My time in India was an experience, to say the least. I learned so much and grew even more, all whilst trying to navigate a country where I was a complete foreigner.
During my time in Mumbai, I worked as an intern at Apne Aap Women’s Collective, a non-profit organization that works with women and children in the red light district of Kamathipura. I came into the office and I was given free reign to decide what I wanted to do with my 8-week internship. It was the first time I had an internship that wasn’t structured or planned out for me and it was a surprising challenge. So, I took the first week to learn about the organization as a member of the staff and figure out what gaps I could fill. This experience would become my first big lesson while interning with this organization. It forced me to really think about my skills and come up with my own projects to pursue. That may not sound difficult but it takes quite a lot of planning, self-analysis, and understanding of the organizations needs. In the end, I decided to take on creating a research report detailing the nutritional needs of the pregnant women and children under the age of two. The report will now be used to garner funding for a project to address the nutritional needs detailed in the report. In addition, I taught a spoken English class every weekend, I taught a ballet class for several weekends, I helped create several manuals for the organizations different programs, and I began the process of transferring all their registrars from soft copies to excel spreadsheets. As I evaluate the experience in terms of the work I did, I see that I definitely challenged myself because I was forced to use so many different skill sets. It wasn’t a position tailored to only one aspect of the organization; as a result, I had to be very flexible in my working environment. I worked with the fundraising team as much as I worked with the person in charge of the research projects. Not only did I have to balance my work but I had to balance my skills, too. Overall, it made me a stronger member of any team that I join because I can tailor my personal skills to fit any problem or situation that I am confronted with.
I would like to end with my biggest takeaway from being abroad: Achieving success doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone and that is A-OK! This is something that I struggled with even before I left this summer but it became even clearer to me during my time in Mumbai. I tend to think that everyone should want to be super successful in terms of being at the height of their game all the time, working to be the best in their field, and trying to reach the top because that is what I want and that is what those around me want. The reality is, this is not something that everyone wants. Just because I can’t understand it doesn’t mean it is any less legitimate as goal for someone else. It is difficult because I want everyone to want to be the best but the hard truth is, it is not my place to want those things for other people if they don’t want it for themselves. My idea of success is a product of my environment and you have to be quite self-aware to recognize that and grapple with making sure not to place those values on others who have completely different goals and influencing environments. In the end, it was really difficult for me to grapple with other people not wanting to reach the same level of success that I want but it was necessary. I now recognize that I may want to be the best at what I do and keep striving for titles, accomplishments, accolades, and degrees but, that doesn’t make my dreams anymore legitimate than someone who wants to simply get a college degree, or wants to spend more time at home raising a family, or wants to have a quiet life in the countryside. I don’t have to understand the reasoning’s why but I do have to recognize that those peoples are successful because that is how they chose to define their success.
— Fatimatou Diallo, Quest Scholar, Columbia ’15