I’ve been home for a few weeks now, but my time with RTW and ILP is drawing to a close. But this doesn’t have to be sad! It is a time to look back on what we’ve learned and cherish the good times we’ve had. (The pictures for this week are of some of the good times throughout my trip, with a few borrowed from friends.) This is a time to remember and to look to the future. I remember my trip fondly and excitedly look forward to yours!
Let’s think about the future for a bit. What will you be when you grow up? Over the years, I’ve changed the idea of “what I want to be” many times. As a child, the possibilities were endless: artist, author, architect, doctor, inventor and more. Just over the past few years, I’ve changed career paths a few times. I started college with the goal of becoming a therapist, intent on gaining a degree in psychology. That changed quickly, leading me to the position of English teacher, then publisher, then editor, then author and now librarian.
My mother used to take my younger sister and I to our local library when we were in elementary school. It was a safe place to develop a skill as crucial as reading. Librarians direct you to the best resources and offer their professional and personal help to make sure you find what you come looking for, and more. A few of the librarians in my hometown have been staples of my elementary and middle school experiences. I’ve come to see some of them as models for what I aspire to be.
Not everyone knows what they want to be, especially young adults. It’s so hard to choose when there are so many options! I knew early on that I wanted to do something relating to reading and writing, but it’s okay to have several ideas. This is what college is for! Explore your interests, change your major, find out what makes you happy. College teaches you so much, in classes and with friends, and it is the ideal time to find out what makes you YOU. You might not get that time later on, once real life sets in.
After returning from India, I had to start thinking about real life things: summer jobs, classes for next semester, grad school applications and so on. It’s scary to jump from one big life stage to the next, and as a rising college senior I’m feeling it more than ever. Deciding to come to India was one of these big life transitions. I knew that I would be challenged in ways that would make me scared, stressed and uncomfortable. You might find yourselves feeling similar emotions, even though you’ll be there for a shorter time. But don’t let them deter you from having the most fulfilling experience that you can!
Even though you’ll be with each other on your trip, you still might feel lonely. In my experience, this isn’t a bad thing, but an incentive to explore your personal thoughts on your situation. It’s easy to stay in a group mindset the whole time, but it’s important to approach this experience in an individual way too. The times when I went off to explore on my own were truly the most meaningful for me.
I’d like to share a story that synthesizes what I’ve just written about. On my last day in Darjeeling, I had some time to myself. I decided to wander around the side I hadn’t explored yet, past the main square of the town. I walked past some shops and houses, a small school and a few guesthouses. It became quieter as I moved away from the bustle of town. Children walked by on their way home from school. Stray dogs sniffed around the pathways. I had had a lot on my mind all day because it was my last full day before heading back to Hyderabad and home. After following the path for about 40 minutes, I was lost. I sat on the edge of the path, above a steep drop to the next level of path ten feet down. I looked out on the endless hills and floating clouds, at the small colorful houses staggered among the green hills, at an old man working his way slowly uphill on the path below. It was breathtakingly beautiful.
The old man disappeared around a bend and I was alone. Totally alone, without a working phone or Wifi or even the certainty that following the path back would lead me back to town. And yet, I wasn’t nervous. Maybe I should have been, but this was such a wholly peaceful place that I felt free of such fetters. I sat on the edge of the path for a while, breathed the crisp air, felt the quiet. It was the most peaceful moment of my life. I felt light, like every worry I’ve ever had floated away from me. I was sad to leave beautiful Darjeeling, the pace of Indian life and the fascinating people I met. But I was blissfully happy. I felt clean. I thought, this is what I came to India for.
And it truly was. Not for Darjeeling itself (although it topped my “To Visit” list), but for that feeling. The feeling of liberation from things that bogged me down before. You can’t run away from your problems, but you can learn new ways to deal with them. I think this has been the biggest benefit of my time in India. Everyone has problems, things that they worry about. School, jobs, family, friends, societal expectations—these can weigh on us like heavy clothes, restricting our actions. It is the same in India, but the way I learned to deal with these issues there was so different than how I did at home. I adopted a new mantra during my time abroad: it’ll happen when it happens. Worrying about something won’t make it come to pass any faster or better. (This is especially true with Indian transportation and offices.) I can take things in stride now, with less anxiety and more acceptance. Of course, I still worry about big things (Who am I?), but these will be answered in time. The little things slide over the big things like water on rocks, and soon enough they’ll answer themselves.
I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn what I have about India, the world and my place in it. It has been a really nurturing experience, even during the roughest times. I can’t say enough how important it has been for me to experience a trip away from my home. It’s so exciting that you all will be doing the same! If you take anything away from your trip, try to see the inherent value in the culture you experience. You all come from different places and the more you experience, the more you develop your own story.
I want to thank you for accompanying me on my journey through India and back. It means a lot that you all are willing to listen to my thoughts. Writing about my experiences made me think about them in a more nuanced way, fostering self-exploration and increased interest in my surroundings. I’m so happy to offer my memories of this semester to you. ILP is a fantastic program with really admirable goals and it has been a privilege for me to work with you all. There’s no doubt in my mind that you will have as fulfilling an experience as I did, and your education and self-discovery will continue well beyond your trip. All the best to you, and please keep in touch!