane seat, I reflected upon what I had learned over the course of our trip. Never had I ever experienced an educational environment like we had at SVYM. I had learned so much about myself and others in such a short period of time, and that's something that most of us aren't used to. I learned how to become a global citizen as I constructed my plans for a career in medicine. I learned about a long-standing traditional form of medicine, the history of ancient cultures, and the beliefs and practices of some of the world's oldest religions; all of which you can't truly contextualize unless you experience it first hand and walk a mile in somebody else's shoes. Of course too, I learned why I wanted to be become a physician. Seeing the level of poverty there and witnessing what a shortage of physicians or health care professional really looks like within a clinical setting is something that was so life changing. It definitely cemented my belief that medicine is the field for me. I'm so very fortunate to have walked a mile in somebody else's shoes and experienced India through the scope of public health and medicine!

- Andrew, U of M Pre-Med Student

Market day

Angela is a U of M pre-med student in the Global Future Physician course, who recently traveled to India as part of a 3-week experience. Below is a reflection on her experience.

In this image, Chamundi Temple can be seen in the distance. Traveling and seeing temples like this was an important aspect of this trip because it gave us some experience with the culture and the history of India. Many of the temples we saw took several generations to build due to the immense level of detail that was present in the carvings, inside and outside of the edifice. I found it very powerful to learn about the history of these places and the Hindu symbolism found in the depictions of deities. Learning even snippets of the ancient stories that go along with images, like we had the chance to do at the last temple we visited, gave great insight into a history and legends that I had never been exposed to in the Western world.

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The other thing notable about this picture is presence of the stands in front of the temple. Often times it felt like these places required the most out of me as someone visiting. These shopping environments provided a sometimes intimidating opportunity to interact with the local people there. It certainly takes a while to get used to strangers calling you in and following you around with different trinkets that you probably never planned on buying in the first place. Exploring the concept of bargaining was also a key experience in these environments, and was definitely something that doesn't occur very often in the states. Seeing the prevalence of poverty through the numerous beggars in areas like this was also something notable, and I thought that this was a difficult, though important thing to experience.

- Angela, U of M Pre-Med Student

The Right Tool for the Job

Brady is a U of M pre-med student in the Global Future Physician course, who recently traveled to India as part of a 3-week experience. Below is a reflection on his experience.

This photo is hard to see what's inside of the ambulance, but it's the best shot I could get as we walked past the ambulances at the Swami Vivekananda hospital and school that we visited. This ambulance is a very small vehicle used to transport people in emergency situations.
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The photo's relevance to the trip is that we were able to see ways in which medical establishments function and transport to emergency rooms is a huge part of what we, as Americans, consider access to care. In the minutes and seconds after the emergency, it is crucial to ensure that the patient gets treated as quickly as possible and transported to a secure location where they can receive the necessary drugs, operations, or other medical support.

The ambulance didn't seem very equipped with the necessary materials needed in serious situations. There seems to be an oxygen tank in the front of the van and a few more first aid materials. What I was most concerned about is the road access and infrastructure that ambulances have to deal with. With very rocky roads in the villages that cause a lot of bumping, there may be situations that endanger the patient more during transportation to the hospital. Also, with driving that is fast-paced and much different from American roadways, I was wondering if there were ever any problems with stabilizing the patient caused by the stop-and-go driving.

This aspect of the trip was very important in understanding the work that is being done at Swami Vivekananda hospital and the way in which they operate. Every aspect of a hospital is important from the separation of wards, to time spent in the waiting room, to the location of the HIV/AIDS clinic and much, much more. There are a lot of good things that could be seen at the hospital and I was impressed with the effectiveness. On the visit, I learned a lot about the work and history of Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement from Dr. Balu that talked to us at the hospital. The history is rich and the development of the organization was wonderful to hear. Dr. Balu talked about how it first was just an idea and how they grew, but then had to take time off to think about how to be efficient. They had to go through a test trial before they could be successful, and now they are doing great work for a large amount of people.

Specifically speaking to this photo, it was interesting to compare the ambulances that I'm used to seeing in the U.S. and put them against these ambulances. They might look at our ambulances and say that they are too big to access certain areas. I don't know that for sure, but I do know that it is good that even if it is slower and bumpier, at least the people have access to some form of emergency transportation in their times of need.

- Brady, U of M Pre-Med Student

Cultural Responsibility

Sarah is a U of M pre-med student in the Global Future Physician course, who recently traveled to India as part of a 3-week experience. Below is a reflection on her experience.

Entering the government hospital was like entering another world - a world filled with the poorest people who had nothing to offer. It was surreal to see the conditions in which these people received care. Walking around the hospital I noticed this sign by the radiology area. My initial reaction was shock. When I was growing up in India it wasn't illegal to determine the sex of the child. I didn't know that this law had passed and I was truly amazed that after all these years female infanticide was still such a big problem.

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This sign highlights one of the pressing issues that the Indian government deals with. Indian culture has valued boys for years and the desire to have a male child is deep-rooted in the society. Since resources are typically limited, the birth of a female child is a huge burden to the family. She becomes a dowry that the father has to afford, isn't likely to be good at manual labor, and won't be carrying on the family name. It becomes easy to terminate a pregnancy because it isn't the sex the parents want.

This aspect of the trip was important to us as future physicians. If we practice medicine in America we can safely assume that sharing the sex of the baby with the expecting parents will be a source of joy and celebration regardless of which sex it is. It is important to understand what being a global physician means and how different cultural values change the way a doctor needs to practice. The highlight of this trip was learning and understanding the impact cultural values have on patients and what that ultimately means for the doctor treating that patient. My aunt is a radiologist in India and she says she gets asked everyday to break the law and gets offered bribes regularly to tell parents the sex of the child. She believes it is her ethical responsibility to withhold this information and hope that in doing so the child has a better chance of surviving.

Unfortunately, one of the hardest truths about this sign is that it doesn't stop female infanticide. There are still female babies found in dumpsters everyday and plenty of female babies get drowned after birth. I was watching a documentary where a mother drowned 8 of her own daughters simply because they weren't sons. What I learned from this experience is that India is in need of reform. While all cultures should be respected there is a point at which certain inalienable rights should be given to all citizens of the world. I do not think it is America's job to enforce reform but rather the local people who work through grass root organizations like SVYM. Education will be the key to change and hopefully in another ten years female infanticide will be a thing of the past.

- Sarah, U of M Pre-Med Student

Modern and Traditional

Tara is a U of M pre-med student in the Global Future Physician course, who recently traveled to India as part of a 3-week experience. Below is a reflection on her experience.
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The photo above was taken on the final day of our three week sojourn in Mysore, along Sayyaji Rao Road and just outside of the Karnataka State Arts and Crafts Emporium, a few blocks down from the Devaraja Market. Not captured at that precise moment in the photo, beyond the parked autos in the background, was the deluge of buses, autos, bikes, motorbikes, and auto-rickshaws darting, bullying and honking past on their way into or out of the city center.

While I became well-acclimated after three weeks to the ubiquitous free-range bovines present even in what seemed the unlikeliest of places, including urban palace grounds and improbably-trafficked chaotic intersections and roundabouts, I never lost my capacity for bemusement at the frequent and mostly unrestricted intermingling of (what I would normally consider) the rural with the utterly urban. Hence, a goodly number of my photos capture cows, oxen, water buffalo and goats navigating traffic, trash, temples, and such. The cow in the above photo, dyed with what I understand to be manjalthanni (i.e. turmeric water) and managing a rather impressive, if unintentional, color-coordination with the parking barrier, is additionally illustrative of the practice of decorating cows and cattle for Sankranti, or the winter harvest festival, underway at the time.

This photo also embodies for me a theme I found recurrent in different ways, across a broad spectrum of lectures, site visits, observations and interactions during these three weeks: the juxtaposition in India of the traditional and the modern. Lectures on Hindu religious beliefs and Indian literary epics, as well as visits to numerous temples and sacred sites, demonstrated an India grounded in culture and tradition, while lectures on Indian medicine, healthcare, politics and economics, along with field trips to locations such as hospitals and local waste treatment facilities provided a glimpse into an India very much pursuing modernity.

A number of our lecturers discussed different facets of Ayurvedic medicine (traditional Indian medicinal practices dating back two millennia), which many Indians use in complement with Western medicine. Other lectures asserted that while there remain some significant gender-based inequities, much of which is borne out of eons tradition and religion, Indians are by and large in favor of a broad range of family planning methods, considered to be rather modern by Western standards.

I can't claim to have absorbed nearly enough in my three weeks in Mysore (nor do I perceive that 1.2 billion Indians are anything like a homogenous population) to speculate whether or not this coexistence of old and new is an easy, comfortable prospect for Indians. However, I did come away with an overall perception that not unlike the modern autos speeding and darting around, or sometimes having to yield entirely to, the cattle ambling ponderously through the streets (such as my yellow friend above), the Indians I had occasion to meet and observe, both rural and urban, seem to have established a sort of duality between contemporary pursuits and that which is very much traditional.

- Tara, U of M Pre-Med Student

Life Always Finds a Way


Abhi is a U of M pre-med student in the Global Future Physician course, who recently traveled to India as part of a 3-week experience. Below is a reflection on his experience.

This morning as we awaited the arrival of a bus for our day trip to Sargur and SVYM campuses in tribal and rural areas, we spotted a puppy outside the gate of our hostel. Sporting a black coat with white spots on its nose, it seemed to have been in a dog fight of some type as evidenced by missing patches of fur on its side.
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The puppy seemed extremely lost; it had presumably been separated from its mother and was wandering aimlessly trying to follow bicycles, scooters and cars in attempt to get attention. This spectacle tugged each of our heartstrings, particularly because of the puppy's pleas and whines. Collectively we adopted the puppy as part of our group for our period of waiting.

The puppy wanted nothing more than to get attention from each and every one of us; it was clear attention and love were not a daily occurrence. No doubt the engagement we provided was the most interaction the young life had gotten or was possibly ever going to receive. A group member reached into her bag and fed the puppy some Chex-Mix as we continued to wait for the bus and entertain ourselves and the puppy. Alas when the bus eventually arrived, we had to leave the poor thing behind which surely affected each of us to some extent.

At face value this situation is nothing more than an abnormal encounter with a rogue street dog. As I thought more about the puppy we had connected with so strongly and then been forced to leave behind, it opened up a large world to me I had not considered. Questions began popping up in my mind. Was the puppy going to find its mother? Would it be there when we got back later that evening? And most importantly, would it even survive on its own?

Of course nobody knew the answers to these questions however what I did come to realize was the inevitability of life. The quote from Jurassic Park came to mind, "Life always finds a way."

It was obvious that life finds a way to survive in the long run no matter the hardships, no matter the burdens, life finds a way. This realization gave me hope. I am not saying we can ignore the mortality of the individual however I understood that no matter what happens, people will continue to survive as do rogue street dogs.

The quality of life of course could improve and this is what organizations such as SVYM or a community service group proposes to do, but the ability of people to endure raw hardships is unparalleled. All we as individual parts of such organizations can do is take solace in the fact that we are not fighting a losing battle, even though services to rural, tribal or underprivileged communities are low, even though their quality of life may not be the greatest, these groups have been surviving without aid or assistance for centuries and will continue to do so for centuries. Aid we provide, though very important to the individual's survival, is not vital to the survival of the group, we must understand that the services we provide expose them to more opportunity and give them more resources by which they may make their life even better. We simply enable their existence a little bit more.

Keeping this in mind, I am very much passionate about service to the underprivileged and will continue to serve for as long as possible.

Throughout the day these thoughts kept flashing in my mind, and I had more hope that the young pup would find a way to provide for itself. Perhaps the encounter with us rejuvenated it somehow, perhaps the encounter gave it courage, and it realized it did not need any help; I simply kept this faith: it could find a way on its own.

- Abhi, U of M Pre-Med Student

Make Room for Other Ideas

Paige is a U of M pre-med student in the Global Future Physician course, who recently traveled to India as part of a 3-week experience. Below is a reflection on her experience.

"While I was growing up, my parents did a very good job of helping me learn to be accepting of others and their differences from myself. So up until my time in India, I didn't feel as though I needed to improve much on my openness of mind or my personal understandings of other cultures and religions different than my own. It wasn't until near the end of my trip that I realized I still have so much yet to learn.

Paige Williams web.jpg This is a Jain monolithic structure of Gommata in Shravanabelagola. When I reflect on all of the different religious monuments we had the opportunity to visit while in India, I am so amazed at how deeply engrained religion is in the people of the Indian culture. We saw a fair number of Hindu temples, a Roman Catholic Church, and this Jain statue. The trip to this structure in particular truly struck me the most, however.

Six hundred stairs were climbed to reach the top of the hill where Gommata was built. This exquisite structure is carved out of one giant stone, and as we climbed near the top of the hill we first met a temple. In order to reach the statue, we braved walking the face of a great slanted slab of rock between the temple below and the structure on the very top of the hill.

An open courtyard surrounded Gommata, and as I entered I noticed a group of worshipers standing at the base of the statue washing its stone feet. I approached the group, and immediately a man wearing the same white robes of the people washing the feet of Gommata motioned me over. He placed between my eyebrows an orange bindi, and sprinkled holy water on my head. He then asked me where I was from, and nodded as I told him, "the United States."

What struck me from this encounter was that this man did not care where my religious orientations lie, but he still welcomed me into his own. I began to grasp what it truly means to be accepting of another's culture and religious differences. For me personally, this means asking questions of others and truly reaching out to people different than me in the hopes that I will have a little better understanding of why this person is the way they are.

The greatest gift India gave me is the understanding that the richness of the world is in its people. As an American, I often feel as though I am not challenged to think on a global scale--this could also be because of my Midwestern upbringing. Coming and learning from Indians has been an eye-opening experience because I was asked to question why I view the world the way I do, and if I am willing to make room for other ideas? Why don't I take time to worry about how my actions as an American may be affecting my Indian, Australian, or African counterparts?

Going forward, I believe the question becomes, why wouldn't I think on a global scale? No longer will it be because I am frightened to think globally or because it is too much to handle, but rather because yes, I want to understand what is going on in other cultures' daily lives and how it applies to me. It's important to me that what is happening in another part of the world will most likely affect me in some way down the line whether it is today or in another 50 years. Thinking globally now means so much more."

- Paige, U of M Pre-Med Student

More Than Just a Hole in the Ground

David is a U of M pre-med student in the Global Future Physician course, who recently traveled to India as part of a 3-week experience. Below is a reflection on his recent experience.

"Seven months earlier, I had been looking at similar holes in the ground. The work of my parents in Pakistan included sanitation among its central aims, so when I went back to discover some of my roots in rural Mansehra, I found myself looking at a latrine. It was built in the same year that I was born, founded in the same Pakistani soil. And so, to visit the model latrines by Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement in India was for me a form of homecoming, of rediscovering my community health heritage.

Water-borne diseases still account for a large portion of the burden of disease in rural India. According to UNICEF, 1.7 million children worldwide under 5 years of age die from diarrheal diseases, accounting for 16% of all child deaths.

Diarrheal deaths are both easy and difficult to prevent. Easy, because prevention is low tech: all that's needed is basic sanitation and access to life-saving oral re-hydration salts for when children do get sick. Difficult, because these are infrastructural solutions, and the problem persists in areas in which infrastructure is most lacking: remote, rural communities. Since these areas tend to be politically disenfranchised, and because sanitation projects aren't very glamorous, mobilizing the resources to confront the issue can pose additional challenges.

Droullard-web.jpgAfter taking this photograph, I stood staring at the holes in the ground for a time, even as the others started down the road toward the school. This model latrine seemed to be the intersection of my past experiences. From my childhood confrontations with poverty in Pakistan and my corresponding lifelong interest in community health, to the maturation of this interest in rural Ecuador, to my return to Pakistan, and finally this visit to rural India, the concrete between the bricks of the latrine seemed like it was holding together the disparate pieces of my personal history. I felt that if I could put my figure on the unifying theme between these experiences, I might have some indication as to how I should approach the future.

Standing there, I found one possible answer, one unifying thread to join each of these experiences together: leadership. In Pakistan, it was my parents; in Ecuador, it was the Ministry of Public Health; in India, it was Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement. In each place people dedicated themselves to the problem of infant mortality, and set about finding the best way to bring about change. As I stood gazing at the latrine's narrow profile, so familiar I swear I could have found myself in Alto Ongota or Mansehra, the wall's seemed to tell me a silent message: It doesn't matter where you are. Just be a change agent."

- David, U of M Pre-Med Student

Blessings

Abhayjit-web-124x100.jpgAbhayjit is a University of Minnesota student, who shared his reflections from his learning abroad experience in India.

"In the big picture, today was no different than yesterday and will probably be the same as tomorrow. However, sometimes it's the little things that happen everyday that are memorable. I'd like to share one that occurred today.

I was doing routine surveying and was about halfway through the village when I knocked on Mrs. Rai's door. She was an elderly woman who lived alone, and so normally I would have politely declined her invitation to come in for chai and moved to the next house (I am supposed to survey parents with children between the ages of 1 and 3), but for some reason I decided to stay for a few minutes.

We briefly discussed where I was from, what I was doing, etc., before I started to ask her about her life. Before I knew it, a few minutes had turned into an hour. As we were chatting, I found out that her husband had been killed several years ago while at work in a factory and her only daughter had fallen victim to malaria as a child.

I could not muster any words past 'I'm sorry.' What other words were there?

When it was finally time for me to go, Mrs. Rai suddenly burst out, 'Thank you so much for listening. I haven't had anyone to talk to in years. God bless you.'

In Indian culture, blessings from an elder are worth more than all the material successes in the world and are thought of as a blessing from God. Nursing homes do not exist in India, elders are cherished as the wisest people and no child would lose the honor of caring for their parents. I had been given the blessing of my elders, the greatest gift I could receive, from a woman I had met just over an hour ago and would probably never see again.

And yet, never have I felt less deserving of such blessings. What had I done for her? Sure, I had talked with her, offered a fleeting hour of relief, but it pained me that I was powerless to do anything else. We are always told that actions speak louder than words, and perhaps that is why I feel so helpless in situations like this. I wonder how many other people and their stories go unheard.

Today I learned that a listening ear is such a small thing to give, but can be huge to receive. Thank you, Mrs. Rai, for sharing your story with me and honoring me with your blessings."

Tanzania for Three Months

Students often run a blog to document and share experiences and photos of their learning abroad adventures.

Here is a blog featuring a former Health Careers Center student, who is now completing a learning abroad experience in Tanzania. Read about her exciting adventures here:

Olivia in Tanzania

Story of the Girls

Alanna is a U of M pre-med student in the Global Future Physician course, who recently traveled to India as part of a 3-week experience. Below is a reflection on her recent experience.

Alanna-web.jpg"On my recent trip to Mysore, India I had the amazing opportunity to visit a rural elementary school set up by Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement in Hosahalli. We arrived at the school during several of the classes outside time and so we watched the girls help each other carry dirt to an area where the boys were building a new stage.

The children were all cooperating amazingly well and although it seemed like fun to us, they were all actually learning a lot from the exercise. They were building many skills including teamwork, leadership, and cooperation, as well as practical skills such as balancing heavy objects on their heads and engineering. I found the addition of practical skills that they will need for their daily lives in their villages into the normal school curriculum extremely practical and very intelligent.

After a few minutes of us watching in awe as the young girls carried very heavy plastic containers on their heads about 100 yards to the new stage, they became very interested in us and stopped their activities to come over and talk.

Right after I took this picture all of the girls started singing one of their traditional folk songs for us and it was absolutely beautiful. When they finished they all giggled and then asked us to sing for them.

We all looked at each other in confusion as we tried to think of what to sing.

It was then that I realized how close they were to their community and to each other and how comfortable they were with singing impromptu songs together. I feel that we have lost that as a culture and as we are so far spread apart and separate in our daily lives, we have lost our sense of community.

These girls although very close were also very different in their reaction to us. Some of them were very shy and although they came over to see us, they did not directly interact with us. Others were a little more confident but not comfortable with direct questions, and then there were the few who were very confident and curious and enjoying engaging us directly.

The picture that I chose really shows all of these girls feelings very well and just sums up my experience at the school perfectly. From this photograph I can feel the excitement of our visit and the confidence and shyness of the girls.

I also think that this picture tells the universal story of girls around the world. There will always be a variety of personalities in any group of children and even though we were in India, I think that this picture shows what would be seen in any country and just shows how similar and connected we all are. I really enjoyed my experience at this school and will always look back at the memories made there very fondly."

- Alanna, Global Physician student

About This Blog

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