Author: Kacey Hengesbach


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My favorite thing about life is how completely unexpected it is. No matter how much you plan and plan and plan, things never quite work out the way you think they will. Sometimes, this might be a bad thing in cases such as cancelled vacations, broken bones, or missed flights. However, in some cases, the completely unexpected leads to amazing memories you will never forget. The trick is figuring out how to always make the unexpected events into incredible memories.

This was the basis of my thoughts as I sat on my 14 hour flight from Chicago to Doha International Airport, Qatar where myself and my travel companions would catch another flight that would take us to our destination: Ahmedabad, India. As someone with very little international travel experience, this flight was one that I never in my whole life would have predicted. In fact, if you had ever mentioned to 18-year-old Kacey that she would live for three weeks in India, she would have laughed at you and called you a liar. But somehow, life led me to the flight and my trip to India and as I sat on that flight, I had no idea why. 

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I wondered what I was getting myself into by going on that trip and was a little anxious about all of the unexpected things that would come in the next three weeks. I didn't know if me, the girl who had never even been to an airport until she was 20, could handle a 9 hour time difference from my family and friends or if I could survive in a place where I didn't speak the main language. But at that point, it didn't matter what I could or couldn't deal with because the reality was that there was no turning back, I was on my way to India.

Since India was never a place on my bucket list, it might seem strange that I had found myself en route to that very place. What was I doing there?

As part of a social design class in the visual communications major, myself, along with seven other undergraduate students at the University of Notre Dame and our professor, Neeta Verma, were headed to Ahmedabad, India for an international collaboration project with students at the National Institute of Design. The Notre Dame students and NID students were grouped together, giving us six total ongoing projects. Each group was made up of at least one student from each institution with a goal of analyzing and identifying cross-cultural issues in which more sustainable solutions could be found. Our solutions would be able to work in both cultures and would take inspiration from both countries.

I found myself partnered up with a student from NID named Anupam and together the two of us began to look into sustainable packaging and how we could generate revenue for artesian communities by replacing plastic packaging with hand-made alternatives. In the three weeks we spent in India we collected data, conducted interviews, and even learned some hands-on skills that would help us formulate our solution to the plastic packaging problem. Later, in September, Anupam and the other NID students would be headed to our campus at Notre Dame to conduct the U.S. side of the research and wrap up our solutions. More about our projects can be found here.

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Besides learning the ins and outs of sustainable packaging and its effects on society in India, I gained knowledge in so much more. India is a beautiful place with a unique culture. The people are very friendly and will welcome you into their homes as if you are family. No history book or internet search could ever teach me as much about the Hindu religion and culture as visiting their temples and asking the NID student questions did. India is a treasure trove of food, colors, sounds, and traditions. It was a culture that I was more than happy to be part of for three weeks.

However, I think the best part of the trip was getting to see how the skills we learn as designers at Notre Dame compare to those in a foreign country. It was incredible to learn that the language of design has no borders and that people with completely different cultures could work together so well. We learned from each other how to become better thinkers, collaborators, and designers. I was not in the least disappointed with how the skills I have learned at Notre Dame held up to those at NID.

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I am beyond thankful for this unexpected experience and for the chance to work on design at such an international level. I know that going beyond my comfort zone to such a foreign place was by far one of the best decisions I have ever made.