GPE student conducts healthcare research, takes active role in adjusting to Indian culture

Author: Abby Urban

Gpe India

Notre Dame’s Global Professional Experience (GPE) program interested Emma Ryan from the very beginning.

Before she even began her first semester of college, she was browsing the study abroad programs and stumbled upon a page for the Global Professional Experience.

“I’ve always kind of known about it,” she said. “I definitely knew it was something I wanted to apply to.”

Ryan’s studies took her in the direction of political science and global affairs, and she quickly became interested in global policy and human rights.

She applied for the program and matched with Notre Dame’s contacts in New Delhi, India.

Not only did this trip mark Ryan’s first time out of the country, but her packing also coincided with finals week.

“I definitely packed the day before. It was crazy!” she said. Still, she took extra steps to familiarize herself with the culture before she left. “I was watching a lot of YouTube videos about India and listening to Indian music,” she said.

Dhiraj Mehra, director for initiatives in India at the Mumbai Global Center, met Ryan at the airport and introduced her to the city.

“I was actually in shock,” she said.

“Everything was so cool and different. It was a mixture of being super excited and in awe of everything - but also kind of nervous.”

According to Ryan, Mehra didn’t take her to “super touristy things.” He helped her to explore the culture, from visiting local monuments to exploring a Sufi Muslim village that encourages singing.

In New Delhi, Ryan worked with the UN Global Compact, focusing on combating corruption in the country’s healthcare system. Most days, she conducted research on the sources of the corruption and presented her findings to her coworkers.

Her research showed her the devastating effects of healthcare corruption on everyday people.

She learned about women forced to undergo unnecessary hysterectomies under the false pretense that they would develop cancer without the procedure.

“There would be fake doctors or unqualified doctors that would lie about what procedures needed to happen,” she said. “And that's obviously the extreme, but it seems like there are little problems mixed in with so much of the healthcare system.”

While the GPE program opened Ryan’s eyes to the dangers of corruption, she also experienced the beauty of friendship and community in her workplace and beyond.

Screen Shot 2022 08 09 At 7

One source of bonding came from daily post-lunch walks with her coworkers.

“It’s just so funny. Everyone in this whole huge office building comes down to the lobby and walks back and forth and just talks. It’s the sweetest thing ever,” Ryan said.

She and her colleagues bonded over discussing the differences between American and Indian culture.

But perhaps her greatest connection came from a simple visit to a monument. Ryan happened to meet two recent university graduates, including one young woman named Deepshikha.

“She was just, she was so awesome,” she said. “I met her, and immediately she was like, ‘I want to take you around. You don’t know anyone, so we’ll go to the places where you wouldn’t really be able to go.”

Together, they visited a Sikh temple, where Ryan quickly noticed one of the main tenets of the religion in action.

“They believe in total equality,” she said. “We went into this massive room where everyone is just sitting on the floor on these mats. They give everyone this food on these metal trays, and it’s all the same food. It could be for the most successful businessman in the area, or just the guy across the street.”

She and Deepshikha took several trips together. They became close friends, with Ryan learning all about the secrets of friendships and politics in India.

Ryan continued to be surprised by the generosity of everyone around her.

“People would go above and beyond for you. Once, someone spent two hours just explaining all of the religious significance behind the paintings to me,” she said.

For anyone considering the GPE program, Ryan recommends taking on an active role in adjusting to a new culture.

“Just going and looking at things is not the same as trying to make a new friend in the country,” she said. “That was the biggest surprise: how welcoming the people were in India and how much easier it was than I thought it would be.”

Learn more about the GPE program.