How to Build Resilience: Leaning into the Fall

A week after the Fellowship Midpoint conference ended, I found myself up at the crack of dawn, hiking along in the cool morning on a search for snakes. My group found three that day: a venomous Russell’s viper and two rat snakes, one of which was pregnant.

Sunrise in the village of Vada Nemmeli, where the early morning snake walk took place.

When I first arrived at my host organization, the Croc Bank, five months ago, I kept asking myself “how did I end up here?” A recent college graduate, I had moved to India to serve as an AIF Clinton Fellow with no family, friends, or knowledge of the local language last summer. I committed myself to living here for ten months, unaware of what my day-to-day life would be like during this time. I started my first full-time job outside of summer employment, which meant six-day work weeks, the norm in most of India.

Everything is more difficult here than it would be for me back in the United States. When I walk into the supermarket, everything is in a different language. I think there are at least five types of lentils, maybe more, with no directions on how to cook any of them. The buses run on their own schedule, and bus stops can just as easily be an actual bus stand or a designated spot on the side of the road.

It can feel lonely being abroad in another country for a long period of time. I recently moved into my own apartment, the first time I’ve ever lived by myself. We do have the AIF Clinton Fellowship cohort, which is a great resource, but most of us are placed in different cities and towns, hours from seeing one another.

What type of person undertakes a fellowship like this, especially one that can be so challenging in a multitude of ways?

I think about this and sometimes it feels like falling. Falling is terrifying, unknown. Some people push themselves into this unknown, while others are content with where they are. Both are equally valid. But for those of us who want to fall, or may be falling already, where do you strike a balance between the two? How do you know if you’ve gone too far, beyond your comfort and growth zone? (Ask me another time about a 50-foot cliff jump I did that left me with a nasty bruise…)

Four years ago, there was this frustrating bouldering problem that I was stuck on. The final move required you to stand on a hold and lean your entire body to the right. At this point, the finishing hold was just out of reach on an adjacent wall. Only by letting your body fall towards it, well past your balancing point, could you finally reach the hold.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t will my body to do this. I knew it was the only way to complete the problem, yet I kept hesitating and backing out at the last moment. Finally, after what felt like weeks of attempting this problem, I did it. I fell. But instead of grabbing the finishing hold like I should’ve, I was so caught up in the act of falling that I found myself scratched up on the ground instead. I didn’t get it that time, but my body had learned the motion.

Sometimes you have to fall and trust that you’ll be okay. Throughout my time in India, I’ve found that to be true here more than ever. You can’t half-heartedly uproot your entire life to move across the world for a year. If so, you will never be fully present in either place. You have to commit as much as you can to where you are, as difficult as it can be. While living here can be hard, and lonely, and sometimes a lot to handle, it is also such a rare and unique opportunity.

Toffee the dog and I hangout by the beach before sunset.

The Fellowship Midpoint conference gave me the chance to reflect on all of this and more. It reminded me why I am here, why all of us are here. For me, this fellowship is a time of transition and transformation. After all of this falling, I am excited to see where I land.

Naomi is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (Croc Bank) in Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu. For her Fellowship project, she is designing educational material and activities for youth and adults to learn about India’s ecosystem and to promote the conservation of endangered species in their natural habitats. Born in Taipei, Taiwan, and raised in Portland, Oregon, Naomi recently graduated with a degree in organismal biology and ecology. While at Colorado College, Naomi worked for the Office of Sustainability, overseeing various green certification programs and serving on the Campus Sustainability Council. She also worked as a lab technician in the GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Lab and as a resident advisor. She completed over 300 service hours through the Community Engaged Scholars program, was a backcountry trip leader for the Outdoor Recreation Committee, and a member of Kappa Alpha Theta. Most recently, Naomi worked as a kayak instructor at Trackers Earth, an outdoor education camp in Portland. Naomi is excited to join the AIF Clinton Fellowship and to immerse herself in the local community and culture through service.

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