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Thursday, 20 October 2011

Intern Reflections - Summer 2011

Here is an article that our intern Emma wrote about her ITSA Internship experience in the Bard High School Early College's Student Newspaper:


Intern Emma participating in the ITSA workshop writing a focused free with ITSA participants.  



This summer, I went to India. It was not, however, a vacation or a spiritual quest for enlightenment: I went as one of five interns for ITSA. 

ITSA, which stands for Independent Thought and Social Action, is a social action organization co-founded by Jwalin Patel and recent BHSEC alum, Riana Shah.  Centered in the city of Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat ITSA aims to help Indian students attain the critical thinking and analytic skills they need to become independent, emancipated and capable global citizens.   

The education system in India is rote, dogmatic, and limiting - students often simply are not given the opportunity or the tools they need to think critically.  In response to the rigidity of the system, which was founded during the industrial revolution and aims at creating capable workers, Riana and Jwalin decided to create a program, based on the Writing and Thinking workshop, which would help Indian students to break free and think independently.  
This is where I come in. This summer was the second year of ITSA workshops, and the first with interns.  The interns (myself, Ana Powell, Max Baird, Mariah Widman, and Juliana Gutierrez) were brought to Ahmedabad, via a seventeen hour flight, to pursue individual internship projects, stay with incredible host families, encounter Indian culture up close and personal and, above all, help to fully establish ITSA and to help it to flourish. 

Over the three weeks that we had in India, we  (though I can only really speak for myself) were given the opportunity to have an overwhelming number of incredible experiences, the opportunity to meet and stay with amazing people -- Ana and I became very close to our host family and we miss our host sister, Deeksha, immensely -- and to grow in profound ways.   Everything felt like an adventure, from stepping out of the airport into the thick, sweet smelling air, to eating unfamiliar and deliciously opulent meals, to exploring the narrow, woven streets of the old city, to visiting an endless series of gorgeous temples and interacting the people on the roads, to seeing the Taj Mahal; even driving down the street in cars and rickshaws, listening to a symphony of horns was exhilarating, especially since the commuters Ahmedabad tended to ignore basic drivers’ safety. Everything felt novel and interesting.  I could go on forever, but luckily, I don't have to: each experience was recorded in a blog kept by the interns (check it out at www.itsatravellog.blogspot.com).   

But even the hoards of freely roaming cows couldn’t surpass meeting and getting to know the young students who participated in the workshops.  These were motivated students, determined and willing to push themselves far beyond their established comfort zones.  Watching them struggle to adapt, learn, find ways to describe their thought processes and to substantiate their identities was, in itself, one of the most intoxicatingly exciting experiences of the trip.  In just two workshops, the participants were already exploding into their full potential, grabbing for each novel experience with an enthusiasm that was, in many ways, inspirational.   Years of mechanically ossified beliefs were debated,  boundaries were demolished, and as the workshops flew by, the students truly changed - as did I.

When I returned to America, it was made clear to me that my global perspective was forever altered.  I had confronted beauty and incredible ugliness, wealth and utter poverty, remarkable awareness and determined apathy: it was inspiring and overwhelming. The paradoxes of India remain pertinent and poignant, even now, months after I returned. Quite frankly, there is more to say about this trip and about ITSA than could ever fit into a (relatively) short article. Choosing to send in an application to become an intern was one of the best decisions I ever made, and I cannot sum up its worth and importance so neatly.  Thus, I conclude on this note: going to India and being an intern for ITSA affects me still, every day, and I am in all respects continuously thankful for the opportunity.  

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