Interning in the Homeland By Suhani Patel
Author by Suhani Patel
One of the greatest experiences of my life has been an internship with International Volunteer HQ. The organization provides people of any age and affiliation a chance to volunteer and intern in almost any field. Since the organization at heart is a volunteer organization, the main focus of the programs is to provide volunteers and interns a way to benefit the communities in which they are placed.
What drove me to apply for an internship with this organization was the strong desire to travel and work abroad as well as my strong interest in the healthcare field. As a college student studying Microbiology with a strict course schedule, I certainly did not have the time or the money to take a semester off and study abroad. And let’s face it, if you’re going into the medical field, the last thing you are looking for is a “study” abroad. What you really want is to get down to the nitty gritty and get some hands-on experience. So why not start in your homeland?
After being accepted as an intern for International Volunteer HQ’s healthcare program, I was placed in Faridabad – a city outside of proper Delhi, India. During my internship, I lived with a wonderful host family and other interns aspiring to pursue careers in the medical field. I had the privilege of working with amazing people from all over the world: a pharmacy student from Taiwan, an ex-military medical assistant from New York, a pediatric nurse who recently completed an orphanage project in Africa, and my personal favorite – a business analyst who sold all of his possessions from his house and car to his suit jackets, packed his bags, and traveled to Delhi to teach in a slum school.
As I got to know my fellow interns, I was amazed at just how similar our journeys were that led to this trip. Each of us wanted to live an experience that would not only give us a better sense of the world, but also give us that slap-in-the-face culture shock feeling. That is exactly what I got. Because I am Indian, many people assumed that I had a breeze adjusting to my host family and the culture in Faridabad. In reality, India is such a mind-blowing place, for both those of Indian and non-Indian origins. Though poverty surrounds you everywhere you turn, you are also struck by a culture that is so rich in tradition. Every which way you look you will encounter a different community, religion, and dialect.
My family is from Gujarat, but even for me, traveling and working in Faridabad was no less of a major culture shock. I was not used to the 7 pm safety curfews, unspoken “no shorts rule,” potato dishes with every meal, open-air markets, or the common vibe of living in a joint family. Even with the inconvenience of using a bucket to shower, not being able to flush toilet paper, constantly buying bottled water, and sharing a room with some unexpected cockroach friends, I feel both ecstatic and fortunate to have had this experience. Though I was born and raised in America, I still like to think of India as my home. It’s where my parents were born. It’s where they grew up. And it’s where they inherited their values. The cultures in India and America may indeed be different, but they are both mine to embrace. Through this internship, I took the abilities and experiences I gained in America and applied them to my work in India, and with that I’ve brought back with me countless memories.
So whether my hands were stained red from eating chutney, getting henna tattoos, or being smeared with blood while helping a doctor through a Caesarian-section, I truly experienced a full Indian immersion. No, it wasn’t a neatly packaged internship and at times I wanted to pull my hair out. But when old ladies walked by me as I went about my work at the hospital and put their hand on my head, murmured what sounded like words of gratefulness and then walked away, I couldn’t help but get that warm fuzzy feeling and think that I just might be doing something right.
About the Author
Suhani Patel, a senior at the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens, is majoring in Microbiology and minoring in Spanish. A healthcare enthusiast, Suhani enjoys writing for the UGA PreMed Magazine. An avid reader, Suhani will read anything from biographies to Web MD articles to the Harry Potter series.