“I call them at 11am. It is 7:30 pm when they answer it, and it strikes me that I am far away from my family and my home back in India.” – says Arpita Mitra (New Delhi), one of the participants representing the South Asian country, along with Zainab Samad (Hyderabad) and Nivetha Chockalingam (Chennai) at the Study of the US Institute program on Women’s Leadership with the University of Kansas. India holds a unique cultural perspective in world relations. It is all the more significant to represent the land of diversity at an international platform for deliberating over Women’s leadership. The Indian ambassadors hold immense excitement and a responsibility to showcase this hub of diversity. Says Zainab – “As a candidate selected from my country, and probably the only one from my town – I’m absolutely privileged and honoured to be a part of this intensive program centred around the belief that as women we’re all passionate about Women’s Leadership. My takeaways from the program are not only the theoretical studies done on the topic but the practicality of it and the range of approaches that 24 women have adopted to implement these tools in a specific way suitable to our respective societies.” To this, Arpita adds – “Since a very young age, I had prepared myself to believe that I was special. I found my passion in not just excelling in academics and the creative arts, but wanting to excel as a person, oriented towards something I could relate to as ‘extraordinary’! Being extraordinary was tough nonetheless; I was a simple girl from a humble background, who only could dream exceptionally high. However never did I anticipate that the opportunity to live those dreams would occur so soon. I almost felt unprepared. Representing India at one of the finest Women’s Leadership Institute in the United States of America ironically made me hesitant about trusting the strengths and qualifications for which I got acknowledged. ‘Was I good enough for this?’ The process of engaging in acts of leadership probably began from that moment onwards – a trigger that compelled me to look deeper into understanding the person I was then and the person ‘I believed myself to be”. For Nivetha, the Program is much more than a six-week engagement. “This program has helped me in developing and honing my skills. Right from the first stage of preparing my Statement of Purpose, up to this very moment, I still find it hard to believe on a certain level, that I am actually a part of this program. Being in a group full of international women from seven different countries and various cultural and social backgrounds, and being able to mutually share and receive is simple phenomenal”, says Nivetha. We’re almost in the middle of the Program timeline and the Indian participants have come to absorb, reflect, and get intrigued by the very same things they previously would have taken for granted. Zainab thinks that the past three weeks have been enriching amidst the guidance of amazing teachers, staff and students at the University of Kansas. It has given her a new lens to look beyond her immediate thoughts. Collaborating with women from seven different countries has brought her to realize that in one way or the other women inclined towards public service are all dealing with some of the same issues of discrimination and gender inequality that women have always experienced.. Arpita provides yet another perspective – “The experience so far has been an eye opener, for it makes me believe that simplicity may be the finest manifestation of being extraordinary. The Faculty and the peer group develop confidence – they help me become a better person each day, and instill the belief that I can continue to become better, and that my contribution to the world can increase” For Nivetha, the past few weeks were an opportunity to be able to meet many powerful women from various fields who helped motivate herself even more. “Be it the way the classes are handled, or the way that we all get along with each other, every aspect of this program is enriching. I now have better clarity on things which were foggy, am more open to new and different ideas, and am also able to see the overall progress I have made so far during the course of this program. I am energized by the passion every person in our group has, and each of their stories,” she says. But what does it mean to leave back one’s family to experience an opportunity like this? What does it mean to live ‘an American life’? Zainab states – “It is a very popular idiom we use all over the world. I’ve watched “the American Life” on the television, on shows in movies, heard of it from friend, but little did I ever think or imagine that I’d be experiencing it myself one day, that I’d finally be here in the United States of America all by myself!” Arpita talks about exploring new family members. “Travelling for almost 24 hours to a country I had only learned about through textbooks and the media, I realize I have discovered my second home. It is unbelievable for an introverted person like me to interact and form relationships easily. The KWLI participants have not become my close friends—I have received 24 powerful sources of inspiration. Despite coming from seven different countries, they often share my idealistic aspirations and it is amazing to see how our thoughts harmonize and our presence create a mesmerizing synthesis,” she comments. Nivetha shares a similar thought – “It is not very often that you get to connect with people who understand your stories and/or passions as well as you do. But it was made possible during this program by getting to choose our mentors. I am now more confident about myself, and that is mainly because I have been able to learn so much in this process.” The participants are looking forward to the remaining weeks of excitement and adventure here at the United States – to many more opportunities for intellectual stimulation, articulation and self reflection.