The eight months I spent in India was probably the most enriching time of my life. I completed my corneal epithelial stem cell research project, helped out at eye camps, observed stem cell transplants, volunteered at an orphanage, traveled all over the country, and attended Fulbright and Asia ARVO conferences in Kolkatta and Hyderabad (respectively). Above all, I got to see the real India. I have the Indian people I interacted with, and especially the Aravind family who were so welcoming, to thank for making my Fulbright fellowship as rewarding as it was. They helped me understand the value of service, demonstrated best by the words of the founder of Aravind Eye Hospital:
“Intelligence and capability are not enough, there must be the joy of doing something beautiful.” – Dr. G. Venkataswamy
I left my friends in Madurai in late April to return to the U.S. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to say farewell because of an urgent and unexpected medical problem in my family that prompted an early flight home. The wonderful people at USIEF helped me out again though, and I got approval from Fulbright to travel back home on April 25th, with only two days notice!
You can probably imagine that the past two weeks were exceptionally busy as I passed on my research and packed up my things for my return trip to the U.S. In all, I spent over 30 hours traveling back and am safe at home now. I was amazed at how, even with little time to prepare, the lab threw a great farewell party for me (pictures below).
One thing that people say about the Fulbright program is, “Once a Fulbrighter, always a Fulbrighter.” I left India with consolation that I will never really leave the program that was so good to me in India or lose contact with the wonderful people at the Aravind Eye Hospital!