Prerequisites in Patience
One month ago today, our cohort and the AIF team met as a group for the first time. We began our fellowship virtually from our homes as we awaited the final visas for some of our US-based fellows: A prerequisite to realizing the importance of patience throughout this journey. If you have ever gone through the process of getting an employment visa, you know how important patience is in the process. Will it be processed within a few days? Maybe. Will I need supplemental documents for my application? Maybe. Will I receive it before I leave? Maybe. What will happen if I do not receive it before I am supposed to fly out? We will figure it out then.
While October 3 marked the commencement of our fellowship year, our journeys to the fellowship have been long and winding. For me, this fellowship has been eight years in the making as I had first heard about it in 2014 and always knew it was something I had to do for myself. We were all very eager to get started, but we had to wait just a few days longer to officially meet each other in person. Luckily, we all received our visas just in the nick of time to come together for the second week of orientation.
Our virtual orientation week included workshops, collaborative learning, and presentations about what to expect for the next nine months. It seems like a blur based on everything that has happened since then. My mind was distracted by all the various loose ends I had to wrap up in the United States before flying out rather than thinking about the fellowship itself. My journey to this fellowship has been eight years in the making. I knew I wanted to do this fellowship ever since I came to India for the first time. The immersion, independence, and focus on service align with my personal values and career focus. One of the many reasons I wanted to do this fellowship is because I had minimal commitments in my home community and thought that leaving for a year would be as easy as it ever will be at this present moment.
That being said, it is anything but easy to pick up your life and move halfway across the world to a community that you have never been to before and work with people you have never met before. A week before I came to India, a friend of mine asked, “Are you mentally prepared to move to India?” I have been pondering that question a lot because I think I was ready as I ever would be but simultaneously feeling like nothing can properly mentally prepare you for this kind of adventure.
At the end of the first week, all of us made the journey from our homes to New Delhi. I felt so much anticipation and excitement that the moment had FINALLY arrived to return to India once again. It was time to cut off the safety net and take a leap of faith into the unknown of the next nine months. Of course, all that anticipation and build up was met with a second lesson in patience during our time in the airport.
Our plane was originally scheduled to leave at 12:30pm. Nine of us made our way from our homes in the US and met each other at the gate for our flight. The energy was palpable as we recognized each other from Zoom and tried to put faces with names with stories we heard from the first week. But, this is a story about patience. By the time we were supposed to board the plane, we got news of a half an hour flight delay. Okay, that is no problem, we will continue passing the time with one another. Then, the half an hour quickly passed and then we got news of another hour delay. Alright, we will continue to wait.
Finally, we got news that we will not be able to board the flight until 4pm. In my mind, I was thinking, “Of course this is happening! I knew going to India was too good to be true!” We were given meal vouchers to pass the time, so we all went our separate ways to redeem them. Luckily, some of the group stayed at the gate and a half an hour later we got frantic news that the flight was boarding immediately! “But it is not even close to 4pm yet,” I thought to myself. I think this situation may have been a metaphor for the rest of the fellowship because the past month has required patience, cautious optimism, and being ready to go at the flip of a switch.
Our in-person orientation week passed quickly as we had a lot to cover in a short amount of time. Our cohort made memories together and had the opportunity to deepen our connection with one another throughout the week. At the end of the week, we parted ways as the Indian nationals were able to travel to their host organizations and American fellows had to stay in Delhi while our Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) paperwork got processed. Again, we happily met this challenge in patience as it is a rite of passage for our employment visas. But, as you may have guessed by now, the FRRO process has required even more patience than I could have anticipated.
We were originally told that the process should take approximately three business days to complete. So, we happily complied with our required extended stay in Delhi. The timing seemed to be fine but we also recognized that the upcoming holiday, Diwali, was right around the corner. Many offices have extended closures during this time. Everything seemed to be going according to plan and then on that third business day, there was an unforeseen COVID outbreak within our group (myself included). Just as we thought we were going to get clearance to travel to our host cities, we were once again forced to stay patient.
Reflections on Patience
During my seven-day quarantine, I reflected a lot about how this was not how I imagined the beginning days of the fellowship. But, a close friend of mine told me recently, “expectations are resentments waiting to happen.” Rather than get disappointed about the challenges I have encountered during the first few weeks, I realized that the discomfort is part of the growth process.
Coming from the United States, I have grown accustomed to working in “fast paced environments” where idle time is frowned upon. It can be easy to get carried away and romanticize this experience and think every day is going to be full of adventure and interacting with individuals in the field. But the reality is, some days are long, some days feel like no progress is being made, but these days are no less important than the high impact days, if not more important to learn to be patient and reflect on the experience for all it is: long days included.
Upon completing my quarantine, I got the okay to fly to my host site. As luck would have it though, it was another holiday in Delhi. Two days later, I received my flight confirmation with twelve hours notice. The first month has demonstrated the importance of slowing down, taking care of myself and needs, being intentional with my time, and most importantly- being on my toes to embrace whatever may come my way.