DEL MAR — When Kyle Joyner decided it was time to gain some cross cultural experience — he had never really been outside Southern California — he sought a summer internship in India.
To do so the 20-year-old Del Mar native had to fulfill two requirements: fill out an application and convince his parents he would be safe.
Having successfully completed both Joyner, who will enter his senior year at the University of California Berkeley this fall, is about halfway through the program, in which he is helping to conduct a feasibility study on incorporating renewable energy into rural schools.
“The goal is to find schools that are underserved when it comes to having electricity,” Joyner said, adding that while most do have power, it is often turned off during work hours.
“So the children basically have no lights, no fans, no sort of extra media,” he said. “They’re learning with a chalkboard, the teacher talking to them and using textbooks. They don’t have any other resources.
“The idea behind this program is to see if something like a solar panel or a water-powered plant or a wind turbine could potentially provide them with their own source of electricity,” he added. “It’s also sort of a learning laboratory for the students as well because the can learn about the environment and energy.”
At one site visit, Joyner also learned about a program called Magic Bus, which he said teaches students in rural communities life lessons through sports.
“One example is they had the kids play dodge ball,” he said. “They told them to pretend the ball was a disease and you don’t want to get hit by the ball. After the game they would talk to the kids about what they can do to avoid a disease, like washing their hands, take showers every day and that type of thing.
“So they use sports as a metaphor to teach these children life lessons they don’t necessarily learn at home from their families,” he added.
Although unrelated to his project, the experience was interesting, he said, and gave him an opportunity to check out the facility.
“It was amazing to see. They had cut-outs in the ceilings that provide light,” he said. “They have all these slits in the walls that allow air to flow through.
“It was really neat to see how people adapt to that,” he said. “At the same time I know that there could definitely be a benefit to working with them and hopefully be able to provide them with a functional system that can benefit their education in some way.”
Joyner said he considers the challenges of living in a different country and experiencing a new culture as opportunities “to learn more about other people and learn more about myself.”
Since most people speak Hindi, language was a bit of a barrier.
“But a lot of people speak English, too, which is something that sort of surprised me,” he said.
Joyner said he also had to adjust to living in a densely populated city.
“Even something like boarding the train for the first time was a crazy challenge for me,” he said. “The whole idea of not touching the stranger next to you, that doesn’t really work.
“People shove. They yell at you in another language,” he added. “But definitely a fun experience. It was amazing to see how it all works.”
Another major challenge has been the weather.
“I’m fortunate that I’m from San Diego and we have some of the best weather in the world,” he said. “From June to August there’s the monsoon season here. I saw the sun yesterday for the first time in two weeks.
“The raindrops here are huge,” he added.” Something as simple as walking a half mile to work can be a challenge because there’s a tree in the road or there are big puddles that become rivers.
“But people here really love the rain because it cools them off,” he said. “People sit outside and enjoy the rain. One of my neighbors asked me sit out in the rain with him and I thought he was crazy, but it’s a pretty common thing here. That was a really neat experience.”
Joyner said while the food is different – Indian spices are added to Italian food – he has been eating locally and enjoying it. But he has been “cautious” when it comes to “street food.”
Joyner said everyone has been friendly, welcoming and surprisingly they have a lot in common.
“We talk about the same TV shows, listen to the same music, go out and do the same activities,” he said. “We are able to connect on so many levels.”
For Joyner, experiencing the local culture also meant trying a new sport.
“One really fun random thing that I’ve done is learn how to play cricket,” he said. “I grew up playing baseball and I saw my neighbors playing cricket one day so I went out to watch. They were being really competitive so I didn’t think they’d want me to play but they told me to go upstairs and change so I did.
“People want me to show them how to play baseball and make American food,” he added. “For them it’s a new experience, too. They want to know about pancakes and peanut butter.”
Joyner is one of seven U.S. students selected to participant in the Tata Social Internship. Tata Capital is an investment business firm.
The program provides American students with an “opportunity to experience community, society and business in India,” said James Shapiro, the North American resident director for Tata Sons.
“Now in its eighth year, the program allows students to gain exposure to the real India and its culture, while bringing international perspectives to the company projects, thus helping promote international understanding,” Shapiro said.
Joyner, a bioengineering major, will return home in mid-August for his final semester at Berkeley. While in Thane, Maharastra, he is also completing medical school applications.
Given the opportunity he said he would definitely return to India.
“I’ve made a lot of friends and built a lot of relationships with people I know I’ll keep in touch with,” he said.