Upon landing in India, it didn’t take long to realize that everything was going to be different – people, landscapes, smells, taste, weather, daily routines. This change makes us nervous, putting us on edge and pushing the boundaries of our comfort zones. Still, these changes and ensuing emotions are why I came to India. These differences in culture and work life force me to adapt and better understand both myself and those around me. In my work, I am surrounded by suffering. The short time I have here will not desensitize me to children battling cancer, and I don’t think I’m the type of person who ever could be. I work under brilliant people who dedicate their lives to treating childhood cancer. For the amount of suffering and emotional distress presented to them day in and day out, they are some of the most upbeat, positive people I’ve ever met. At first, this was difficult to understand – how can someone be positive when work centers on the suffering of an innocent child? Nonetheless, their work ethic is a testament to the importance of human compassion. From this I have experienced emotions on both sides of the coin. In conversations with families, I hear stories of unimaginable anguish and suffering, but I also see a mother’s boundless love and support for her child. I see doctors’ trepidation and worry for a child patient, but I see, too, their will and perseverance to ensure that child the best possible care.
When I came to India, I was ready to experience and learn from different cultures and spiritual philosophies; I was ready to explore crowded streets in sultry weather and barter down rickshaw drivers. But there was no way for me to prepare for the sharp contrast in emotions experienced each day. It takes time to adjust to these interactions and understand that emotions will change but compassion must be unwavering. I come from a place where people are always too busy – school, research, meetings, etc. I don’t mean to say that their running around is not justified or for a good cause, but instead that too often busyness detracts from our ability to show others compassion. I work under two doctors whose hectic schedules ought to hinder their ability to give patients and families the compassion and care they deserve – one of them eats just one meal a day – but they make time, all the while remaining positive and hopeful. So my experience in India extends beyond culture or food, instilling in me better ways to interact with human beings.