Deepali is a first-year IEDP student from Mumbai, India. She is interested in technology in developing contexts. 

Winter break is almost over. We have covered yet another trip around the sun. 

Like every year, I take some time during New Year’s Eve to reflect on the year gone by. I do it not just because it is New Year’s Eve, but also because January is my birthday month and the start of Spring in India – marking the time for new beginnings. 

2021 was unlike any other year I have experienced. The world that had turned upside down in 2020 was trying to find its footing in the second year of the global pandemic. Personally, it was a year of huge changes and, honestly, a year of many “firsts.” 

You may have read what life inside and outside IEDP is for my cohort mates. I want to talk about celebrating all the “firsts” I had in the last four months. So here it goes…

The first time I lived away from my family 

Being away from my family was tough, especially since I have lived with them for over 25 years. It was more difficult after spending almost two years locked in one house. 

But I was very excited to live alone – discover myself, become independent and call a space my ‘home.’ 

My favorite corner? My study table, where I sit every morning to write my to-do list and enjoy the first rays of the sun. Check out that view!

The first time going outside my home country 

This was also the first time I stepped out of India. Coming to the United States was a little daunting and very exciting. For the longest time, I could not believe that I was at Penn GSE. 

What I had not anticipated was the learning curve for the cultural cues of the United States. Exhibit A – I got lost in Van Pelt Library because I confused the ground and the first floors. In India, the ground floor is the floor you exit from, whereas you exit the building from the first floor in the US.

Wandering around Van Pelt looking for the exit!

My first Halloween and Thanksgiving 

Moving to Philadelphia is not only about being part of IEDP; it is also about immersing yourself into the American experience, but IEDP style! 

I went to the Eastern State Penitentiary for Halloween, enjoyed a potluck of international cuisines during the IEDP Halloween party, and tried roasted marshmallows for the first time! Thank you, Chiara, for teaching me how to roast marshmallows! 

Halloween IEDP style!
Roasting marshmallows for the first time

It was challenging to make sense of the Thanksgiving holiday with its troubling history. However, for my first attempt, I celebrated Friendsgiving with the larger IEDP community and my smaller group of friends. It was such a joy ride to start eating food from afternoon all the way into the night. With all the delicious cuisines – Emmanuella’s plantain chips and John’s potato pie – I wondered why we didn’t start eating at breakfast?!

Enjoying time with the cohort outside of class

I’m still learning to make sense of all of these new holidays, but I will try to learn more about them and create my own rituals. 

The first time I saw FALL 

I have lived in Mumbai all my life. In Mumbai, we have monsoon season (when it rains cats and dogs for months), winters (which is a joke because I have never worn a sweater), and summer (when all you want to do is eat ice cream and stay in an air-conditioned room). So clearly, I was excited for fall. The idea that the whole city changed colors to hues of orange, yellow and red felt like magic to me. 

When fall wouldn’t grace Philadelphia quickly enough and I ran out of patience – so I joined Dawn, Gracelyn, and some other friends on a short trip to the Poconos. And it was indeed magical! 

A beautiful fall day in the Poconos

 The first time I WROTE an academic paper 

This one does not have any photos. My first time writing an academic paper was very challenging. Because my undergraduate degree didn’t require me to write an academic paper, I had never done so before coming to IEDP. I had to write the first one for Dr. GK’s class (Education in Developing Countries), and I did not even know where to begin. I took help from my peers and Weingarten Learning Center to get feedback from my first draft. After spending 11 hours in Houston Hall and two weeks later, I turned my paper in. I thought I did well, but after reading the feedback, it was pretty clear that my argument made no sense at all! 

It was devastating, but I received lots of feedback and learned more about what I had to work on. I wanted to use the class to become a better writer, so I took the opportunity to rewrite the paper. While my re-write was not perfect, it was better than my first paper.

There are many more firsts I experienced, for example: 

  • The first time I learned how to layer to deal with the cold weather
  • The first time I did a research project 
  • The first time I fell in love with Sour Patch Kids 
  • The first time school left me with more questions than answers

So that’s it from me! What IEDP “firsts” are you looking forward to?