Kristin Van Gen, MPA ’19

South Asian Peacebuilding Program in Gujarat

“When the Dust Settles”

It has been two weeks since I arrived back in the U.S. from our trip to Gujarat. There was so much that we packed into our trip, so much to process, and so much to tell. It will take me weeks more to unpack all that I experienced and heard. Here are a few things to highlight:

How to ask questions: An important part of this course was asking questions. We interviewed countless people and it was an exercise to think of good questions to ask. Sometimes it was easy, at least to start off, but you also needed to have good follow-up questions, questions that really addressed your research topic and questions that would get at the root of the situation. I definitely think I got better at, even after coming home my brain keeps going to academic question mode in various situations I find myself in. I still have a lot to learn in this area but it’s an exercise that you have to keep practicing to improve.

Women’s Empowerment is Complicated: This is not really surprising or new, but it is a lot different being in the field and hearing the stories firsthand. It is easy to sit in class and read about some of these issues but surrounded by starry-eyed students who all feel that we will be the ones to make great changes. Being in the field helps put things back in perspectives. Yes, women are part of savings groups, buying animals and investing in their families lives. Yes, women are taking on leadership roles in the communities. Yes, women are taking initiative and making a difference. Yet I heard so often that women are doing everything with no help from their husbands, who too often seem to be lost to alcohol. I heard that some women who are leaders are only that in name, and then men still run it all. I heard mothers still expect their daughters to leave school and come work in the home.
So yes, it is complicated. It’s complicated because it involves real people, real life, real traditions and real culture.

“Learning around the world: Sun Temple, India.”

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