The 3 Cs of My IEDP Thus Far

Aishwarya Shetty

On August 25th, I set foot in the USA for the first time. CNN, Netflix, and Instagram informed everything I knew about the country. Though Indian, I flew in from Qatar, where I spent most of my years growing up. If my life were a rom-com movie, the voiceover for me waiting for my Uber at the airport would say, “There she is, starting a new life, in a new city, with big suitcases and even bigger dreams.” I have come to realise that the ‘rom’ is non-existent, but the ‘com’ is in abundance. Two months into the IEDP, my study group watched me eat ramen with my bare hands, my colleagues complimented me on a great ‘under-eye shadow’ look which just happened to be dark circles, and the cashiers at Wawa offered me free coffee on multiple occasions because I looked like I needed it. 

However, this blog outlines three words representing my time in the IEDP so far – Community, Courses, Culture and not the Comedy (of errors).

In the first week of the IEDP, we had a session where the cohort had to express their hopes and fears for their time here. We were from 15 different countries with diverse educational backgrounds, work experiences, and personalities, yet we shared a common sentiment – Am I enough for this program? Our professors consistently reassured us that we were, and so did my amazing batch-mates through sympathetic nods of acknowledgement in the library, full-blown venting sessions, and ensuring we had each others’ backs. I know, very cliché, but let me explain a few moments that shed light on the sense of community here. It is always the little things – Dr Thapa distributing sweets during Diwali, which really gave me a taste of home, my classmates missing a lab session to be by my side during my surgery, Dr GK reminding me to take a break when I really needed it, all the laughter when the cohort hangs out together, and much more. This community is what made and will continue to make my grad experience wholesome. It also enriches my learning as we challenge each other’s opinions and ideas by offering new perspectives from our life experiences. Everyone has different starting points and priorities, but the good news is that I have a community to accommodate that. 

I took three courses this semester – two core and one quantitative. I love what I am learning – the perfect mix of theory and practice. I love how our discussions and readings are rooted in reality, push one to break out of the status quo, and question your pre-determined interest areas in education. More importantly, I love that information flows in all directions and transcends hierarchical structures of teacher-student relationships. Nevertheless, in the spirit of transparency, the academic transition was tough – not just with moving from one county’s education system to another, but also from working for over 5 years to becoming a student again. Students have a lot of agency to design their Penn experience in terms of what they want to learn, how much they want to invest in it, and for how long. Though this seems like a great thing, for me it was overwhelming! Gratefully, I had structures of support that helped me navigate through this – faculty advisors, friends, IEDP seniors, Penn’s resource centers, and my course professors. This inspired confidence. I am excited about the Spring semester and all the epic courses I am going to take! I am even more excited that I know how to leverage and create my own opportunities from all that I learned this semester.

For a person who runs on chai (no, not ‘chai tea latte’), I have morphed into a coffee drinking zombie. But it is fun when you get to do it while you watch colourful leaves fall on sunny days in beautiful parks with fun company. Coffee chats with faculty and other guests working on cool things in the education sector are something I really look forward to! 

There is a lot of Philly I am yet to explore, but I was surprised that I hiked for the first time in my life and did not see the light with palpitations at the end of it. Wissahickon was picturesque, and it actually made me do the impossible – explore more hike trails in the area. 

I manage to find a piece of home in this country too. There are SO MANY cultural resource centres, clubs, and groups to engage with beyond hogging on free food in their events! They also serve as platforms for me to advocate for causes I am passionate about and meet like-minded people. I definitely bit more than I could chew in the first 2 months, both figuratively and literally (about 2 kgs worth of Wawa’s quesadillas), but I will figure it out. We all do, eventually, don’t we?

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