As the US Consulate celebrates Women’s History Month, we spoke to Samidha Redkar, Vice Consul, US Consulate General in Chennai who is next headed to the US Embassy in Tel Aviv as the Assistant Information Officer...
How did the public domain become a career?
I was drawn to public service after I spent a summer teaching feminine hygiene and reproductive health classes to young women in rural parts of Ghana. My living conditions were challenging but I was motivated by the positive impact I was able to have on the community.
In Ghana, I became familiar with USAID and the types of effective and diverse programmes the US government was running with aid dollars. I decided then to pursue a career in the public sector, first with USAID and now as a diplomat with the Department of State.
As Vice-Consul, what parts of the job are something you revel in?
There are many aspects that I thoroughly enjoy, on top of the list is interacting with students that are on their way to universities and colleges in the US. It’s fun to listen to them talk about the courses they will be taking, the college groups or clubs in which they wish to participate, and careers they wish to pursue upon completion of their degrees.
I attended Carnegie Mellon University for my Masters and it is a popular choice for higher education with Indian students, so I like sharing my experience and easing any worries they have. Another wonderful aspect of this job is the meaningful relationships I am able to build with our local staff members. They are the backbone of our mission; it is a pleasure to work alongside them and to get a deeper understanding of South Indian culture through them.
Your roots, parents, and how has that fit in with your life in the US?
I was 10-years-old when I moved to Cincinnati, OH with my family. It was a completely different world for all of us, but that brought me closer to my siblings. A sense of community is very important to my parents and they wanted to make sure my siblings and I appreciated our roots along with assimilating it into our new lives.
Sundays were spent at the Hindu temple, learning about scriptures, festivals and customs. Saturdays were reserved for catching up on movies that were American classics, exploring our new home, and extracurricular activities. Much to my parents’ amusement, I joined the school choir and took a strong liking to Christmas carols which I would insist on performing at home! I had the distinct pleasure of being part of two very different cultures simultaneously, and it really defined the lens through which I see the world.
The challenges you face as a woman in the workplace, as an Indian in an international environment?
The foreign service is an exciting career path but it can sometimes be a challenging lifestyle for all types of people, including women. In many countries around the world, women are not considered equal to men, so working and living in such environments can be a struggle.
While my male colleagues would consider jobs available at any and all of the US embassies around the world, female diplomats sometimes have to think twice because of the daily challenges and double standards they may face in certain countries.
You like travelling, share your favourite destinations? Why and the activities you indulge in?
I took a trip to Rameswaram last year and the architecture of the Ramanathaswamy Temple was completely mesmerising, it was interesting to see the different prayer ceremonies and rituals. Another great trip I took was to Pushkar, Rajasthan, for the Camel Festival. I have never seen anything like it, the festival grounds were filled with adorned camels and trinket shops, I even witnessed a mustache competition!
You write poetry, your favorite poets and poems?
Poetry is what makes me fall in love with a language. I took a liking to Urdu as a teenager and fell into a pattern of memorising poems. One of my favourite poems is Aurat (Woman), by the Indian author Kaifi Azmi. I’ve been a bit timid with putting pen to paper myself, but it’s a hobby I would like to develop.
Service in India, the best and worst?
When I received my assignment as Vice Consul at the Chennai Consulate, I was sure I was going to walk into an environment with which I was already familiar. As a child, I have made several trips to India to visit relatives in Mumbai, but I had never been to the southern parts of the country.
Soon after arriving in Chennai, I realised I knew little about southern India and was in unfamiliar territory. So during this tour I have tried to explore South India and have truly experienced how diverse India is in terms of culture, food, and language. Before I arrived at post, I took a short course in Tamil but it was not enough. I wish I had a good grasp of the language so I could better communicate with local people. They are very patient when I try to speak in my broken Tamil, and I appreciate that very much!