I am connected

By Jamie, Tufts 1+4 Participant

One of the biggest worries that I had coming into this year abroad in Hyderabad, India was not making connections to the people around me. For one, I couldn’t speak Hindi or Telugu(the state language of Telangana). I stuck out like a sore-thumb due to my big, curly hair. Everything about me screamed “tourist.” Because I was new, I did not understand the community that I had just been privileged enough to be invited into. I was afraid that I would keep myself in a tight, closed off bubble for the entire year. I realize, now, that that worry couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Recently, during an in-country learning seminar in Meghalaya (located in the North-East of India), I created a list of people who had been kind to me. At first, I couldn’t think of anyone outside of the people closest to me. I was thinking about the big ways I’ve been show kindness instead of the small ones. After writing one name, it was easy to remember more. Here is my list:

-the Old Woman I walk by everyday on the way to school who I smile at and wave at even thoughwe’ve never spoken a word to each other

-the Local Shop Owner who sent His Son to walk home with me when the road was blocked at night

-the Auto Driver, Pandu, who calls me every once in a while to ask how I am

-the Naan Shop Owner who helped me hail my first auto

-the Kids who wrote me “Get Well Soon” cards when I fell sick

and many more.

After I finished writing my list, I felt overwhelmed by this sense of connection. I have so many people in my life in Hyderabad that I have been connected to through a smile, a drive, an act of kindness and it speaks volumes about how beautiful the community I have been lucky enough to join is.

That feeling of connectedness continued to present itself even after I returned from my seminar. The inspiration from this post comes from a moment I had with one of my students. He came up to me after I came back from the learning seminar and said, “Didi, where were you? I was scared you went to America!” all said with a worried expression and his hand on his heart.

A Tale of Two Climates

By Ashley, Tufts 1+4 Participant

First Month, India, Fall 2018

I am wet. From the moment I waked out of the air-conditioned airport my body has not yet ceased this overproduction of sweat. I am certain that everyone in India knows that I am not from here, as I feel that I leave a snail-like trail.

 I began to wonder “why me” and I awaited the day my body would catch up to my mind, to my new environment. As soon as I would step out of the shower my body would be wet once again, never really feeling clean. It didn’t make sense but how could I judge my bodily secretions when I am confused 99% percent of the time in my new life.  

Instead of occupying a space of an adult figure in my household, I have moved away from that role entirely.

Instead of feeling the need to parent a sibling, I gained three.

Instead of trying to accommodate strangers and friends alike, I am in a situation in which people are doing that to me.

Instead of always putting myself on the back-burner of my life, I have been moved to the front flame.

There will only be more experiences that will be completely different to what I have grown accustomed to in my past 18 years of life and no way to see what will come of that. I can only hope that – much like the sweating- time will work its magic and my mind and body will follow suit.

Present Day

I wrote this during my first month in India and looking back there was a lot of…moisture within that first month. I am about to embark on my second half of my journey and I can confidently say that I no longer identify with that statement. Now I only secrete the respective amount of sweat that could be expected in 90-degree weather with 40 percent humidity. Being able to say this means that I have done it. I am more than halfway done with this journey; the journey that shocked friends and family alike when I told them of my plans. Watching their faces changing between worry, happiness, and being proud was a sight to see. I never did understand why my loved ones were so shocked! I was only moving to the other side of the world for a year! However, as soon as I stepped off of the plane, my foreign body was at the mercy of the new climate. Then it truly dawned on me…my life was in India for the next 8 months. 

Over time my body has grown accustomed to the sticky sheen that would layer over my skin and drip; my body’s attempts to cool itself were in vain as I stuck to my daily 2 liters of water and attempts to stay in the shade. I could not understand why this unusual conditioned seemed to be prolonged. However, these past three months have taught me that, like everything, time and reflection is needed to truly go deeper in an experience.

I made some proclamations that first month that rung true, but I have come to see that the truth they held at the time is now more complex. Having to acclimate to many different new realities- new family, new job, new language, new everything- has made me really want to envision the adult person I want to be.

I want to be adventurous and exist in the world with a hunger to know more.

I want to love others while remembering that there must be the same amount and kind of love for myself.

I want to take charge of my life and allow myself space, while I give space to others. 

I want to be able to think about the future while continuing to live in the present. 


Slowly but surely everything follows suit with time. You just can’t sweat it.


By Jamie, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Auto Rickshaw Captured by Sofia Alfaro

Tuk Tuk, Auto Rickshaw, Rickshaw, Auto. One of the first things that pops into your mind when you think of a typical, Indian street. They’re (usually) the cheapest way to get around. They’re the most fun to get around in. They’re an essential part of the Indian experience. However, when you don’t speak Hindi and you don’t know the city geography well enough to explain where you live, then it’s really hard to hail one. This is a story of the first time I successfully hailed and bartered an Auto home.

It was a typical day. I had taken Ubers all day long and I was feeling a hole burning in my pocket. I looked longingly towards all of the auto rickshaws that passed my way, but shook my head knowing that I would never be able to do it. Later that same day, the Team Leader in Hyderabad gave some of the fellows tips on saving money on transportation. Her first recommendation was to make multiple stops on Uber instead of taking a straight shot to the destination, her second was taking Ola or Uber Share, and her third was taking an Auto. I asked her the best approach to hailing and negotiating a price and it all boiled down to speaking Hindi (something that I have no particular talent in). Defeated, I booked an Uber with my friend, Ashley, with the intention of lessening the cost of going home. I planned to book another Uber from Ashley’s house to my home, but something went wrong with the app and I got extremely frustrated and my defeatedness turned into determination. I looked at Ashley and said, “I’m going to try to hail an auto.”

Initially, her face exuded a deep apprehension about my ability to do so, but she said, “Okay, I’ll wait with you while you try to get one.” I knew that the average price from her house to my house in the evening time was around 80 rupees, but I knew I had to low ball first. I waved my hand towards an auto and got one in about 10 seconds. I repeated Pannipurra, Subzi Mandi until he began to understand that my accent distorted his native words. He nodded and I thought to myself that that was much too easy. I squinted my eyes and said the word “rupee” hoping that he would understand I meant “how much”. He must’ve been well versed in foreigners and quickly said 100. My eyes widened with disbelief and I quickly said “Nehi,” the Hindi word for no and “50.” He said something I couldn’t understand in Hindi and I thought it was over. Luckily, there was a naan bread shop owner who was watching the whole interaction and decided he should step in. He said, “hello,” and I asked him if he could translate what the Autodriver was saying. He replied that he wants 100. I showed him my Uber screen and I explained how there was no fathomable way I would pay 100 rupees when it’s only 80, and to ask him if he would do it for 60. I watched him explain in Hindi and the driver was almost disgusted with the request. He looked at me and said 90, 90. I threw my head back and laughed with such confidence like I had endless transportation options. I shook my head no and said “70,” and began to walk in the other direction. The Naan shop owner exclaimed, “Hey, he agreed to 70!” After profusely thanking the shop owner and smiling wider than you can imagine at Ashley, I hopped in the auto and made my way home.

When I got home I told my host mom, I texted my sister and mom, I even texted the entire Hyderabad cohort what I had achieved. You may be thinking, well. . . it was really the Naan shop owner that really did it, but I would argue that it was my initiative to do so and teamwork that made my hope come to fruition. If I had never tried to hail an Auto I would have never met the shop owner who negotiated for me. Finding the courage to do something that I had very little confidence in succeeding in and actually succeeding in it was a great feeling, but doing it in India where everything is a little harder made me feel on top of the world.

Viewpoint from Inside an Auto by Ashley Trejo

Lost on Memory Lane

by Ashley, Tufts 1+4 Participant

There is a little game I enjoy playing with myself; it’s called “Let’s see how far back we can remember.” A little game that I like to play occasionally, but over the years the game has become more of a way for me to reminisce on old experiences and re-live them. Thankfully, India has gifted me many more memories to use for my future reminiscences. 

Week One, India. The idea in my mind was “exploration” and I wanted to truly embody it by exploring my neighbor in hopes of becoming familiar with my new environment. By foot.  This detail is crucial as I had not yet had the ability to walk with the Indian traffic. I had to check left, right, up, down, and sideways —multiple times — to be sure that I would not be met with a rickshaw, car, or motorcycle!

Once I had been able to successfully cross streets, I began to look around, and what I saw was breathtaking. As I turned corners and walked down alleyways, I saw people walking around, buying produce at local stands, animals around the trash and walking along the roads. Even though I had seen this happen in my own town, the other places I had been, there was a “newness” to it. Soon enough it became apparent that I was not from around there as the stares began piling up as I continued aimlessly roaming around. 

I was very content being lost. Little did I know that the little alleyways would take me to more little alleys that would lead to a dead end. As I looked around my surroundings, I realized that I had collected a few friends along the way. There were approximately 20 small children around me who were all talking at once and shouting “Didi” to get my attention. The commotion brought out adults and then they began to ask me questions in Hindi, to which I had no way of understanding. I decided to return the way I had come from. By that point, I was overwhelmed, sweaty, and tired; the idea of exploring seemed good in my mind but my body had other thoughts. Now, looking back, getting “lost” was an adventure and being able to experience the “newness” of everyday things was magic.

I find that every moment we live through has a touch of that magic; something that we cannot find in any other experience because it is so unique to each one. It’s this magic that has the tendency to lessen as time goes on. Sure, we take pictures and look back at them every so often, but it seems that everything we do, in the hopes of remembering these moments, is futile. I constantly wish that there was a way to capture the moments the way I lived them- the emotions, the smells, the sounds. Time has a way of taking these details and twisting them around.

While time won’t do the moments justice, they are a part of me and so is the magic they carried when they happened. I do not know the next time I will get “lost” or the next time I have to relearn traffic but knowing India there will be more surprises in store. There will be more time to experience and even more time to look back at these moments throughout the course of my life. Even when the memories are a little dusty, that will be alright.

A Potential Reality: Gaining More Than I Give

by Jamie, Tufts 1+4 Participant

I was in a Tufts 1+4 orientation session when I scribbled down the phrase that “success can be more abstract.” I scribbled this phrase into my notebook after I asked a question about the potential guilt that will accompany gaining more from my gap year than the community I will be working with. One peer mentor responded by saying that I was most likely thinking of success and improvement in a tangible way and that I needed to adjust what success meant to me. She then gave me an example of intangible success; building a relationship that would not only influence me positively but the other person in the relationship as well. At that moment, I began to include intangible successes into my definition of success. However, after three weeks in India, I started to feel guilty again with my impending apprenticeship, Teach for India.

Thinking of success in intangible terms is hard when I feel guilty. I cannot get over the idea that I will be gaining more from this experience than people who already have had less than what I’ve experienced even before this gap year. I do not think it is fair for me to walk away from this gap year benefiting from something that most of them will not be able to experience solely because they come from a low income household.

I am a teaching assistant for a third grade teacher. This is unlike any third grade classroom I’ve ever been in due to the lack of electricity and the sheer amount of children crammed into one, average sized classroom. A question that keeps coming to my mind is, “how can I think of intangible change when one classroom holds 110 children?” At the present, there is no importance in my self-growth when the children that are supposed to be learning cannot because of an overcrowded classroom. Where is the tangible or intangible success in that?

I know that, realistically, I won’t be changing the lives of these children drastically. I, also, know that just because I want to improve the world does not necessarily mean that the space I am going into to “help” actually needs my “help.” However, I still feel I should be a part of a bigger change. I feel like my individual growth is not a big enough contribution to bettering society.

As I reflect on what success means to me and why I am feeling guilty, I also begin to put my upcoming experience into perspective. Here I am, in Hyderabad, India, about to begin my apprenticeship with Teach for India, and my nerves are shot because I’m afraid of  not bringing enough good to my work and to the children I will be working with. I can only bring what I know I have: compassion, happiness, and love. As I bring these three attributes I will, hopefully, see a positive impact manifest (even if that manifestation comes about in a surprising, indirect way.)

Overlooking Old City, Hyderabad during Sunset

Channeling my Inner Sponge

by Ashley, Tufts 1+4 Participant

I find myself repeating the phrase of an optimistic yellow sponge from my youth. Well, “youth” may be a bit of a stretch since the silly show can still be found playing on my screens. Nevertheless, “I’m Ready” has been the statement on my mind since mid-May.

The more I mentally and physically say this phrase the more I began to truly admire and reflect on the character behind the phrase. The show consists of the daily shenanigans of Spongebob and how he is able to experience his life with little to no unhappiness, even when life got a little rocky. In no way, shape, or form was he ready for anything! Yet, he continued to proclaim his readiness and took life head on. I realize that as a child I didn’t give this show enough credit and now, as this bridge year is about to begin, I find myself hoping that I can amount to this yellow sponge.

Weird. I know.
I am as ready as I think I am and the rest is up to me. In the face of a challenge or a change in ‘schedule,” I want to be able to say that I continued with the Spongebob mantra. I do not want to let expectations cloud or potentially change the outcome of my journey. It is so easy to sit back and think that the sky is falling instead of taking a good, hard look at the situation; sometimes the only thing truly stacked against us is our perceptions of the situation at hand. If we try to muster our pride and channel our inner Spongebob nothing could get in our way.
Now that I know that I have been repeating this idea for a couple months now I want to say what I am ready for:
I am ready to…
  • Be uncomfortable but find comfort within that.
  • Get lost and call it “exploration” instead.
  • Try at Hindi and potentially sound really silly.
  • Try again at Hindi despite the silly soundingness of my attempt.
  • Try new things.
  • Miss my family although I tell myself I won’t miss them that much.
  • Have moments where my expectations get the best of me because these things take time.
  • Be as ready as I can be.
This year is going to go by and I can’t know how I will emerge or what will come out of this time in my life. There are going to be moments where I witness something completely different from the society we live in and cannot say how I will react. At the same time, there are going to be extremely beautiful and rewarding moments that I also can not say how I will react. How do I know this? I don’t but nevertheless, I’m ready.