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This summer, myself and 10 other Duke University students are working with GVI for 2 months in Kochi, India! We are part of a program called DukeEngage, which sends students around the world to work on a summer of service and develop skills of cultural communication. We’re working towards project partner objectives related to women’s empowerment and well-being, creating lesson plans on topics such as stress management, creativity, and relaxation. We’ve begun working on lesson plans for our own projects and visited a few project sites in our first week here; on the weekends we tour the city, and this is a reflection on what we’ve done so this week and how we’ve bonded thus far.

One of the attached photos was taken at Mocha Art Cafe in Jewtown, which one of our GVI leaders Tessa recommended us visit (after an excellent masala dosa, of course)—essentially it was a small, touristy cafe connected to a museum of a few interesting art pieces. A few of us went there on our own just to check it out, and part of the rest of the group and Tessa ended up finding us there after a while. After enjoying the conversation for a bit, I snapped this photo of the rest of our group right before some of them left to explore Jewtown’s art and curio shops and the initial group of us remained at the cafe. Despite the sizzling brownies and fancy coffees that were served to my friends, I really wanted to highlight the concept of unity and how all of us tend to stick together as a giant group, even when given the chance to spread out.

The other photo was taken when we were on our town tour exploring the fishing nets and Fort Kochi—I saw this mural and it reminded me a lot of both my hometown Austin, TX and our experiences thus far in India. While we’ve stepped foot in an entirely new city, the feeling of the citizens of Kochi, such as those of the restaurant owners we’ve met, and our GVI head volunteers have made Kochi seem like a home away from home.

No matter how we split up into small groups when exploring, we always tend to come back together—in Jewtown we reunited at Mocha to discuss and bond over some art, and in Fort Kochi we went as a group to explore the fishing net promenade and look at the shops to search for flowy pants (a real necessity here) and bags. After only 5 days of being here, we’ve all become quite close, and our lunch and dinner conversations reflect that.  I hope that when we begin our projects we’ll still have this feeling of continuity and connectedness between all of us at our lunch meals at Kuppath, and that it will still feel like how it felt at Mocha—I have no doubt in my mind that if anything we will grow closer over the rest of our time here.

We taught our leaders Tessa and Phoebe the game Contact this week, which is a word game based on a word master and multiple people trying to guess the word letter by letter—at a debrief this week Tessa called it Connect, which I feel like represents the game better than Contact since we have to connect with another person via the hint he/she provides and try to guess the same word. As I wrote in my journal that night, I realized that Contact/Connect was almost identical to how we are as a group (and probably why we all love the game so much)—we work quite well together and are always connected and there for each other, and more often than not choose to explore as a large group rather than many small ones or cliques. We began playing Contact at the DukeEngage Academy, and haven’t stopped since—and I hope our connected bond, like our love for Contact, continues to strengthen. Perhaps someday we’ll all return to the cafe or the fishing nets, or to Kochi, or actually get Phoebe’s cheese jokes, but it’ll be just like old times.

*This post was written specifically for GVI’s Facebook page and other social media so it’s in a slightly different format, but I wanted to share my weekly reflection.