Noelle’s Incredible Indian Internship

My summer had already been planned out – summer classes to make my senior year even lighter, and a short visit to my then boyfriend who’s studying abroad. When we broke up late 2010, heartbroken me started to resign myself to just taking summer classes – when a course mate of mine emailed me about going on AIESEC internship this summer. It was perfect – a chance to get away from everything and try something new.

Fast forward a few weeks, and my internship had already been planned out – I was going to Romania to teach kindergarten children. It had always been my dream to visit this part of Europe and I was incredibly excited, to the point that I already had guidebooks about the country and region in general. Unfortunately, travel details didn’t push through. Again, heartbroken me started to resign myself to just taking summer classes – when I got an email from AIESEC Manipal University, inviting me to an internship with White Doves, a social welfare organization involved in helping impoverished people in Mangalore, a city one and a half hours away from Manipal by bus. The job would have me interacting with the inmates through workshops to help them express themselves, as well as trying to find out about their lives before they were housed by the organization.

I accepted the offer, and amazingly enough, the visas and travel details were fixed with such ease. Before I knew it, I was off to India, with only a hastily stuffed Lonely Planet guide in my handcarry to usher me along my first trip abroad alone. When I got to Manipal, though, AIESEC members, as well as my wonderful co-interns, were there to make me feel right at home.

I won’t lie and say I had an easy time adjusting – it was very difficult at first. Before we moved to Mangalore, our commute every day was at least 3 hours, which was time-consuming and very taxing on the body. Learning about the unofficial dress code – nothing shorter than knee-length, nothing sleeveless – was also disorienting, especially given the hot weather (it reached 47 degrees Celsius on some days!). The food was delicious, but much spicier than what I was used to – I had to give myself time to be able to adjust to the mélange of spices attacking my senses every time I sat down to eat.

In terms of the work we had, the experience made me go WAY out of the box to be able to think of interesting and worthwhile workshops for three different groups – the men, the women and the children. Since a lot of the people housed by the organization had experienced some sort of trauma beforehand, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my being a Psychology major could be put to good use; however, that doesn’t change the fact that communicating was difficult, with lots of hand gestures and meager, accented Hindi. It didn’t help that a lot of the inmates didn’t speak Hindi… or didn’t speak at all.

I slowly, but very surely, fell in love with the job and our routine. Through the different workshops that would involve music, dancing, drawing and even papier mache, the inmates, initially shy and distant, started to warm up to us, greeting us with a warm “Namaste” every morning, serving us chai during 4 in the afternoon, no fail. Eventually, I even got attached to the children, and some of the inmates – one of them spoke no Hindi or English, but when she hugged me goodbye, that was when the tears started.

Working with people from different walks of life and from different cultures really changed my perspective. It made me realize how fortunate I am to be living so comfortably. It also made me a much more social, and much more expressive person, which helped in making a connection with the inmates. It made me realize that in all parts of the world, all people need is your sincere smile to make them see that you care.

During breaks from work, my roommate from Poland, Olga, and I would explore Manipal or Mangalore. During one weekend, we even went to Goa and relaxed at the beach. We were also able to attend an Indian wedding of one of the inmates at the organization – it was truly a fairytale story and made me believe that fairytales DO exist!

I fell in love with the country itself. Indian people offer the nicest smiles and the sincerest greetings. Their curious questions about the country I’m from made for some nice conversations. I learned to ask for food non-spicy when in restaurants, as well as applied Filipino bargaining skills when buying souvenirs, and learned how to cross the street without being run over in a busy metropolis filled with honking rickshaws.

Thanks to my internship, I was able to meet people who will always stay in my heart, such as the LC members, and my co-interns. After my time at the organization, Tom, who’s from Britain, and I decided to explore India for two weeks. We were able to visit so many sights, like Delhi, Varanasi, Khajuraho, Orchha, Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur and Mussoorie! Those days were some of the best days of my internship, and even of my life. 🙂

I smile when I remember how stressed I was, trying to work out my summer plans, and trying to find an internship at the last minute when my first one fell through. I guess things really do have a way of falling into place. Thank you for the opportunity and experience, AIESEC UP Diliman. Thank you for the warm welcome, AIESEC Manipal. Thank you to my amazing co-interns, Sara (from Portugal), Regina (from Brazil), and Olga (from Poland). Thank you to Tom for touring India with me. 🙂

Most of all, thank you to White Doves, for giving me the one thing I really wanted from an AIESEC internship – a life-changing experience. 🙂

Noelle Filoteo is a senior at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, taking up BS Psychology. She loves to read, write, and people-watch, among other things. Thanks to her India experience, she is currently adding way too many spices to her food, as well as doing the side-to-side Indian nod, which may mean “yes”, “no”, or “maybe”. She hopes to go on another AIESEC internship after graduation, and will definitely visit India again in the future.


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