For each of the 22 years of my like thus far, I’ve been prescribed and adhered to a fairly commonplace American path–elementary school, middle school, high school, college. Though the hours and weeks outside of class have left ample time to pursue and develop my own interests, I’ve never had anything like what comes next: an entire year (or, really, a lifetime) to figure out what exactly I want to do in the world.
And so as I get closer and closer to leaving for a year of living and working in India (!), I can’t help but be, like many other fellows, a little unsure of what to expect. I spent much of my last year of college pursuing the right opportunity to return to India, after the taste I had last year–teaching English in rural Andhra Pradesh–made me certain that I wanted to go back. Although I can’t help but feel the last-minute nervousness that comes with jumping into any completely new experience, reading the blog posts and updates from last year’s fellows makes me feel that going as part of this fellowship was absolutely the right decision, and I couldn’t be more blessed to have this opportunity.
Reading the posts of last year’s fellows also drives home an important point: the end of my fellowship is dizzyingly far away, in terms of time and depth of experience, and I will emerge from it, at least in part, a changed person. And so in setting goals for my time working and living in Jaipur, I hope more than anything that I can work on the areas of my personal development that are important to me right now–learning language, gaining experience in the fields of international development and non-profit work, and developing my skills in writing and journalism–while at the same time remaining open to all the unexpected aspects of the next year that will surprise me.
As I say my last goodbyes to my friends and family in the U.S., it’s readily apparent: an entire year in a new place, a new culture, surrounded by new people and doing new activities will change me in ways that I can’t begin to imagine. This is perhaps the scariest part of the experience I’m about to embark on–diving into the unknown. Growing up, the Wednesday after Labor Day was always the first day of school. It’s appropriate that the fellowship begins on this same day. Today marks an notable turning point in my life: for the first time, the first day of school isn’t school at all. My greatest hope, though, in terms of what I’ll gain from this remarkable experience, is that I continue learning, developing, and changing as a person, just as much (if not more) from being a part of the real world as being in school.