Goodbye India

I am on my way back to Boston, and I can’t help but think back on all the memories and new relationships that I just created. My last week in India was the best and toughest. During my last week, I finally gotten close to so many of the Indian and Chinese students, and we were finally on the performing phase on our team project. On the other hand,  during these last few days in India, I had to do one of the hardest things for me, which is saying goodbye.

My last week in India was filled with a whole lot of fun and a final project waiting to be completed. On January 8th, we had a culture day. We all wore traditional Indian clothes and looked our best. I never thought a saree would look that good on me. My gold saree looked more beautiful than I thought once I put it on, as you can see below. My favorite part of culture day was during the best-dressed fashion shows competitions. The Indian boys went up first followed by the Indian girls, American boys, American girls, Chinese boys, and finally, the Chinese girls. Everyone looked amazing as they worked the runway. I was happy and excited to have won the American girls portion.

After the culture day, my group and I had two more days to complete and present our final project and the stress started to kick in. My groups project, “Multimodal books for Visually Impaired People” was an interesting and fun one. My group and I went to visit some blind schools to get some primary source information and understand our targetted customers better. During this experience of teamwork with different cultures, I learned more patience and gained a lot of communication skills. At the beginning of the project, I was very worried about how well the project is going to go due to the language barrier and different cultures. When we would plan meeting, I would always show up at the exact time and wait for everyone else to show up late. I came to understand that not everyone works on American time. If a meeting is planned, expect it to start about thirty minutes after the scheduled time. This type of exposure to different cultures will definitely assist me in the real business world. I will be required to work with different types of people, and no classroom or book would have helped me experience this as this program did.

After our presenting our project, it was finally time to say goodbye. Saying goodbye to my new friends was not easy. We had all just started getting comfortable with each other, and then we had to leave. I could not hold back the tears, as I thought of all the fun nights and laughs we shared. We may now be going our separate ways again, but one thing for sure is that we shall meet again. See you soon India!

After Week 1

After experiencing only half of this program, it has been nothing short of incredible. It all started with a challenge where the professors each gave us 500 rupees, which we were supposed to find a way to increase the amount of money so we could give the profits to charity. We raised over 30,000 rupees as a whole program, and it was amazing to see all of my classmates so excited over making a difference for the community. We also became super competitive in coming up with savvy business ideas that would make us the most rupees, and I loved to meet new people during our sales. That’s when I really started feeling like we were one big family: US, India, and China. I was meeting people who were so similar to me and who I truly connected with, yet they live halfway across the globe.

Ruike and I walking down the street of Hubli

Later in the week, we went shopping for sarees to wear on Ethnic Day. We all had a blast trying on the different colored traditional wear, we must have spent three hours in the store looking for our favorite styles and textures that we could wear in a few days where everyone would dress up.



This past weekend we went to a rock garden where there was a “rain dance”. We walked up to this area where people were all dancing under a downpour of water, almost like a miniature water park. The group didn’t even hesitate in running under the water and starting to jump around. The people there were so excited to have foreigners dancing with them and they were teaching us traditional dances, and I’ve never seen such pure joy. The rock garden depicted a lot of scenes from Indian culture, and it was awesome (and educational) to hear the Indian students explain more about each part of their history, society, and culture. The Indian students truly want to teach us everything they can about their culture and the US students are eager to learn, listen, then teach others all about our culture, in return. The energy within the whole program is infectious – you can tell how much everyone wants to learn from their peers and get the most out of their experience. At least two or three times each day I stop and pause and realize how grateful I am to be surrounded with this type of acceptance, positivity, and passion. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first joined this program but now, I can’t imagine not having experienced it all.

Flowers & friends


My Most Rewarding Visit

Our time in India has come to a close. In some ways it feels like the past three weeks have flown by, but in other ways, it seems like it was a very long time ago that we all landed in Hubli and met our hosts in the Scholar House. We managed to fit in a lot of learning, new experiences, and sightseeing into a very short time!

Though there are many wonderful memories to reflect upon, one of my favorites was our trip to Sushanti Orphanage to present donations in person. The entire GE2 class earned more than 35,000 rupees during the two-day “500 Rupee Challenge”, and several teams decided to donate their earnings to Sushanti. A group of ten students wanted to visit the orphanage, so we gathered together after finishing our exams and made our way there via auto rickshaw.

Though Sushanti Orphanage had notice that we were coming, it was helpful that we had an official letter to present as well. Once he understood the purpose of our visit, the gentleman in charge gathered the children together so that we could meet them. The children introduced themselves to us and patiently listened as we explained what we were doing at their school. One of the KLE students realized that it might be good to give something small to the children (since they might not understand the importance of the donation), so he purchased some cookies and candy to give out. These were a big hit and helped break the ice with the children!

Children at Sushanti Orphanage introducing themselves

After a few minutes and a few songs from the iPhone, the children became less shy and started to play games with us. Hand clapping games were very popular, and the smaller children loved getting lifted into the air. It was so wonderful to see the children’s joy as we spent time with them!

Playing with the children at Sushanti Orphanage

We presented a cash donation to Sushanti Orphanage in the presence of the children. It is my hope that this presentation helps them understand that they are cared for. We learned that the donated amount was more than enough to pay for an entire month of rent for the facility; this amount will certainly make a tangible impact!

Donating to Sushanti Orphanage

After the donation presentation the girls kindly agreed to show us their living quarters. Though they didn’t have much, it was clear that the children took pride in their space. With interpretation assistance from one of the KLE students I shared with the girls that I did not grow up with siblings, and that I think they are lucky to have each other. The girls smiled at this thought and it warmed my heart to see the family these children had created for themselves. This experience was truly remarkable and I am so grateful to have had it!

Homeward Bound

Three weeks later and I cannot believe it is over. The experience felt like it lasted only a few days where I made friendships that felt like I knew them for years. Our last day in Hubli at the scholar house was filled with tears, goodbyes and sadness. We knew it would be a long time until we saw our Indian friends again and it was hard to say goodbye to people who are now so close to you. A short flight and we were at a new stop, the Tamil city Chennai on the Bay of Bengal. The next few days would be spent visiting Hindu temples, Christian churches and important cultural sites. I never thought that I would see a piece of a body of one of the apostles but a trip to San Thome Basilica changed that. One of my friends from India, who was born and raised Christian, explained to me how his ancestors had worshipped Christ for hundreds of years before mine (I am Irish Catholic). Knowing little of the history of Christianity in India I thought we was pulling my leg and I am glad to have learned a lot more of this little known fact about India. While this was very interesting, it was the trip to a Hindu temple I found most fascinating. This temple was dedicated to Shiva, his wife Parvati and his sons Ganesha and Murugan and dated back 1400 years. The complex was large with beautiful structures, praying sites, and even a section for cows (which are revered and holy in Hinduism).  It was my first time visiting a non-Abrahamic place of worship and was interested in how different the architecture, style of worship and traditions were. The next few days flew by as we visited many sites (including a beach) and learned a lot about Indian culture. The next thing I knew I was at the airport saying goodbye to my American friends (I had booked a different flight due to cost and had luckily wound up flying with the Chinese students). A long layover later (where I got to see the unique city of Hong Kong for several hours) and a tearful goodbye later I was on my final 14 hour flight home.

Jet lag still has me in its grip, but I will always remember this truly once in a lifetime opportunity. Whether it be Sahil and Naveen teaching me how to cross a road (you simply walk through the chaos and do not stop unless it is a bus or a truck because they never stop) or Tejas showing me the best place for kebobs. The unbelievably amazing massages the Chinese students gave (I do not know where Kuku, Cindy and Teddy learned how to literally fix my back) or heart-to-heart with Chirag on the back of his scooty while he brings me to get medicine. The long nights sitting with a dozen of my friends talking and sharing stories and dreams. The early mornings walking through the dusty, palm-lined path to school (where Jon would always be talking to his new friend the security guard). Our best friend Ralphie (a tiny puppy who would follow us around campus) at backgate waiting for snacks and scraps. There is far too much to write about here, however if you are a student reading this and have the chance to go with Professor Mehta to India I have one word for you. Go. You’re life will be changed for the better and you have no idea what lies in store for you. Just know it is amazing and you will not regret it.




Sunday at Ustav Rock Garden

UML, KLE and NUPT students has an enjoyable day at the Ustav Rock Garden, a unique art, culture and fun place! It is a creation of an artist who has a vision to recreate what India was (and is in some areas) 100+ years back, how life was in a village and combine that with other fun activities like mud bath and rain shower! Real life like figures and statues are created by artists telling stories of yesteryear. Students enjoyed learning culture and tradition from their friends and took part in rain shower and other fun activities. They also had a taste of typical local indian cuisine, and they thoroughly savored, some went for second time! The day clearly displayed their comfort with this environment, no hesitation to use fingers to eat, no hesitation to try new things, soak in the warm sun and have fun with little school kids, their new friends!


Landing in Mumbai

Landing in Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport was not a new experience for me. I had been visiting Mumbai almost every other year for the past 20 years. This time was different, this time I was by my self. I had flown alone domestically before, but never 20+ hours. After landing at 2 am on Christmas Day, I filled out my immigration form and went to the customs booth. I handed the officer my American passport and my Indian citizenship card and waited for his interrogation. I had planned out exactly what I was going to say in Marathi to seem like a local and avoid having any issues. To my surprise, he just pointed up at the camera, took a picture and opened the gate. This had been the first time I had ever gotten past immigration all by myself. As I walked by the duty-free towards the package claim, I put my paperwork away and began waiting for my bag to come. The belt went around three times before I asked one of the airport employees “Maaza bag disat nai hai” which just said, “I don’t see my bag.” He said something incomprehensible and pointed towards the other side of the bag claim hall. I walked over and found my black bag with a pink ribbon. After walking outside the airport, I hugged my grandfather and we immediately got into the taxi and took off for another 3-hour ride to Pune. I finally reached my home for the next 3 days at 6 am. I planned on immediately sleeping but decided to rough it out and stay awake to avoid jet-lag.

After 3 days of meeting family and eating good food in Pune, we took off on the 27th for the city of Belgaum, Karnataka. Instead of driving the 6 hours, we decided to take an overnight sleeper bus. The bus left Pune at 10pm and after taking 2 chai breaks the bus reached Belgaum at 7 am. I got off at the RPD Cross stop and walked over to my grandparents second home. As I walked in the gate, the security guard tried to stop me as the last time I had been there I was 8 years old. I was too tired from the bumpy bus to explain myself and just showed him the key and walked in. The next day, we got up at 6am and began the two-hour drive from Belgaum to Hubli. I was super excited when I walked into the scholar house and saw everyone’s face. I was so excited to meet and mingle with everyone, I didn’t even bother to unpack!

Picture taken during morning walk in Kothrud, Pune

Desh Deshpande visit

On Monday we had a very special guest, Desh Deshpande, visit our class and interact with students. Desh, a well known serial entrepreneur and philanthropist, has been a very strong supporter of our GE2 program since its inception in 2014. He has come to all our sessions in Hubli. Typically, he will have a very brief opening comments and then jump right into fielding students questions.  Students asked a variety of questions about Desh’s entrepreneurial journey, challenges, lessons learned, his social entrepreneurship activities, etc. Desh spent over an hour interacting with students and also individually with a few students. This was one of the highlights of this 2-week session. Students learned a lot from a successful entrepreneur and enjoyed immensely this opportunity.

Hard days work

Hubli has been a truly eye opening experience. I was assured that I would never leave Massachusetts and yet here I am, in a classroom trying to solve local problems on a national scale. The rock garden we visited was fun and educational. I learned a lot from the wall paintings and the sculptures that stood. This week was a tough week however. The classes have been long and tough for my group and myself. The work is getting harder to keep up with due to the small window of opportunity we are given to work on our projects. For example, the 500 Rupee challenge. It was intense due to a 2 day length period. Also trying to gather primary research was more of a challenge than anticipated. We made plans to have fun in the town of Hubli but those plans fell apart when we realized how tired and defeated we felt. The next few days will feel the same until we leave to Chennai. I’m not ready to leave my new friends.

Friends, Family and an Impact

Halfway through the class and India already feels like home. If you would have told me how close I would be with new friends within this short period of time I would have called you crazy. Now I know that there is no way this experience could happen without getting this close. I now not only have new friends but a new family, albeit quite a large and diverse bunch. For several days I was sick, first a fever and stomach bug and then a minor throat infection and almost complete loss of my voice. I assumed I would be left in my room while other students keep their distance to avoid getting sick. Instead, I felt like I had 20 mothers and fathers each ensuring I got better as quickly as possible. Kuku running to me with cups of traditional Chinese medicine nighty, Chirag dropping what he is doing to bring me to the pharmacy, Tejas driving me through the hectic streets of Hubli to get me to the best soup in town, Hannah and Kanmani washing and bandaging my injured foot and the dozens of offers for medicine, water and to get me anything I need. From the moment I wake up to when I fall asleep I know my new family is here for me. If you are looking for someone to talk to or something to do I simply walk into any room and am met by smiling faces ready for a good time.

I am constantly learning about Indian culture from how to eat properly in India (using the right hand only) to different gestures (a slight shake of the head means yes/ I am listening while in America this means no). Yesterday we visited the “Rock Garden” a tourist attraction that is part artists installations, part cultural museum, part amusement park. My friends Chinmai and Chirag were great tour guides explaining each part of the museum and the connection to traditional and modern Indian culture (I think they taught me more about India than I ever learned in the States). At one section of the Rock Garden there was an installation called the Rain Dance which was a waterpark ride installation where giant shower-like heads pour water onto a crowd of dancinguests while a DJ bumps American music crossed with Punjabi. Mya and I were the first ones to run into the dance and there was a group of young Indian school boys and girls who were thrilled that we were there. We were soon taught some Indian dances and while I butchered every single one the locals were beyond happy and when we tried to leave we were swarmed with hugs and had no choice but to return to the dance floor. The busride home, as always in India, was a great time where we watched beautiful farm lands sprinkled with Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu temples and religious sites. At one point a van drove by and I swore it was straight out of a picture I had seen on the internet: men were hanging out the windows and even just standing and holding onto the back of the car. Again this is on a highway going at least 50 miles per hours.

On another, more academic level, I knew this would be an accelerated class but I had no idea how much I would learn in such a short period of time. I keep having to remind myself that everything I know about entrepreneurship I have learned in this past week. My project is one that I am personally interested in and is called Greenhouse-in-a-Box where my company creates smaller greenhouses that provide protection from intense heat, pests and reduces water usage. My company also provides monitoring, education and financing to ensure that small time farmers cannot only access the technology but actually be successful in their ventures. One quote that has stuck with the co-founder and was part of his inspiration for creating the non-profit also really stuck out to me and I wanted to share it. One day while a boy he walked by a farmer eating mud, when asked why the farmer replied “The stomach does not realize the pocket is empty”. I may have misquoted him but the meaning and power of this event is one that I think will stick with me for a very long time. I cannot even imagine the poverty and struggles that this man faces on a day to day basis and am very glad that this company now exists. Every day I see things in India that make me want to jump for joy while others make me want to weep. It is tough to see the intense poverty that millions of Indians face here, when driving to a high end mall with my friend Tejas I looked to the left and saw an Indian slum. In front of me were, for want of a better word, small houses with piles of garbage next to, on top of and all around them. Looking inside I could see a single small room full of bodies, I wanted to ask my Indian friends but I was shocked into silence. I have traveled the world and visited many impoverished places, small Tanzanian villages, Lebanese towns that have been levelled only years prior, Costa Rican slums and Mexican homeless. None of them have every shocked me like this or had the raw power of this moment. While I am having quite literally the time of my life in India with a new family of amazing friends I will take far more with me.


KLE Week 2

Since my last blog entry, a lot more amazing things have happened here at KLE and around India. A group of us traveled outside the campus and got to do some shopping, friendships grew closer, and we had an awesome field trip. Every day we get closer and closer and it makes me wish my life could stay like this forever. Them main reason is decided to come here was because I needed a big change in my life because I felt as if I was going crazy or felt nothing but lonely. I knew opportunities were coming in my life but it felt like I was just waiting for that to happen and felt myself rushing school so I could get there. I did not want to feel that anymore so I thought this trip would help me mentally, spiritually and physically; and I was correct.

Shopping around the town was a whole new experience for me. We were in a big group so I didn’t feel nervous, I felt excited. Mainly because we were shopping for Kurta’s and I have wanted one since I saw them at the airport. Tomorrow is ethnic day and i am stoked to put mine on and wear it as well as to see everyone else in theirs. Also, over the last few days the friendships grew more and more. With trips to mcdonald’s, scooter rides around campus, and even going to different restaurants around KLE. These people feel like family to me and I have never been this excited to be around a group of people in a long time. Furthermore, we went to Rock Garden yesterday and that was a blast. I loved seeing all the statues and art that made me appreciate Indian culture even more. The most memorable part of that trip was the rain dance. Dancing in cold water in my clothes surrounded by my classmates and other Indian kids was a thrill that I do not think I can explain. It was so freeing and fun, I wish I could do it forever.

Every day I get the gut wrenching thought of having to eventually leave KLE and India for good. Some times I wonder if all the happiness will be worth the sadness I will feel once I’m back home in the New England winter and missing all the Indian and Chinese students. I am happy to have new friends with the Umass Lowell students that I will keep but I will never see the rest of them again. I am trying to tell myself to not be sad that it’s over but to smile because it happened but we will see how I deal with this once I am back home