Alexis Applequist is a biomedical engineering student at the University of Arkansas. In summer and fall of 2019, she spent five months researching abroad in Bengaluru, India. Below, she reflects on her experiences and discusses what she has learned.
Traveling to a country with a rich and diverse history and culture to live for almost half a year has been, by far, the most eye-opening, thrilling experience of my life. Seeing the pictures and living the day-to-day life is incomparable. I’m so thankful to have had this humbling opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone to solo travel, research, help others, and learn countless valuable life lessons.
On July 4, I began (what felt like) my never ending flight to India. My family could see the excitement radiating from me the minute I had decided to go to India nine months earlier, but I couldn’t help but shed a few tears when it came time to leave them at the airport. One of the most amazing things about India to me was the number of languages spoken throughout the country. Hindi is the national language, but each state also has their own language, bringing the total spoken languages in India to 780. While the traffic was crazy and the amount of people constantly surrounding you could get to be a bit hectic at times, after a while I became comfortable with my daily routine traveling to and from work. Negotiating with the auto drivers for prices in the little Hindi I had picked up, getting to know my way around parts of the city, and acquainting myself with my favorite coffee shops and restaurants, I started to assume the culture and settle into my life in India. This cultural adjustment was made possible by the local friends I made. I also met people from countries including Nepal, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Africa, China, London, Dubai, Kuwait, and others.
Though I did not take any classes during my time abroad, I earned credits by conducting research as an intern at a local medical technology startup, InnAccel. My research began with a small team interviewing cardiologists throughout India to determine the country’s most prominent needs in the cardio field. After wading through heaps of literature for weeks, the team decided to focus on a rechargeable pacemaker, Flexpacer. Our design includes a piezoelectric crystal which converts the heart beats’ mechanical energy to electrical energy to charge the pacemaker battery. After 500+ hours of research, our work was published with IEEE (see publication here). I am currently researching further with this company remotely from the US.
In addition to my research, I attended seven engineering conferences, an IEEE workshop, and worked with a local NGO (non-governmental or non-profit organization). With the NGO, Aarogya Seva, I traveled to a government school outside of the city for a kids camp. Here, we talked with 1st-7th graders about innovation, 3-D printing, and how to use the skills they learned and talents to help others. Interacting with these bright, young, curious kids was definitely a highlight of my trip.
While I spent five days a week in the office or at my flat in Whitefield (a subsection on the outskirts of Bengaluru) researching, I traveled most of South India on the weekends. My travels included Mysore, Nandi Hills, Chikmagalur, Belur, Yercaud, Pondicherry, Shivanasamudra Falls, Coorg, Ooty, Gokarna, Pune and Aurangabad. Some of these places had the crowded city vibe like Bengaluru, but most were a nice escape from the nearly constant envelopment of people. Some were quieter beach towns with gorgeous sunsets/sunrises while others had breathtaking hiking and waterfalls. A few highlights of my time abroad included being blessed by an elephant at Dubare Elephant Camp in Coorg, the tea and coffee plantations in Ooty, and spending Diwali (The Festival of Lights), India’s most celebrated holiday, with a friend’s family in Pune. The diverse landscapes across the country were nothing like I had ever seen before; it felt like I was in a painting.
After returning to the US, I will finish the last year of my bachelor’s degree and continue on to my doctorate. I plan to study cardiovascular device development with a focus on low-cost solutions. While designing for the Indian market, I learned there is a large focus on device development for areas with unlimited resources such as medical supplies, power, funding, and skilled medical personnel. Unfortunately, these cutting-edge devices being produced often cannot be used in many places, such as India, due to lack of resources. As an American, I find myself taking for granted the medical technology we already have that unreached populations so badly need, let alone, so many other basic “needs” (e.g., hot water, a showerhead). Overall, India helped solidify my passion for low-cost medical research, opened my mind to future international travel, and most importantly, showed me just how blessed I am to have been given the life I have here in the US.
“What lies ahead of you & what lies behind you is nothing compared to what lies within you.” -Mahatma Gandhi