What the future holds

The past few weeks have included a healthy dose of self reflection, especially as people have started asking, “So, what will you do after the fellowship?” A simple question with no easy answer, filled with possibilities and emptiness, just as exciting as it is panic-inducing. I know a few of the other fellows are in a similar position, but I am not concerned–I know this talented group will achieve great things in life.

Professionally, I have been very lucky, and have never been in this dilemma. My last college internship led to my first full time job, with a smooth transition to my next opportunity, and after some minor struggles, I ended up in India when I was ready for a change. My quarter life crisis forcing me to “find my way” has been worth getting to India and fulfilling a dream that I didn’t think would ever materialize.

As a student, I used to speak very hypothetically about “volunteering in India one day,” as I didn’t want to be “just a tourist.” Quite idealistic, but a brilliant idea in retrospect. Here I am, almost 8 months in, planning for the future with a set of new skills, experiences, outlook, and self realizations in tow. I have grown, learned, experienced, and witnessed more than I could have imagined, and instead of this being a “break in my career,” my time in India has become a stepping stone to a different kind of future—whatever that may be. I am often mistaken as a local, and it tends to make my day when I fool someone new.

In college, I remember justifying my chosen field with the logic that development work was depressing and television was exciting. India has definitely turned my logic on its head. Development work can be depressing, but it can also be very rewarding and challenging. Television can be very exciting, but I’ll be the first to tell you that it can also be very depressing. My time spent with Khamir has been the happiest and most fulfilling work I have done to date. I may not be moving mountains, saving lives or changing the world, but I have touched a few lives and have been touched by many more, and that is plenty to be thankful for.

For now, I am focusing on the present (out of bravery or cowardice–only time will tell), and am looking forward to making the most of my remaining two months as an AIF Fellow in India. I do not know where I will go next, what I will be doing, and how I will get there, but I have decided that:

-I will spend more time learning from my amazing colleagues, being awed by Kachchh’s talented artisans and supporting my wonderful friends.

-I will see as much of Incredible India as time permits.

-I will continue working on my projects, and emptying my bank account buying textiles.

-I will continue dreaming about pizza and gelato and guacamole, but will keep eating deliciously fatty Gujarati food.

-I will rejoice in opportunities like meeting President Clinton, the namesake for my fellowship, and also playing holi as one only can in India.

-I will spend hot Sunday evenings exploring ruins, spending days off at the beach, or cooking with my roommate.

-I will watch (some) trash Indian television along with my decidedly higher quality MasterChef.

-Most of all, I will be happy, and not “just a tourist.”

Jilna spent the first half of her life in Nairobi, Kenya, and then moved to the suburbs of Washington DC for high school. New York City was home for five years as she worked towards fulfilling her dream to work in the entertainment business. A career in television led her back home to Maryland, and her involvement with South Asian organizations--both personal and professional--remained a constant through these transitions. Additionally, she spent her spare time volunteering with small organizations, and also joined the board of a local non profit for the chance to aid a group with a different mission. Despite having deep connections to her culture, Jilna has never visited India, and is thrilled with the opportunity to live and work in India supporting Khamir's initiatives for the coming year.

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