Diana Jue-Rajasingh

How the Fulbright Journey Began: My First Trip to India

Posted in Fulbright, India, Traveling by Diana on August 9, 2012

Although I am just now on a plane from Los Angeles to Frankfurt and finally to New Delhi, my Fulbright journey began awhile back: November 2007, to be precise. As a junior at MIT, I was studying abroad with the International Honors Program: Cities in the 20th Century. The program took me and about 30 other bright-eyed American college students to Argentina, India, and China to study a spread of contemporary issues related to, but no limited to, the following: urban planning, the environment, human rights and justice, economics, politics, culture, and society.

My favorite urban case study, by far, was Bangalore, India. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I was hit with total sensory overload. The scenery was different. I wasn’t used to seeing cows waltzing down the street like they owned the place, smelling that  mix of spices, flowers, incense, mosquito repellent, and body odor, or hearing Bollywood music and loud festivities at nearly all waking and sleeping hours. The people I met were wonderful – welcoming, hospitable, desiring to discuss and reach mutual understandings, and a bit long-winded at times (my host father was quite the storyteller; I later learned that there is an oratory spirit among the locals). There was much to absorb, and at times it could be overwhelming.

2007: The type of picture a noob might take in India. Not my proudest moment, but this is how I felt!

For many students, the disparities in income and opportunity were overwhelming as well. I remember my first walk home with my roommate, an upper-middle class American girl. By the time we reached our homestay in Tyagarajanagar, she was in tears because of the urban poverty she saw. And this was in Bangalore – compared with other places, it’s really not that bad.

While I appreciated her bleeding heart, I was also struck by my apparent lack of one. Of course these issues were important to me; I had long been drawn to underrepresented minorities, social outcasts, and underdogs, regardless of the geography. But I couldn’t just start protesting up a storm without understanding the root causes for why these situations existed. And I couldn’t even merely protest – I wanted to understand how to address these problems concretely and systematically.

2007: Field visit to an urban slum. Actually, it was a government housing area.

2007: Urban waste management was and is quite an issue.

And thus, the flame was lit, so to say. I returned to MIT and took every interesting development-related course that could fit into my schedule, including D-Lab. I eventually took a different angle to development that carried me through my graduate studies: the innovation-for-development space, where entrepreneurs, engineers, and activists converge to improve lives at the Bottom of the Pyramid. I returned to India three more times to pursue research for my Master’s thesis, among other opportunities. Then I applied for a Fulbright to study another piece of the development give-and-take puzzle: the decision-making public administrators.

Every trip to India teaches me something new. It’s one of the places where I’ve been pushed and challenged way beyond my comfort zone. It’s a place where I’ve experienced personal successes and failures, so it has taken a special part of my heart. Sometimes when I’m here, I glimpse that I’m part of a bigger story that’s being woven here, particularly in Bangalore. I’m not sure why the doors continue to open for me in this country, but I’m thankful for them, and I will do my best to devote myself to the opportunities I’ve been given.

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One Response

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  1. Cynthia Dettman said, on September 21, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Hi Diana, I’m a fellow Fulbrighter (teaching social work and other projects) in Madurai until December! I’m enjoying your blog- hope you might enjoy mine too at blog.cynthiadettman.com

    Question- I’m coming to Bangalore for a few days to meet my partner who is arriving there- any suggestions for a clean, quiet, intermediate priced hotel? And if you’d like to have coffee, that would be great!

    Cynthia Dettman
    mobile: 4499077942


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