This summer, I was given a unique opportunity to travel from my home in Sylmar to Jamshedpur, through a program called the Tata Social Internship.
I grew up in the Valley, attended Van Nuys High School and College of the Canyons, and was accepted to UC Berkeley, where I’m currently pursuing a degree in Political Science and Public Policy. I have always found it important to improve the world by promoting social change. In the last few years, I’ve worked as a legislative intern with two US Congressmen, and with Bay Area based non-profits and national civil rights groups. All of these experiences have solidified my belief that education serves as the backbone of society.
While at school last Fall, I found out about the Tata Social Internship program. After learning that I could offer my experiences in teaching and survey research, I decided to apply and take my skills abroad. By May, I was packing my bags and saying goodbye to my parents and friends, before departing for my 2-month summer adventure in India.
Through the Tata Social Internship program, I was provided housing in Jamshedpur. Many people who have never been to India before assume that every corner is riddled with colorful clothing and vibrant draped fabrics. However, in Jamshedpur, I learned first-hand that this is a major misconception. Although color and patterns exist to a beautiful extent, I mostly observed people in suits and business-casual attire when walking the streets of the city.
My internship project in Jamshedpur involved assessing performance trends among students who attended K-12 schools participating in the Tata Educational Excellence Program (TEEP), an initiative launched in 2003 to improve the quality of education in communities where Tata companies have a presence. The scope of this project was huge, and involved collecting over 6000 responses from the 13 participating schools. Knowing how socioeconomic background can affect child performance, I felt it was critically important that the survey questionnaire include questions about income level, caste, and Below Poverty Line (BPL) status. These responses would highlight the different experiences of poorer students in Jamshedpur schools.
When I began working on my project, I quickly realized that the degree to which I could make it a success was largely hinging on how willing I was to ask for help. I needed someone who understood my limited speaking capacity, could break the cultural barrier where necessary, and could help me explain to advisors and school principals my rationale for including questions about socioeconomic status. I’ve always been comfortable working in a team, but I often find myself completing tasks independently. This time, however, completing my portion of the work required help. I was committed to bringing my project into fruition, so I was willing to step out of my comfort zone to get the support I needed to move my project along.
While in India I was eager to explore the lands my parents chose to leave behind in the name of opportunity, so when I wasn’t working on my project, I made travel a top-priority. I wasn’t afraid to go site-seeing alone, but that too presented a challenge that required asking for help. Trying to understand India’s complicated travel system was very tough, but people who saw that I was an American and a visiting tourist were kind and willing to provide assistance. Despite the language barrier, I was able to communicate with people I met who helped me navigate my journey. I was able to successfully complete travels to Kolkata, Varanasi, and Mumbai, where I saw the Victoria Memorial, Gateway to India, and the Elephanta Caves of Elephanta Island.
As an intern in the Tata Social Internship program, I had hoped to make a positive change by bringing an international perspective to the research assessment of schools in Jamshedpur. It was my hope that this work in international development would equip me with more experience to pursue a degree in international human rights law after graduation. In the end, however, the internship experience proved to be more invaluable than I expected. The challenge of living and working in an environment and culture that is so vastly different than my own forced me to recognize how asking for help can build independence. When I no longer hesitated to ask for help, I was met with a successful project, strong Hindi skills, and a wonderful travel experience.