Reflections on My Time in Mankundu

When I first returned to Michigan, I found myself in awe of the pristine cleanliness and order of everything around me. Neatly mowed lawns, shiny new bicycles, and smoothly paved streets felt extremely sterile and foreign. I kept having urges to do things like throw my banana peels out the window and was a bit shocked by the amount of skin I saw in all of the summer clothes surrounding me. It took about two weeks before I felt comfortable wearing shorts again. It was such a strange feeling, to be back in my hometown but to know that something had changed in the way that I viewed it.

The Ann Arbor Art Fair took place the week after I returned. As I walked through the streets, I realized something- the hippies in kurti-like tunics and harem pants and the amalgamation of open-air shops and food vendors reminded me so much more strongly of Mankundu than anything else I had seen since being home. I was suddenly seeing this event, which I have been attending every year for as long as I can remember, through an entirely different lens than ever before. Of course there are distinctions between the Art Fair and India, but for the first time I felt more comfortable at this somewhat chaotic street fair than I did walking around my neighborhood.

I have been back in the States for a little over a month now, and I still think about my time in India every single day. My friend will mention something that will remind me of a person I met or a place I visited, and I am mentally transported around the world. It takes very little to trigger these associations, since my time in India had such an impact on the way I view the things around me.

I know that this experience will stay with me for a very long time. Going to a place so different from what I knew has opened my eyes to a whole new way of approaching the world. I think this is true of any interaction with other cultures, especially when one is immersed into the local people and customs as we were. You cannot help but gain a new appreciation for the diversity of both the human race and the natural world.

I already miss my host family, students, and fellow volunteers. The people I met had a huge impact on me and the trip would not have been the same without them. I already find myself planning my next trip to visit them. Just yesterday I was looking up flights to Kolkata for next summer to see how much it would cost (the answer was “too much”). That made me all the more grateful for having been given the opportunity to go on this fellowship.

While I may not have the chance to visit again in the next few years, I know that I will go back. India has such a captivating quality that it is practically impossible not to love it. I cannot wait to visit my host family again and see the progress of the students and the community development projects, and to have the chance to explore the rest of the country. The two weeks of travel that I did at the end of my trip were not nearly enough to see the entire subcontinent.

The biggest impact that this trip has had on me was to solidify my future aspirations. While I still do not know exactly what I want my career to look like, I am sure that I want to continue working in developing areas. The work of Human Wave inspires me. I am passionate about helping to further causes such as women’s empowerment, food security, and education. This is the path that I see my life taking, dedicated to improving the lives of people around the world.

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About Jamie Lutz

Jamie Lutz is a junior majoring in Architecture in the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Jamie plans to pursue a graduate degree in urban planning with a focus on developing countries. Jamie will be volunteering with Human Wave, an NGO based in Kolkata. Human Wave serves the local community in a variety of capacities, including community development projects and English medium schools for children who reside in slums. Her volunteer work will include teaching English in one of the schools and participating in ongoing community development projects. Jamie’s research project will focus on the distribution of public and private schools in Kolkata in comparison to population density and demographic data. She hopes to discover where there are gaps in public education and how these relate to the locations of slum communities. Jamie will utilize Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software to do this research.

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