July 28, 2015 | Chris Burnett
“No internet?!” I anxiously shouted. Three weeks without internet is a long time for a technology addicted student such as myself. Well, I made it, and to my surprise I learned a lot without technology. In fact, I would say the most memorable aspect of my internship was this opportunity to disconnect myself from my iPhone and simply explore my environment without being arrested by my daily routine.
In an effort to not derail on a philosophical tangent so quickly, I’ll get specific. This summer, I spent six weeks in India where I studied development and conducted research in a rural village in Rajasthan. I traveled…a lot. I sat in our village center and watched the locals herd the malnourished water buffalo for literally hours. I laid on the roof and studied the galaxy with my teammates Kriti and Ekta. I played cricket, football, and climbed a ton of forts and mango trees. I shared my drinking water with a water buffalo, I unofficially married two women, saw the Taj Mahal, and built a rather noteworthy tolerance to spicy food.
For those that haven’t been, India is India. Everything you have heard about it is true. It is hot, crowded, and I spent a large portion of my days fighting off whatever stomach virus my last meal awarded me. All things considered, India is an AWESOME country with a culture deeper and stronger than any place I’ve ever been.
Every time I travel, I heavily assess my experience in the country by the kindness of the people. In the “Chris Burnett ranking of the world’s nicest people,” India ties for first (right next to Costa Rica [I find Costa Ricans just delightful]). Everyone was extremely welcoming, trusting, and generous. In the village I studied, people seemed to share a committed or accepted sense of poverty, even though the status quo appeared gravely insufficient.
So why was I there? Well, I worked with a local NGO that supports migrant workers. Migration is a major issue that commonly results in poor labor conditions but essential to the Indian economy. I’ll skip over the details here but at a high level, the organization’s mission is to provide a more dignified life for migrant workers. I am still not quite sure what “dignified” really means to them though: more money, stronger security, better heath, all of the above? Regardless, my group chose to educate and empower the wives of migrant laborers (If you want to learn more about the project, reach out and we can chat over coffee).
Will my internship lead to a subsequent job opportunity? Doubtfully. Do I care? Not at all. To me, graduate school isn’t purely about classes and irrationally competitive job prospects post-graduation. It is about experiences and becoming more self-aware. India made me more self-aware. This internship forced me to just chill and feel the wind or watch the sunset, commonly uncherished pleasures many of us have illogically deemed too time-consuming.
Even though I plan to concentrate in national security at Duke, my internship wasn’t completely misaligned with my professional goals. One day I hope to leverage what I learned to build the international development capabilities of DoD and support some sort of post-conflict reconstruction effort. I learned a lot about development during my coursework as well (many thanks to Professor Krishna for building and offering such a fantastic program) and I am confident these skills will translate quite well later in life.
To sum it up, India can terrify even the most experienced but uninitiated traveler. Nothing can prepare you for the aggressive line cutting, “ambitious” driving, or the obstacles of littered cow dung. However, I would encourage everyone to overlook these minor challenges, for buried within all of this madness lies rich culture, breathtaking sights, unimaginable architecture, and fantastic people.
Chris Burnett is a 2016 Master’s in Public Policy Candidate at the Sanford School of Public Policy and specializes in National Security.