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Aug 21

Written by: Jennifer Kumar, Cultural Adjustment Coach
Friday, August 21, 2009

Jennifer Kumar’s Bio and Credentials

Photo shoot at Honeyoye Falls

Jennifer Kumar, also known as Jayanthi, has been creating and maintaining a website about India, Hinduism, spirituality, and cross-cultural integration since 1997. Jennifer has had the extraordinary experience of living two years in Chennai, India as a college student. Jennifer was the first American to earn a Master’s degree in Social Work from Madras Christian College. Currently, Jennifer lives in America with her Malayalee husband, Krishna. Jennifer maintains a connection with South India, visiting family in Kerala with Krishna on a yearly basis. Jennifer enjoys spending time with friends, family, coordinating and planning events, and creating things with her hands (cooking, soap making, beadwork, sewing, etc.). Jennifer is currently enjoying her days helping others adjust to and integrating in everyday life in America, inspired by hers and others Authentic Journeys.

Living a rich life integrating two cultures inspires me. Of course, I love to learn and integrate good aspects of all cultures to have the ‘best of all worlds’. I believe that in exposing myself to different expressions of life and trying them out for myself, I can better relate to a wider variety of people.

 

Learning, adapting, adjusting and living creatively opens up possibilities, and balancing this can be both rewarding and complicating. Any immigrant moving to America can relate to this, and would want to know how I can help you. What are the credentials and experience I have that can help you facilitate smoother lifestyle and cultural adjustment.

 

You can contact Jennifer at jennifer@alaivani.com

For more on Jennifer’s life experience, credentials and education, read on…..

 

Quick Links in this Intro:

How I can relate to your cross-cultural experience

Career and Community Experience

Credentials and Education

  

How I can relate to your Cross-Cultural Experience

I lived, worked and studied in India for two years. Often people ask me how I made it through two years, as the lifestyle and cultural change is drastic between these two landscapes. Sometimes I wonder about this too, because I had fully immersed myself in an area of India where few foreigners lived and even fewer Americans visited. Because I was the only American in my neighborhood for most of my stay, I had to integrate into the culture (including food and language) and create a support network. So, if I had to contribute my success (completion of my degree) to one thing, I would say having a strong support network of local residents who helped me navigate Indian culture was key. I was very fortunate as I had a large network of people who really cared about me and helped me. My turning point happened 18 months into my stay. It was at this time, I became caught between going home to a ‘comfortable place in US’ or staying in India feeling a constant unease physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually (but, ironically still wanting to be there…). My best friend called my local guardian and shared what she knew. Together they (about 6 people) started scouring the neighborhood for me – and within days, and hours of me purchasing my flight ticket home- found me a new place to live the duration of my stay that would help me become well again. Living in this new, homely environment, I learned new aspects of Indian culture and my house mother became my first cultural mentor. It was through her, I realized that culture shock is controlled not only through having close friends to help you navigate the culture as it happens, but also by having a mentor who would enlighten me on the particular features of the culture. Though my friends until this point had answered my questions about Indian culture, and I was able to learn about etiquette and social rules by watching others and trying out myself, my house mother was the first person to give me cultural lessons, review my day and tell me how to improve, and really enlighten me as to how people perceive me based on how I behaved or did not behave. This mentoring and teaching, which helped me to relate better to an average Indian,  was, I now realize, cross-cultural coaching. Her intentions were pure and she really wanted to see me succeed and knew I had the ability and talent to adjust to the situations as was required of me.

 

Because my house mother was so instrumental in providing emotional support and encouragement in this transition, my stay with her in many ways was the most comfortable time I spent in India. It is through her, and later other friends, and currently my Indian in-laws including my father-in-law and my husband’s sister and her family, that I realize the benefits and comfort found in cross-cultural or cultural adjustment and lifestyle mentoring and coaching.

 

It is because of my house mother, my friends in India, and my Indian in-laws that I am with you today to be your personal cultural adjustment cheerleader- helping you to adjust with more ease and comfort into your new home in America.

 

Career and Community Experience

 

Enamored by the sheer population, which included one of the highest proportions of international students in the country, about 4,000 students from over 100 countries (IIE), I was in love! I knew here, away from the small village I grew up in where everyone was pretty much a ‘White American’, I would meet some people I had never been exposed to before, and possibly learn more about life and the world from them than I would in the classroom itself. I became engulfed in international activities on campus, taking Japanese and Hindi classes, Asian History and other cultural classes, joining cultural associations, participating in cultural performances, having international housemates from India, Finland, France and South Africa, and working on campus at the International Student Office, helping launch the Global Ambassador’s Program. In this program, we matched international students with local schools to provide cross-cultural training and awareness programs.

 

Graduating with a B.A. in Communication, I moved to Boston- enamored by the international and intellectuality of the college and cultural mecca, I applied for jobs at all the major colleges, landing an intriguing job at Harvard Institute for International Development (HIID), where I managed accounts and communication for the department. The highlights of working at HIID was participating in continuing education programs studying Indian culture and languages, attending the Harvard Business School international conferences and meeting Jeffrey Sachs, a person who has inspired me through the years.

 

It was in Boston, too, that I immersed myself in cultural activities, and became more enamored with Indian culture, beginning to learn Indian cooking, how to wear Indian dresses, travelling to India and even deciding to apply for higher studies in India.

 

From Boston, I was Chennai (India) bound! It was my two years spent in Madras Christian College that has defined me in many ways. Though the path to this defines me as well as from then until now, many of the experiences I had living, studying and working abroad are fresh with me as though they happened yesterday.

 

Udavi Field Placement MSW 1999In India, I had opportunities to work in the most economically deprived areas. Regardless of the lack of money and creature comforts had by the residents of the slums I worked in, spiritually the people I met in the slums were richer than most other people I have met in my life! Their approach to life will be with me forever, and even to this day I have a lot to learn from people like Thirumani and Thenmuzhi.  In the photo, to the right, I am sitting along with a vegetable saleslady in the slum, Gandhi Nagar (near Anna Nagar) in Chennai. See more photos of my field placement.

 

This small space is not enough to say everything I learned in India, if you follow my blog, you will learn more and also how my life in India has impacted my life back in America.

 

Since returning to America, I became licensed by the State of New York to practice social work and was doing so for about six years in rural and urban settings. It was in this job, that I enjoyed learning about the different cultures and lifestyles of people in America. People may say Americans ‘have no culture’, but it was not only living in India that proved this to be wrong for me, but living in America and interacting with people in various settings as a social worker!

 

Working as a social worker gave me a platform to explore and enhance my talents in mentoring, relationship building, skill building (life skills training), organizing trainings for co-workers and clients. Topics I gave trainings on are not limited to: Teens Employment Landscape in Rochester, Cultural Competency: India (three parts), Child-Family Teams (CFT) for Case Managers.

 

It was in during this time, that I got married to Krishna, a south Indian from Delhi. Marrying into an Indian family has offered me more opportunities to experience Indian culture from a more family-oriented view point. Being his family are open-minded has opened our family life to integrating various Indian traditions that neither of us grew up with into our own unique family culture and traditions. Another highlight of marrying into an Indian family is travelling to India to stay with family. Our first trip to India was in 2006. Visiting Kochi and Trivandrum in Kerala was a new experience for me not only as a new bride, but experiencing a new cultural landscape in India. Though Kerala borders the state I lived in to the east, the culture, language, dress, food and interactions were quite different. It was not only a culture shock to me, but to my husband, too, who had never lived in Kerala, though had visited his ‘native place’ on school vacations as a child. Though we try to go to India every year, it was on this first trip, that I was able to ‘give back’ to the community by visiting Rajagiri College in Kochi, a well-reputed college that has a long-standing and respected program for social work students. It was here that I had presented on Transitioning and Using your Indian Social Work Degree in America. It was an enjoyable and memorable experience as I was seeing India in a new way, from a different perspective. Previously, I would have to stand when adults and teachers entered the room, what an experience for them to rise for me! Read more on my experience at Rajagiri College.


Entire Pongal Decoration SceneryThe photo, left, is one example of how we have integrated different cultures of India and America into a holiday neither of us celebrated in our birth families, but do now! Pongal is the thanksgiving celebration in Tamil Nadu. People may put rangoli/kolum or rice flour designs on their porches or entryways for this festival. Since we can not put it outside because it is too cold, and I can not manipulate rice flour with my hand into any coherent design, I have instead taken a Christmas Tree stand holder and placed large quantities of rice flour, lentils and herbed leaves into a design on the plate, and placed it on the floor along with the other decorations. The improvising of the design in my American touch- I adjusted the decor to the climate, my talents and local availabilites here. Then, to this decor, I added 'Pongal themed scenes', simliar to how people display Christmas Creches. People do not do this in Tamil Nadu for Pongal, though some Telugus in Andhra may put this decor.  See more photos of how we express Indian culture in America.

Since leaving my social work job to pursue interests in international relations, I have had extraordinary experiences initiating and maintaining a home-based soap making business while dedicating time to pursuits at Nazareth College, editing and writing for the Global Beat, Rochester Institute of Technology, maintaining websites and coordinating events in the Hospitality Department, writing and editing newsletters for Holistic Moms in Rochester, and enhancing my education through the Emerging Entrepreneur’s Program at Monroe Community College and completing certification in Life Coaching from the Life Purpose Institute.  This notwithstanding, I have also become a published writer! In 2008, I appeared in Loksatta, a Marathi daily in India, with an article on adapting Indian culture into American landscape, followed in 2009, an article on “Reverse Culture Shock” appeared in Culture Shock by Ravikanth S. Wawge and teaming with my husband, we created an attractive ad with copy for Olive Brook resort in Munnar, India that was published in local travel guides and newspapers.

 

In addition to this, I have been dedicated to sharing my journey in cross cultural integration with the world through my website, Alaivani. In 2006, I acquired my own domain – www.alaivani.com.  I was lead to combine the Tamil words alai (waves) and vani (sound), to create this unique blog title as to me it encompasses how the blending of different lifestyles and cultures (waves) creates beautiful sounds and music – good themes for anyone’s life creatively lived. Initially inspired by my journey to India and learning about other cultures, the website was initially focused on my own experiences. However, over the years, I have inspired 30 people to join my Alaivani community as authors, photographers, and contributors. Select bios are here. This has enriched the website and encouraged over 4,500,000 visitors to my site between April 2006- July 2009.

 

Credentials and Education 

Certifications     
Licensed by the State of New York as a Social Worker, designation LMSW
Life Coaching Certification (in progress) through Life Purpose Institute, California

 

Education
Master’s in Social Work (Community Development), Madras Christian College, India
Bachelor’s in Communication, SUNY Buffalo, USA

 

 

Published Works:Culture Shock - I'm Published!
A Promise to Lord Ganesh: One American’s Journey to Celebrating Ganesh Chathurthi in America (English, my blog)  In Mumbai based daily Loksatta, in Marathi.  
Ad Copy for Olive Brook, a hill resort in Munnar, Kerala, India (appeared in Indian Express Travel Guide)  
Integrating two Worlds: Life in America with an Indian Twist (Nazareth College, Global Beat, Spring 2008, page 7)   
Is Mine a Case of Reverse Culture Shock? (my blog)   Published in full length book, Culture Shock, Ravikat S Wawge, ICFAI Publishers, 2009.  
Nazareth Initiates Relationship with Rajagiri College, Kochi, India (Nazareth College, Global Beat, Fall 2007, page 6)

 

 

Professional Experience:
Almost 10 years Experience as a Social Worker/ Community Development Specialist in US and India at:
Hillside Children’s Center (Rochester, NY)
Pathways, Inc. (Corning, NY)
World Vision, India (Chennai, India)
Udavi Social Service Agency (Chennai, India)
Asha Nivas Social Service Agency (Chennai, India)


 

More than 5 years experience in higher educational institutions:
Rochester Institute of Technology, Hospitality Department
Nazareth College, Center for International Education, Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue
Harvard University, Harvard Institute for International Development
SUNY Buffalo, International Students and Scholar’s Office, SUNY Buffalo Libraries

 

 

 

===concluded====

 

 

Thank you for reading and spending your time with me on my website.

 

If so inspired share your thoughts with me!

Copyright ©2009 Jennifer Jayanthi Kumar

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