After overcoming jet lag and surprisingly getting a restful night’s sleep, I was ready to take on the second day of the HeritageINDIA tour. First stop on our agenda was the US Embassy. We were greeted at the gates by Regina Hawkins, an Embassy employee who kindly agreed to give us a tour of the campus. Upon entering the Embassy, I was stunned by the lush lawns, imposing buildings, and -gorgeous duck pond. I immediately felt safe, secure, and welcomed within the confines of the embassy, which felt like a little piece of my home away from home. There was a friendly atmosphere as Regina often waved to her passing co-workers, who were all willing to meet and escort us for a while during the tour. Shortly after a quick lap around the duck pond (which interestingly plays a role in graduating seniors and releasing officers of duty), we made our way to a conference room for the presentations.
The presentations were led by three men who each played significant roles in various sectors of the US Embassy. The first presenter was Nehal Sanghavi who works in USAID to select and provide grants for innovative ideas that can help improve the quality of life in India. Groundbreaking technologies like biodegradable sanitary pads and solar energy projects in rural communities are among the hundreds of startups that are supported by USAID. Curiously, Mr. Sanghavi explained that most of the projects USAID ends up selecting are initiated by young Indo-Americans not much older than myself who decide to give back to their cultural roots.
The next presenter was Dipesh Shah who is an investigator for the FDA. He described his never ending work of traveling to conduct announced and unannounced inspections at various pharmaceutical drug manufacturing factories. He jokingly explained that unannounced visits were his favorite to catch misconduct in the act by surprise. Besides generic drug regulation, he also inspects produce, seafood, and candy to ensure that all consumables entering the USA from India are safe. Mr. Shah also discussed how he loved moving back to India as an adult to raise his children in a community where they could fully witness and enjoy their cultural heritage through festivals and such.
Finally we met FBI Special Agent Puneet Singh. Special agent Singh discussed his intense training (which includes an extreme twelve point system) and his day to day job which includes receiving extremely time sensitive cases such as international crime or terrorism threats. His job didn’t seem far off from the Hollywood portrayal of FBI agents on top secret missions. I could sense the pride he had in serving the US, his home country, overseas in his birth country of India. It was inspiring to meet a person of color who served such an important role in protecting the US national security. After the presentation, Special agent Singh gave us a spectacular inside look into his FBI office and even flashed his badge at us. Then we said goodbye to him and made our way to the US Embassy cafeteria where I had a delicious lunch of butter chicken.
The most notable theme I sensed throughout this experience was: reconnecting with roots. From the young Indo-American innovators working with USAID to the personal life experiences of our presenters who all decided to return to India after living in America, I was thoroughly impressed by the pride each of these people felt in relocating to India, serving fulfilling jobs, and raising their children. Their stories inspired me to always remember to stay in touch with my heritage. They showed me that even after decades of being away from India one can always find their way back home to their roots.
To read blogs from other students in the cohort, visit here.
Anuja is one of 8 students in Indiaspora’s inaugural HeritageINDIA Program. A unique, immersive, 3-week summer program, this initiative gives high school students of Indian descent the opportunity to connect to their ancestral homeland. Students experience and engage with India’s rich and diverse cultural history by completing hands-on projects, participating in stimulating discussions, and building friendships with a cohort that will share in this once-in-a-lifetime experience. With the exciting theme of India’s Riches: History, Culture, Diversity, & Democracy, students visit three areas of India that are geographically and culturally diverse, yet all very much represent India: New Delhi, Gujarat, and Kerala.