How Far I’ll Go

Okay, I couldn’t leave this Fellowship/India experience without quoting, or at least using one Moana reference in my blog posts. This Disney movie has so many parallels (obvious and not) to my life, and it will always hold a special place in my heart for its metaphors.

In keeping with tradition of leaving my thoughts of a place I’ve lived in for a substantial amount of time, this will serve as my goodbye piece to the place I called home for the past 10 months.

Dear August 2017 Janelle,

 You are ready to embark on this crazy & amazing journey all the way to India. It’s a place that has fascinated you since you decided that the island you grew up on is way too small, and that you need to see the world outside of it.  You won’t come prepared or ready for anything, but that’s okay. You see yourself as a sponge and you go on and soak it all up girl!

 You are going to fly to New York for the first time in your life, and you will be nervous to meet the other AIF Fellows. Don’t worry, they are all cool people, just be forgiving when they want to chat with you after your super long journey there. You’ll see this tall guy with long blonde hair, his name is Andrew, you’ll bond over your pink phone cases, and he’ll be the first friend you’ll make. You’ll get closer to others as time goes on, just give it time.

 When you finally make it to Delhi, you’ll be absolutely delirious! You’ll think that the incessant honking is ridiculous, that the food is really rich and that you don’t know how to eat any of it. You’ll need time to adjust and process EVERYTHING. As usual, stay quiet but be observing everything. Just stick with your processes, even if you feel a bit out of place. You’ll go through orientation, comparing everything to the Peace Corps, which is unfair, but you’ll also start to accept that it is not the same. Those people that you will meet, will become your support network, hang on to them, treat them well, they will be there for you when you are struggling.

 You will arrive in the Northeast, and at first you won’t know what to think of it. It will hit you and hit you hard that you are now on your own, in another foreign country, and you can’t speak the local language. You’ll get by with English, but this will become frustrating for you. The first couple months will bumpy, and you will often wonder why you decided to do this. Hang in there, you will always manage to see the bright side. You will also come to appreciate that you live in a tea loving place that embraces the café culture, and you will get used to being asked constantly where you are from, because people will think you are from one of the other Sister States. This will be your home, embrace what you can from it, since the Northeast is like kind of like Hawai`i in terms of being far from everything, and interpersonal relationships are the center of a lot of things.

You will start work, and you will learn so much. It will overwhelm you till the very end but remember to be kind to yourself. You need to dig deep here, the lessons are there but you won’t know it at first, and you will take everything harder than you normally would. You will be thankful for the life lessons from your organization. These lessons aren’t easy, but eventually you will be grateful for the good, bad, and ugly. You will have a supportive mentor, and coworkers who are willing participants in any game or icebreaker you will want to test out. You will get to understand what it takes to do development work in this part of the country, and it will inspire you. Side note: there will be an incredible fox-dog Julie, whose “paw-shakes” will get you through some tough times. Go look at the pond in front of the office, it will calm you when you need, just be careful of the mosquitoes.

 It will take a while but you will meet a bunch of girls who will call you “jolokia ba”  (big sister chili pepper) and you will love every minute of your time with them in the schools. Those icebreakers you mastered in Thailand will come in handy here. You will find out you are your best when interacting with the kids, and you will start to remember why you came to India in the first place. The girls of Bhaskar Vidiyapith and Oja Hemchandra School will teach you many things, keep your eyes, ears, and heart open for this. Suwali sharks, doo doo doo doo da doo!

 Your home situation will take major adjustments on your end but be patient. You will gain Assamese  little siblings, Simran and Samir, and they will be your first and ultimately best friends in Guwahati. They will be amazing cultural guides, they will make you laugh when you most need it, and in return you will convert them to become the biggest Korean Pop fans in all of Assam. They will feed you all the energy and desserts that you need, and they will make the days go faster. Rosie and Aita will be part of your forever crew, show your appreciation for them constantly, and don’t be afraid to cry in front of them, they won’t ever make you feel embarrassed. Grandmas and dogs have never let you down, that streak will extend here too.

 Lastly, you will have a new `ohana (family) in the form of your cohort. Words cannot even describe just how amazing they all are. There will be a few that will play a special part of your journey: Lehboy you’ll go to for everything and anything, and he’ll be supportive even while freezing in his beautiful house. The ladies of Room 310 will be your rock especially in the beginning, you will bond on accident, and they will help you with all the questions/frustrations you will inevitably have. One day you will sit next to Morgan on the train to Rajasthan and it will be the beginning of bonding over everything in pop culture, to the point where you can no longer have conversations without making a reference to something current and having laughs in maybe not the most appropriate situations. Lhamo will bother you constantly, but you’ll actually look forward to what new thing you can make fun of her for, and she will especially come through when you need to tell Uber drivers where to go. Your statistics consultant based in Gujarat, LJK, will answer the phone on a day when you have a freak out about forgetting everything to do with analyzing data, then you find it easy to bond over being in the struggle bus together, as well as  love for the same TV shows. Cardi Bihar you will have deep life conversations with, you will wonder how she hasn’t made a TV show with all those animals she lives with, and she is going to come for a visit (on her birthday) to do a training you need for your coworkers, so just let her eat all Fruit by the Foot candy you have, it’s okay. Mr. Ted Talk will call you when you most need it, your interactions will always be positive, and the conversations you have will always lift your spirits. All of them will see you through some of the toughest and frustrating situations you will encounter, you will count on them heavily and they will come through for you. There will be interactions with the rest of the Fellows that will touch your heart and you won’t forget the impact, even though they may not realize it. The laughs you’ve had as an entire cohort will keep you going, and even though you may not have deep conversations with every single Fellow, you will have a memory with each of them, and the times you spend together will be a highlight of your entire time in India.

 This experience is going to challenge you, it’s going to change you, but this experience comes only once in a lifetime. Enjoy the laughs, accept the lessons, and never forget that you have great people supporting you on that small island in the middle of the Pacific. You need to go beyond the reef, so don’t stop just because you’ve lost your way, or the current becomes too strong. You know what you need to do, and you can do it. After all, restoring the heart of Te Fiti is kind of like teaching life skills in a foreign country. Maybe. You’ll find out soon enough.


Your slightly older self


Born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, Janelle is a licensed social worker with a specialty of developing children and families. After receiving her Masters in Social Work from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, she joined the United States Peace Corps as a Youth in Development Volunteer, and was placed in the rural Phayao province of Thailand. Her proudest accomplishment during her service, was running a girls empowerment program that included participants from all over the Northern region of Thailand. Previous work experience include working for the Hawaii State Legislature as a Legislative Aide, Special Activities Coordinator for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), and a Education Paraprofessional in Hawaii public schools. Janelle has a breadth of experiences abroad, including a semester in London, England, and completing an intensive practicum in Baguio, Philippines. She has a strong interest in empowering the youth and hopes the to apply her skills to help the youth of India.

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