Surrounded by dozens of mounted trophies, Chelsea Lalwala cranks away at her desk. She’s a graphics design wiz.
Lalwala is on a summer internship at Eastman’s Hunting Journal, one of the nation’s premier outdoors media companies headquartered in Powell. Next to her desk is a trophy pronghorn. Wolves, mule deer, elk, and other critters seem to stare at her as she does her work. Her work environment is completely foreign.
Lalwala is from a city in India with more than nine times more people than the entire population of the Cowboy state — a place so unlike northwest Wyoming, it might be its exact opposite. There are few green spaces or outdoor opportunities in her hometown of Surat. And there’s no hunting in her state of Gujurat, Lalwala said. Surat, first established in the eighth century, is a large city known for its textile industries. It is never quiet, she said.
In India, there is limited hunting for wild boars and antelope. Occasionally a permit is issued to hunt a man-eating tiger. Lalwala suffers from reverse culture shock when she returns home.
“When I first came here it was very quiet. I felt like my ears were going numb because I had never experienced the silence,” she said. “I love the peace, the mountains and the big spaces. There is really nothing here that is similar to my home. Everything is different.”
“It was more of a culture shock when I returned home,” Lalwala added. “There are too many people, too much traffic, spicy food; it took me a while to get used to it.”
Admittedly shy, the Veer Narmad South Gujarat University student fell in love with the peace and quiet of Park County while on a 10-month exchange program with the Powell Rotary Club in the 2013-14 school year. Now working toward her bachelor’s degree in fine art, mountain ranges and the big sky themes run through her artistic creative juices.
Her daily duties at Eastman Publishing include designing artwork based on outdoor sports — mostly hunting.
“When I was at the high school, we did taxidermy, so I knew people hunted here,” Lalwala said. “If [working at Eastman] had been my first experience [with hunting] I would have been really scared to work here. It’s not normal [in India].”
As an exchange student, she didn’t have a choice as to where she wound up. Lalwala could pick America as her preferred country, but not the state or town. She discovered her passion for art and design while attending Powell High School.
“When I was here the first time I took art classes. From then I knew I wanted to go into an artistic field,” Lalwala said.
As she was looking for a post-high school summer internship, she called her Powell contacts. They contacted Ike Eastman, president of Eastman Publishing, and he said he’d be happy to host Lalwala as an intern. The New Generations exchange program, a new Rotary Club offering for young adults 19 to 30 years old, brought Lalwala back to Powell. It’s shorter-term and works similar as the traditional exchange student model.
While Lalwala was lucky to be able to come back to Powell, Eastman got lucky, too. Not only is the internship unpaid due to her travel visa restrictions, Lalwala is an excellent employee, Eastman said.
“She’s a heck of a hand. We have a joke around here: Give it to Chelsea [Lalwala]; she’ll have it done in 15 seconds,” Eastman said.
Lalwala has worked on several projects. Lindsay Simpson, video production manager for Eastman Publishing, spends a lot of time with Lalwala. She said Lalwala fit seamlessly into the workflow.
“We tossed a little bit of everything at her and she’s done a great job. Her content will go to tens of thousands of our readers,” Simpson said. “She knows more about Photoshop and Illustrator than I do.”
The Powell Rotary Club brings several exchange students like Lalwala to town each year. They live with host families and experience Park County essentially as a family member, said Terry Collins, youth exchange officer for the Powell chapter of the International Rotary Club.
“You have to learn to be a family member with someone you’ve never met before,” Collins said. Collins’ daughter, Abby, was an exchange student in France and from there she became a volunteer for the club.
There are currently two students in Powell on long-term exchange, from Slovakia and Japan. Students are exposed to varied experiences — many unique to the area.
“I believe in the program and I’ve seen people that come back and how beneficial it can be,” Collins said. “The beauty of youth exchange programs, especially long-term [exchange], is for 10 months your family isn’t there and you have to learn to assimilate into a new culture that’s very different.”
The exchange program helped Lalwala fight her timid nature.
“I’ve become more independent and responsible; I was pretty shy,” she said. “Now I like exploring and meeting new people. I love traveling, meeting new people and making new friends.”
Two weeks ago, Chelsea went camping in the mountains with one of her hosts, the Lensegrav family. During the trip, she received training on shooting a pistol — the first time she has ever fired a gun.
“I was scared at first, but it was cool,” she said. “I kind of know how they do it from being here for two months.”
If she ever tries hunting, Lalwala would prefer chasing birds. “It’s less scary,” she said.
While exchange students are constantly coming to Powell, students from the town rarely choose to study abroad, Collins said.
“It’s been six to eight years since I’ve sent Powell students out on an exchange,” Collins said. “It will change their life. I know it’s hard for them to give up a year of high school here, but you learn a new language, you become self-confident and you get the travel bug. And it also opens a lot of doors and scholarships,” she said.
Most students go during high school, but some students take advantage of using a gap year between high school and college, Collins said. The Rotary Club exchanges students with 23 countries, including countries in Europe, South America, Australia, Scandinavia and Asia. There is also a summer exchange program.
Lalwala’s last day of her internship is today (Thursday), but she’s staying for an extra week.
“The main reason I’m here for one last week is I’ve never seen the Fourth of July. I wanted to be here for that,” she said.
Then it’s back to the congested city in India to finish her bachelor’s and begin studying for her master’s degree. And to dream of her time in Wyoming.