My study abroad experience was different from the traditional study abroad experience everyone thinks of because it was completely online. Over the summer, I was a student in the SIT Study Abroad Program: India Virtual Internship in Environment, Development, and Sustainability. The class part of the experience lasted 7 weeks and in the middle of that time I completed my four week internship with the Indian Non-Government Organization (NGO), Chintan. During the first week and last week of the program, I met with my class and academic directors 3 hours a day for five days of the week. All of the other weeks we met for 3 hours a day on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays on WebEx.
Since I was taking this program from my bedroom, instead of India, which is how the program is normally run, the aspect of cultural immersion was not quite as in-depth. However, I still felt that through this program I was able to gain a better understanding and appreciation of the diversity of India’s cultures, people, cities, and geography. I really appreciated the chance to learn from and get to know both my academic directors Trilochan-ji and Murari-ji because they have traveled a lot around India and have a lot of knowledge in different areas. Hearing about their experiences really helped put into perspective what academic life and non-governmental organizations are like in India. I also really enjoyed hearing about the places they had lived such as the mountain region of Sakhim or the city of Jaipur.
Another way I think the program really did a great job of immersing us in the culture through a virtual format is that almost every day we had a different online speaker. They invited experts in the field from all over India to come present and talk with us about various subjects in the fields of sustainability, environment, and development. We had the chance to hear from journalists, social workers, non-profit executives, economists, professors, scientists, etc. throughout the program. The amount of knowledge, experience, advice, and wisdom we had the opportunity to hear was astronomical. All of the guest speakers were extremely helpful and friendly. They allowed us access to their emails to ask further questions and insisted that when, not “if” but when, we come to India we should contact them to meet up. This program was hands down the most enriching online class I have ever had.
While the classroom experience was great for a virtual course, the internship part had its ups and downs. Since I was dealing with an eleven hour time difference with a busy organization, I often would have communication issues, which led to me not working as much as I expected going into the program. I really enjoyed learning about the city of Delhi that Chintan operated in and learning about waste pickers and the issues they face. I just wish that I did not spend as much time waiting around for replies as I did. Despite my issues I still had the opportunity to learn about all the important work Chintan is doing. Chintan is an environmental research and action group that focuses on bettering the lives of the waste pickers, especially the women and children, while improving the environmental conditions within Delhi. Waste pickers are known as the informal sector of waste management because they independently collect solid municipal waste directly from waste sources to segregate the waste into recyclables to sell to higher level traders until recyclable materials are recycled.
The work I did for Chintan during my internship was a part of their Voice For Waste Program, which is their research, advocacy, and outreach branch. I researched and mapped potential collaboration partners that Chintan could support or conduct joint research with in Canada. For options of collaboration, I searched for universities, professors, non-profits, youth groups, and foundations that had similar interests and goals as Chintan. The areas of overlap that I particularly focused on were topics such as, environmental justice, urban affairs, sustainability, air pollution, circular economy, recycling and waste management.
Overall, I think this program was a good way to learn about another culture and learn from experts not from the US during the pandemic. I really enjoyed hearing from the guest speakers, my academic directors, and my fellow students. The course was small enough and long enough that I feel like the experience was personal. I still would like the chance to study abroad in person, but I think this was a good trial. I would recommend this to someone who may not have the chance to study abroad, but still wants to have a multicultural experience.
Annabree Corlew (Biology – General) participated in the summer 2021 URaCE and Office of Study Abroad virtual research internship abroad to India through SIT Study Abroad. Annabree had the following to say about the virtual internship abroad experience, “I would recommend the virtual study abroad experience to any student that would like to have a multicultural learning experience, but can’t or is unsure about studying abroad. It is a wonderful way to receive a culturally diverse education right from home.”
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