When traveling, I always prefer to get the inside scoop from people who truly know my destination. At I-House, I am blessed to have friends who can give me the scoop on their hometowns from all over the world. This was especially useful during spring break, when I spent 1.5 weeks in India doing research for a class project. As part of this class, I am on a team consulting on a client project regarding water issues and climate vulnerability for tea growers in Assam, in northeastern India. I spent the bulk of my time in Assam, but also managed a couple of fun days in Delhi and Agra.
Debanjan, one of the first I-House friends I made at the retreat at the beginning of fall semester, told me about his family’s ties to Assam and the tea industry in previous generations. Avantika, a Delhiite, gave me tips about where to shop and how to bargain, and insisted I go to Humayan’s Tomb. However, I was so jet-lagged that I barely remember it!
Vishwanath and Madhyama gave me cultural tips and advised me on how to act. All of these conversations were really helpful in preparing me for the trip, and gave me far more context than my travel guide ever could. This was especially important due to the short nature of my trip–I usually prefer spending more time in a place so that I can get to know the language and culture more, but that was impossible in this situation.
I was also lucky because shortly before my trip, the Indians at I-House held Indian Coffee Hour, where I first encountered bhel puri. As best as I can explain, bhel puri is a mix of puffed rice, chopped vegetables, sauces, and spices. I had been to Southern India before, but never encountered this snack. In Northern India, I saw it everywhere, and was able to recognize it after seeing it at I-House!
I look forward to utilizing the diverse backgrounds of my I-House friends in future travels, and my travel bucket list has only gotten longer after hearing about some of the fascinating countries my friends are from. This summer, after research in the Philippines, I’ll be stopping in Singapore before my flight home in order to connect with some of my Singaporean friends who have spent the year here in Berkeley on exchange from Nanyang Technological University. While I have been to Singapore before, Lynn and Germaine keep promising me that there is more to this tiny island country than the tourist sites I’ve visited. I’m excited to see the real Singapore with them!
As an international development practitioner, I am lucky to be able to see the world as I work. As an I-House resident, I am lucky to have friends who can share their countries with me, and help me see beyond my first impressions of a place.