Namaste mera naam Cole hai, “Hello my name is Cole” in Hindi. In June Celanese completed its Celanese International Impact (CIIP) trip to Dharamsala, India. This was my first time traveling to India, as most of our team, and I knew it was going to be a unique experience. Our time was powerful, eye-opening and rewarding. I never imagined it would have impacted me the way it did.

It was 106 degrees Fahrenheit the day I landed in New Delhi before making the connection to Dharamsala. This was a completely new kind of heat, not what I am used to in southwest Virginia. After my arrival I went to a hotel and met with the only Celanese person I knew, Kathy Borhauer from Bishop, Texas. We only had conversations over the phone but never got the chance to meet in person. At the hotel, I quickly learned hospitality and friendliness were key elements of Indian culture, not just from the staff but from most Indian people we encountered. This comfort was welcomed in what was soon to be a trip filled with several discomforts.

During one of our later lectures, we would hear about how being on time is culturally not a high priority; the needs of family and friends come first, and that sometimes means being a little late. Taking the advice from the hotel, we left for the airport and quickly learned about timeliness. With five minutes before they were scheduled to close, I arrived at the gate. Here I met my family away from home: Kathy, Laura, Geoff, Sara, Jillian, Christy, Silke, Orsi, and Sugam.

I thought I would be met with cool mountain air in Dharamsala, but was blasted with a 95 degree Fahrenheit heat wave, but it did not take away from the breathtaking view. We drove through the twisted mountainous landscape in perfect sight of the snow-capped Himalayas. Cows, dogs, people, and various motorized transportation shared the road in what seemed like chaotic harmony.

We arrived at Cross Cultural Solutions (CCS) to meet the team and learn more about our mission. After an orientation to learn about the culture, we were split into pairs and assigned to a daycare. My partner was Silke Zimmermann from Frankfurt, Germany. I am so glad we were partnered, no matter the circumstances, we got through everything successfully. Our love for kids, paired with her creativity, allowed us to create sustainable arts and craft activities. Our daycare was nothing more than a small concrete building with concrete floors, no lights or running water, with seven extremely adorable, shy toddlers. We met with the assistant teacher, who had no agenda and did not speak English. We connected with the children by singing songs and playing games. Two in particular connected easy, Soria (the troublemaker) and Kanika (my favorite). Our two weeks were filled with painting murals, singing songs, and building the best tire swing in India. We must have sung “Five Little Monkeys” and “ABCs” 500 times but they loved it. We would regularly find them singing to themselves while coloring or doing another activity. Sia, Angelie,and Aksid were initially very shy, but some days would join in on songs. There was nothing more heartwarming than seeing Sia run after us waving when we left one afternoon. The final day was difficult; the children played so hard, some completely unaware we would not be returning. Our car ride back on the last day was almost silent, as all the groups had bonded with the kids and they knew they had too changed.

Outside our work in the early childhood education center, the cultural experiences were incredible. We visited Mcleod-Ganj and the Tibetan monastery where the Dahli Lama resides. We had a personal tour of Norbulingka, the Tibetan art and cultural center and learned more about the Tibetan influence in Dharamsala. Our weekend trip took the team to Amritsar, the capital of Punjab and the holy center for the Sikh religion. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Amritsar is the location of the Golden Temple, where over 200,000 Sikh people end their pilgrimage. The sheer amount of people pushing through the streets was incredible and overwhelming. Dharamsala, where I had previously felt chaotic, now felt more peaceful and more like home when we returned.

I am so grateful I got to experience this. I got to give my blood, sweat and tears to the people of Dharamsala, and many left a lasting impression on me. Nandini and her husband, Deepak, our friendly and wonderful hosts. The Loch Llama, head librarian for the Tibetan center and close friend of the Dalhi Lama whose wisdom, stories and meditation lessons are an experience unto themselves. The fun Cross Cultural Solutions (CCS) team who taught us all so much. The elderly woman who thanked me with an unforgettable smile after helping her carry soup up the mountain to her hut. The children – Soria, Kanika, Sabonge, Sia, Batiksa, Anuska, Manci, Askid, all leaving a lasting impression.

Our trip only lasted 14 days, but the memories and personal impact will last a lifetime. The friendship and comradery our team built through the trip was amazing. Experiencing this trip all together as nine individuals made us feel like a family. It is strange going to back to our sites and not seeing one another.

Aapaka Bahut Dhanyavaad, “Thank you very much” in Hindi, to Celanese for giving me this wonderful opportunity, and of course to the nine others who experiences this journey with me. There is a motto in the military that is shared by my alma mater university, Virginia Tech: Ut Prosim, “That I may serve.” It is the motto which I can say I got to live in Dharamsala and hope to continue into the next chapters of my life.

Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in a series of 9 blog posts by Celanese International Impact Program (CIIP) team members who served for two weeks in Dharamsala, India.