I’m hanging my laundry on the roof, something that’s become an enjoyable task during my time in India because it allows me to appreciate each piece of clothing I’ve hand washed as I hang it up to dry in the fresh air. I look over and notice that the big tree in front of UTC that has been the main feature of my view from the roof for nine weeks is producing green buds where before lay bare branches. A sign of springtime! A manifestation of new growth. As I stand and stare at proof of nature’s ability to rapidly transform, I find myself contemplating my own personal growth during my time in GCIL.
I completed 14 quarters at UW before arriving in Bangalore, during which I became well versed in reading textbooks, completing homework assignments, and taking tests. This was my comfort zone. Not only has GCIL has taken me out of my comfort zone but it has taught me countless things that school couldn’t. It is difficult to communicate how much I have learned throughout my time with Hasiru Dala. The staff that I have interacted with - Indha, Vishwa and Pradeep to name a few - have a vision for a more inclusive world that is inspiring, and through their day to day work make a tangible impact on waste workers’ lives. I’ve been able to see the impact of consumerism and the intensity of today’s waste management problem while visiting dry waste collection centers and recycling facilities here in Bangalore. Through attempting to tackle a grand challenge, I have gained awareness of the interconnectedness of the world’s problems and how deeply entrenched cultural beliefs can resist change. Social entrepreneurship was something new to me, and going through at least three iterations of the design thinking process has allowed me to expand upon my engineering skillset and dip my toe in the world of business. I have discovered so much more during a day out interviewing citizens than during a day scouring the internet. Working on a team of four for seven weeks straight has taught me how important mutual respect, honest effort, a sense of humor and effective communication are. I’ve learned an incredible amount from my peers here through mealtime conversations about our experiences, goals and aspirations. The students that this program attracts are some of the most motivated, aspirational, kind, and inquisitive I have met, and I am very fortunate to be able to live and learn with them.
The introspection instigated by the program has brought its own wave of learning. Living in a different country for three months is much different than visiting one. I have battled with homesickness and a longing for the independence I have as a woman back home as compared to India. I’ve had to think long and hard about the implications of the whiteness of my skin and face the fact that I grew up in a middle-class bubble and it’s my responsibility to investigate my blindspots. I’ve learned about my aversion to failure and found that there is a big lesson in harvesting the nuggets of wisdom from the ashes of your failed idea.
Just like a quarter on UW’s campus, the ten-week GCIL program flew by. I left Seattle just as winter set in and I prepare to return as the cherry blossoms begin to bloom. My time here was in no way perfect. Nothing is. There were days where I struggled a great deal and days where I felt euphoric. There were successes that spread a smile across my face and failures that made my heart hurt. The GCIL manifesto states that ‘the real world and the people in it can teach us a lot.’ This statement was brought to life before my eyes as I navigated the windy roads of GCIL and stumbled my way towards immense personal growth.