Summer travel to India leads to culture shock — just not the one Shannon Evanchec expected

A Mundy scholar essay
Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A woman in India prepares a sample of her water as she learns how to test it for E coli bacteria. Undergraduate environmental engineering student Shannon Evanchec traveled to India last summer to work on the ongoing research project that aims to test the reliability of crowdsourcing to assess water quality in rural communities. Evanchec says the six-week trip changed her life. (Photo: Shannon Evanchec.)

Shannon Evanchec traveled to Nagpur, India, over the summer to work on an ongoing research project using crowdsourcing data to determine water quality in rural communities around the city. She spent six weeks with a team in India doing fieldwork, processing samples in the laboratory, and experience the country’s culture.

This is part of an ongoing series of essays from across the globe written by CEE students who have traveled abroad with the support of the Joe S. Mundy Global Learning Endowment.

 “If there is one place on the face of the earth where all the dreams of living men have found a home from the very earliest days when man began the dream of existence, it is India.”
 - Romain Rolland

Shannon Evanchec in front of Deekshabhoomi in Nagpur, India, one of many sites she visited in the country during a six-week research trip last summer. “We had the opportunity to visit Deekshabhoomi, the site where Dr. Ambedkar converted from Hinduism to Buddhism, the largest religion conversion in the world as 8 million people joined him simultaneously. We also visited Gandhi’s home in Mumbai.” (Photo: Samantha Becker)

As I sat down to reflect on my experience this summer, I came to the realization that it is incredibly difficult to put something so life changing into words.

As an engineer, I am good with numbers. However, there is no equation that can show how my experiences this summer changed the way I view the world. Overused adjectives like “great” and “amazing” don’t do India or my experience justice in the slightest.

India has an interesting reputation in the United States. Before I left, I was warned by many people about how overwhelming the smell would be, how crowded and dirty it would be, how hot it would be, how there would not be any good wireless internet, how my showers would be cold, and how I would barely be able to eat anything (and would get sick after every meal). I was also told that the bugs would be out of control, and I would need to be fully covered at all times because of the culture.

Needless to say, I had very low expectations going into the trip. I was armed with loads of bug spray and lotion, an obnoxious mosquito hat and bed net, and lots of long-sleeved shirts and pants.

Well, I didn’t get a single bug bite while in India. I never got food poisoning. The smells (while strong) were of ripe fruits, flowers and rich spices. The crowds of people were friendly and welcoming, and the extreme heat made me thankful for the cold showers.

Essentially, this trip reminded me that perspective is everything — and that it is easily lost while living in the United States. I, like a lot of people, am constantly caught up and frustrated in every day life because of something small like the printer in the library not working. The culture shock that everyone said I would experience when I arrived never happened until I came back to the United States and saw how unnecessarily complicated and overwhelming life in America can seem….

…Our laboratory work and processing of field samples was conducted at the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI). Our hosts at NEERI were some of the kindest people I have ever met. Many of the students that worked there with us became good friends that I hope to keep for the rest of my life. They mentored us and went out of their way to make us have an authentic experience by taking us to local markets, to sing karaoke, and eat at the best restaurants.

My positive experiences this summer have greatly influenced my future career ambitions…. I have become a more observant and people-oriented engineer.

Through my coursework and research at Georgia Tech, I have learned about the principles of environmental engineering, but while I was in India I finally got to be an environmental engineer. I got to go into the field and apply the engineering principles that I have learned so well at Georgia Tech to real world problems. I got to interact with people whose lives we were impacting and experience the overlap of environmental engineering and public health and work for a better world.

Getting to travel to India this summer through the Joe S. Mundy Global Learning Endowment was singlehandedly the greatest experience of my life.