By Johanna Safranski, a member of the SkillCorps India July 2016 team
If I had to choose one word to describe my experience in India with my SkillCorps team, I simply could not. One word alone cannot do it justice.
Before these two weeks of travel and work, I did not know what exactly I was getting myself into, but I did know two main things. One, I would be traveling internationally to the other side of the world, and most importantly, I would be working with the autistic community, both which are things I have been longing to do in my personal and professional life. In the midst of all my preparation– the fundraising, the vaccines, and the most indecisive packing experience I ever had in my life (packing deserves a blog post of its own)– I was overlooking a detail that would become a recurring theme throughout this experience. I would be meeting new people, strangers, everyday, which was an unexpected internal challenge for me as well as a beautiful gift.
In hindsight, this trip and its mission seems grandiose– I got to Brooklyn on a Wednesday morning and met strangers who greeted me into an office only to be introduced to more strangers and we as a group of strangers were going to strategically plan how we were going to meet strangers halfway across the world to help make a sustainable impact in a matter of two weeks. Wow. And in various ways and degrees, it worked, and meeting new people did not end there. We met new people on plane rides and during our overnight stay in Amritsar. It happened when staff members of SOREM opened their homes and introduced us to their families. It happened when a student would come up to you, look you straight in the eye and intriguingly study your face, almost with a look that said, “Okay, she can stay.” In such a short time, we have met people from around the world from many walks of life, which made this trip truly irreplaceable and unique.
Being in my mid-20s and feeling a bit lost in terms of my career and future, I am also learning more about myself everyday on this journey. Looking at my young adult life and childhood, I really haven’t travelled much. I have met many kinds of people just staying near my home in Central Jersey, but my safe, little bubble popped when I came to India. Meeting strangers meant that they had to meet me and I had to open up myself a bit more with every new hello. Sometimes, it is easier said than done, but as time went on, opening up became a bit easier. While I have been a bit more hesitant and shy as I usually am when I am in the comfort of home, I have been listening and watching the team, the staff, and students work together to achieve common goals. I have been surrounded by great individuals and remarkable places. I have learned about a divine culture that I may not have independently explored as in depth as we have gotten the opportunity to, but most of all, I have gained an awareness of myself. While my plans for the future may not be much clearer, my to-do list has become much longer. Seeing the beauty of doing work such as this and seeing what the world has to offer have become the first steps of finding the road for myself.