I have had a number of people ask me what it is like to do the AIF Fellowship – Some are friends, friends or friends or referrals to me from AIF staff – I love talking about this with people because it gives me to reflect on why this program works for me, what I love, what challenges me and what I’m still trying to figure out. While this blog entry is in no way intended as a substitute for those conversations I thought I would jot a few notes down for perspective fellows given that the application deadline to join the fellowship in the fall is coming up Feb 4! So you’re considering AIF? The questions I get from people are pretty consistent: Is the application hard, how competitive is the program? Where will I be placed? Can I pick my city? How much will I make? What is a typical day like? All valid questions, all worth considering: so in short you will never know if you’ll get in unless you apply, you will be placed where you’re the best fit, you don’t get to pick your city, you’ll make enough to live in and you will rarely if ever have a typical day. I’m in month 5 of my 10 month journey and I love this fellowship. There are three primary variables in the quality of your experience: 1. Where you are placed 2. Your mentor 3. (hands down the most important one) You. My best advice is to focus all you energy on the one variable you control in this fellowship: you. You will apply, you will get matched with an organization and what next? You will come to India and what should you expect? Expect India. Come because you want to be in India. And know that if, like me you’ve grown up in the US coming to India will hold a host of magical, crazy, complex and indescribable experiences. You will be terrified of the chaos of the Mumbai trains but within a few weeks you will overcome your fear. You will be uncertain about your project, how it will unfold, what you will actually do, best to start but working hard and trust your mentor. Your heart will break each morning when you walk by poverty unlike any you’ve witnessed before. You will get lost, frustrated, pay the (foreigner tax again and again) and inevitably you will get sick. Your highs will be higher and your lowers lower as you live life squarely outside the scope of your comfort zone. You will meet people, wonderful, crazy people. Some will become your dear friends. You’re fellow Fellows will become your family. You’ll learn that moving somewhere is not the same as traveling somewhere. You’ll leave all your warm clothes behind than someone will invite you to visit Himachal Pradesh, you’ll learn where Himachal Pradesh is located. You will go through a crash course in understanding the Indian Government. You’ll visit your family in India and they will be confused about what you are doing. You’ll be nervous about what to do when the fellowship ends but you will learn to live comfortably with uncertainty. You will walk on Marine Drive and smile as the wind hits your face, you will be proud of yourself for coming to India. The American India Foundation has been running this fellowship now for 11 years – they have guided almost 300 of us through this experience. The support you will get from AIF will help you but they cannot live your fellowship for you – they cannot solve all your problems or create all your opportunities. AIF will be your facilitator on this journey. The variables of your placement site and your mentor are big but they are not variables you control. The biggest consideration in your placement will be the skills you bring to the table, what you know how to do. The better you can communicate the skills you have the better fit your placement will be for you. What you will get from AIF is an adventure, a 10 month journey, a constant opportunity to learn and the rest will be entirely up to you.