TRANSFORMATIVE TRAVEL: Learning to See with Fresh Eyes at a School for the Blind in India


My niece, Madeleine, has worn a lot of labels in her twenty-one years. Friend. Niece. Daughter. Student. Hockey player. But for the last five weeks she’s been known as the red-headed foreign girl who’s creating computer code for an electronic braille tool at the Mathru School for the Blind in Bangalore, India.

Technology development is ostensibly the reason why Madeleine, a cognative and computer science major, is spending ten weeks this summer in India. It turns out however, that as one of eight Carnegie Mellon University innovative Student Technology ExPerience (iSTEP) interns, she’s learning much more than how to write code. 

From discovering “how incredibly colorful everything is” to the realization that she “grew up thinking that America was about the safest place you could be, but now, it seems more sterile than anything else,” Madeleine may be at a school for the blind but she’s learning to see herself and the world around her with fresh eyes.  

It warms my traveler’s heart to read in her weekly blog posts that “every day presents a new set of challenges, and I’m always learning and being exposed to new things.” This, in my humble opinion, is the great elixir of travel and the reason my husband, Hank, and I have spent the better part of the past two years living abroad

Madeleine might be out of her comfort zone, but she’s not clinging to old habits and expectations. After all, as she and the other interns learn to replace TV and Internet with karaoke and crossword puzzles, become accustomed to Bangalore drivers, and keep the bugs out of their programming (figuratively and literally), they’re realizing that American rules and norms don’t always apply in India. 

Which means, like all wise travelers, Madeleine is busy making up her own rules. 

Follow Madeleine’s weekly dispatches from the field and those of the eight iSTEP interns in Bangalore, India for the summer at the Mathru School for the Blind on the iSTEP2013 blog, on Facebook and Twitter.

Or, click play to view a short video of their journeys this summer:

Video by iSTEP team member Vivek Nair.

About iSTEP

iSTEP (innovative Student Technology ExPerience) is a unique internship program that provides Carnegie Mellon University students with the opportunity to conduct technology research projects in developing communities. Started in 2009 by the TechBridgeWorld research group, iSTEP is a rigorous and competitive 10-week internship program that requires the involvement of students with high levels of dedication, team work, cross-cultural adaptability, initiative and academic achievement.

[photos courtesy iSTEP2013]

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Ellen Barone has been creating words and images for travel and tourism since 1998. She co-founded and publishes the group travel blog YourLifeIsATrip.com and is currently at work on her first book "I Could Live Here".