Frontiers

From India, With Love

Penn students discuss their summer internship experiences in India.
January 2012

When traveling to India for the first time, it’s best not to plan too much.

That’s the advice Aparna Wilder, Student Programs and Outreach Coordinator for the Center for the Advanced Study of India (CASI), gives to students who participate in CASI Summer Programs, a program that provides students with the funds and opportunity to travel to India for summer volunteer internships and research projects.

“It’s easy for students to be in the Penn mentality of plan, plan, plan. They’re in this pre-professional environment, but one thing India enables them to do is really let go and live in the moment,” she said.

Keena Kang, LPS’12, and Julie McWilliams, GR’16, discuss their internships with Samaj Pragati Sahayog (SPS).

Wilder embodies the core mission of CASI Student Programs. After graduating from Penn in 2002, she spent a year living in India on a service fellowship with Indicorps. The experience was her first introduction to the work of service organizations in the South Asian country. Following her work with Indicorps, Wilder received her master’s degree from Columbia University and returned to India, where she lived and worked as a video producer and director for the next four years.

Now, Wilder has returned to Philadelphia, where she works full-time to match the individual interests of summer program students with partner organizations in India. It’s a carefully choreographed dance, but selecting the right organization allows for both students and their partner NGOs to have a greater, more meaningful summer internship experience.

“My internship gave me the opportunity to really see first-hand the passion that the SPS organizers have regarding the issues of poverty and gender equality, the struggles they have to keep their work going and how they are able to make an impact on the community.”
– Keena Kang, LPS’12

“It’s important to find the right organization. There are a lot of great NGOs out there, but we look for ones that have the right kind of service, passion and sheer love for the work that they do. It’s inevitable that the students are going to gain something from a program like that, but we hope that the organization is also able to gain something valuable from it,” Wilder said.

This summer, CASI sent nine students to work with four NGOs that target the key focus areas of environment, health, urban development and education. One of those students was Keena Kang, LPS ’12, who spent eight weeks of her summer in Madhya Pradesh, a state in central India. There, she worked with the organization Samaj Pragati Sahayog, or SPS, to research the role of women in a form of microfinance called self-help groups.

Abby Waldorf, C’12, and Laura Brown, W’13, share their experiences working in New Delhi with Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group.

“My internship gave me the opportunity to really see first-hand the passion that the SPS organizers have regarding the issues of poverty and gender equality, the struggles they have to keep their work going and how they are able to make an impact on the community,” Kang said.

She used the knowledge from her experience to conduct research for her master’s degree project, which focused on the Millenium Development Goals and micropower and microfinance of women in India. Kang’s summer in India touched her on a more personal level, as well.

“There were definitely struggles, but the things I took out of the experience made it all worth it. It was a moving experience. I still think about it, and hopefully in the near future I will be able to go back,” Kang said.

For more information about CASI Summer Programs and to hear more about student experiences in India, check out the CASI student blog and watch the videos, which were directed by Aparna Wilder.