India Student Reflection: Allie Coronado
In the Summer of 2023, I had the most beautiful privilege of traveling to Maharashtra, India to fulfill my third and final Earth Expedition. Words will never truly encompass the life-transforming experience I endured during my time there, but I’ll do my best.
To get the most out of this summer course, I decided on my flight that I would stay positive and participate in all activities no matter how tired I was. It’s not every day that you get to travel to India. Furthermore, I decided that on Day 1, I was going to branch out and try and learn as much as I could from colleagues, facilitators, and AERF (Applied Environmental Research Foundation) partners. This tremendously aided my experience and enabled me to feel more inclined to ask questions in addition to stepping further out of my comfort zone.
Two main themes that were present in many pivotal experiences throughout my time in India were cultural appreciation and kindness. I always assume that cultures will be incomparable to mine in the United States when I travel out of the country, and India is no exception. If I’m being completely honest, I assumed that the people we would encounter would be bothered by our presence and might feel like we were invading their space. Not only was every individual we met knowledgeable in various ways, but they were also grateful for our presence and endeavors in studying their culture. A few times we as a class felt a little distanced between some of the groups we met since there was a language barrier, but once our AERF partner stepped in to translate, it was always followed by enthusiasm for their culture as well as big smiles. I love that smiles are universal because they connect people on a human level no matter what the distance is between us.
One of the conversations between our AERF partner Akshay and I struck a chord with me. Akshay told me that he told his family that he wanted to do conservation work and help the animals and the environment. They did not seem to comprehend the purpose of that career nor did they think he was going to go anywhere in life. I believe he recently traveled to South America and it was only then, once he left his home country, did his family showed interest and support in his conservation efforts. Although I am fortunate that my family has relatively supported me throughout my entire conservation journey, I now realize that stories like Akshay’s may occur throughout the world. How do we inspire conservation without overstepping cultural and family norms? I will remember moments like this when I further pursue my conservation journey in other countries.
In India, inquiry was everywhere. Why was India’s monsoon season delayed? How big of a negative impact does trash have on India’s environment? Could the stray dogs be trained and used as guard dogs against wildlife such as gaurs, leopards, and lions? How many times does each frog copulate in 2 minutes? There was not one moment when I did not wonder about India’s land, animals, and religion during my time there. These moments of questioning and observation coincided with Project Dragonfly’s core focus of inquiry; these instances were often student-led and reiterated the idea that everyone could get involved and understand science. Community engagement in India was one of my favorite activities, especially because this accompanies my current occupation as a Community Engagement Coordinator for Best Friends Animal Society. I am sincerely grateful for the opportunities we had to interact with various communities and learn about their relationship with the environment. Furthermore, I found the intermingling between species, communities, and deities to be fascinating. I hope to one day use these experiences to find a career where I can be an open-minded outreach coordinator for an international nonprofit organization.
Unfortunately, I learned that Western culture and the industrialization of society have pushed India away from traditional career paths and farming practices (Sharma & Kumar, 2020). However, AERF is advocating for communities to become environmental stewards. The AERF partners brilliantly educate community individuals, including loggers, on how to protect sacred groves and the environment in addition to providing for one’s family. By teaching individual members about the importance of conserving sacred groves, they are more likely to be engaged in the protection and preservation of them. Furthermore, my time in India showed me that global and local understanding is crucial to conservation progress. Conservation must be comprehended overall but tailored to local communities to evolve. This is exemplified by the AERF partners and their goal to link people’s livelihoods with conservation to inspire environmental priorities (Blicharska et al., 2013). Evidence and scientific content, when used effectively, will provide more of an impact when discussing how an individual’s actions affect the future environment. In essence, I learned that demonstrating how one’s role affects the environment through research and visual aids is helpful, however, showing how a community’s environmentally conscious actions can aid current and future generations will offer a more critical call to action.
Morning black tea and lime warm our bellies
Air fills with the songs of various birds and insects
Hope for a successful day and a memorable experience
Applied Environmental Research Foundation partners are brilliant beyond compare
Recognizing that conservation is worldwide and present in sacred sites
Analyzing and reflecting on all that we have learned each day
Silverware remains absent during meals
Hands-on dinners, eating on the floor cross-legged
The staff and families are eager to provide seconds and thirds
Returning to our beds with happy thoughts and spicy tummies
Appreciation for the community members and friends made along the way