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.
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.
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.