Barry Fellowship Alum Spotlight
Benjamin Siegel, 2004 Barry Fellow
When I left India after the summer I spent on my Barry Fellowship, I was quite confident that I'd need a long time before returning back. The summer, with its obvious challenges and less immediate rewards, had clouded some of my initial enthusiasm for the country, and in spite of a certain satisfaction, I was just as happy to be heading back to friends and classes in New Haven.
I began my sophomore year thinking very little about India, turning my attentions elsewhere, as most freshmen do as they leap ahead into a difficult sophomore year. But the further away I moved from my experience, the more I began to try to situate, during idle hours, the experiences that had challenged and frustrated me during India: my inability to communicate well and my difficulty in situating in a larger context some of the issues that I had perceived, working with victims of forced dam resettlement in rural Madhya Pradesh.
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After a semester or two decidedly ignoring the subcontinent, the thought of making sense of my confusion grew more compelling. More coursework ensued, and I felt in myself the stirrings that had initially led to my learning Hindi, to my seeking out an experience in India. Even as an overly-confident freshmen, most of my opinions and understandings about the country were inchoate and murky, but with some distance -- and many more classes and books -- I began to think more insistently that the time was right to take up that challenge again.
I returned to India after my junior year, working for Time magazine out of their New Delhi office. The summer felt a world apart from my first experience in India. My Hindi flowed more freely, I explored more confidently, and with two years' more reading and postulating, the moments that would have hitherto been infuriating or confusing were more explainable, more contextualized. Articles ensued, and perhaps more importantly, a sense of confirmation that I actually was driven to understand this place and this culture, to make heads and tails of the challenges that had vexed me during that first summer.
These days, I'm living in India full-time, funded by a Fox Fellowship to study Indian conceptions of self and community as they are molded by instruments of public culture like restaurants, trash, and transportation. On the side, I'm writing articles for Time, the Christian Science Monitor, and a few other publications, and by July or August, I hope to have a manuscript finished of my book. In the fall, if the academic gatekeepers are kind, I'll be starting a Ph.D. program in South Asian history.
All of this is a long-winded and roundabout means of saying that if your ardor's been slightly dampened by an experience in India, or Kenya, or Brazil, or anywhere else that your ambition and Tom Barry's generous funding has taken you, that there's a better than fair chance it'll come back to you. It's alright, I think, if it takes a year before you feel ready to tackle some of the same, or newer, challenges again, but I would wager that you'll eventually feel that same enthusiasm that compelled you to go and tackle an independent project in the first place. At the risk of sounding sanctimonious, even if you remain wildly frustrated by a first experience, you owe it to yourself and the place where you worked to give it another go when the time is right, at the risk of becoming a voyeur or a globe-trotting dilettante.
If any of you find yourself in India -- or remain in New Haven, but would like to hear from a graduated senior who has scant little on you but a few years -- I would be thrilled if you'd drop me a line.