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bangaloreThis is part of a series in which we highlight recipients of SAI’s Faculty Grant program

By Dr. Ryan Draft, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies, Neurobiology; Lecturer on Molecular and Cellular Biology

I received a faculty grant from the SAI to offset the cost of transportation to and from Bangalore, India (Summer, 2015). In Bangalore, I helped run a biological sciences summer abroad internship with four Harvard undergraduate students. These students came from four different concentrations (Human Evolutionary Biology, Neurobiology, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and Applied Math), and they ranged in year from freshman to junior. All of them had an interest in learning about the culture of India as well as developing professional skills in a world-class biological laboratory.

These students spent 8-10 weeks living and working on site at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore on a research project of their choosing. They took weekends and time at the end of the program to travel to more distant parts of India with friends they had made during the summer. I spoke with all of them after their return and without exception each felt that their time in India was a rewarding and enriching experience.

During the course of my stay in India I was able to make connections with the local administrators and faculty to discuss the program and ensure the expectations of the faculty for the students (and vice versa) were clear and openly communicated. We also discussed possibilities for running the program in future years. More practically, I served as a point of contact between the two groups, and helped the students integrate into life in India.  I also spent the first weeks orienting the students to life in India (in general) and Bangalore (in particular). That meant picking them up at the airport, transporting them to the institute, and getting them settled in their dormitories (troubleshooting internet/phone connectivity issues, water/hygiene issues, etc). I also spend the first 2 weeks with students showing them around Bangalore and helping them learn how to navigate the city (i.e., using buses, taxis, autorickshaws, and walking). We visited some of the major temples, markets, restaurants, movie halls, commercial areas, cricket fields, and malls, and I took them around to local shops to get the essential toiletries, clothing, and food supplies.

Overall, having someone from Harvard on site to receive the students made a world of difference for their experience. Many of the students had not traveled widely (or in India) before, and they had a huge number of questions, concerns, and issues at the start. Certainly, their parents appreciated having a known Harvard point of contact to reach out to as well. In a short time, the students seemed comfortable and self-sufficient, having established a new rhythm at the institute. After I departed India, I remained in close contact with students, video conferencing and emailing them regularly to check in.  I greatly appreciate the funding SAI gave me to provide the support to help our internship run successfully. I believe the students’ summer experience changed their view of India and the developing world and as well as their view of their own culture and identity in the larger world. I am grateful to have been a part of the program.

Learn more: Harvard Bangalore Science Initiative: A Summer of Intellectual and Cultural Exchange in India