One of the wonderful things about taking a year off from grad school to complete my fellowship is the sudden inundation of time. And I’m saying this at the end of a 6-day week. As in, it is Saturday night, I got back from work at 6pm, and I still feel as though I am ample free time. It is utterly glorious. It is also an indication of how intense life at Fletcher can be – classes, homework, job(s), internship search, funding search, hanging out at the Blakeley kitchen, going to friends’ houses, running, tennis, clubs… If I ever had a free moment, I filled it with something.

That’s not to say that I’m slacking here, either. I’ve gathered my share of projects to supplement my work with Akanksha:

  • A 4-week online course in technology in M&E
  • Working on a committee to establish a Fletcher M&E consulting group
  • Blogging
  • Keeping in touch with people from home
  • Reading
  • Feeding myself (the corner stores near my place will now give me produce on credit – more on that another day)
  • Writing a case study on BRAC’s mobile money pilots (you know, the thing that’s supposed to hopefully be my capstone project for my master’s? Yeah, that thing…)

It’s delightful to have the time to tackle these projects. I’m loving it. Even if it makes me feel slightly brain dead to continue working after leaving the office, it only scratches the surface of how drained a day at Fletcher made me feel.

I miss that place like crazy.

So as a starting point – I am incredibly grateful and happy that I’m here in India with all of the opportunities AIF has given me. I thoroughly believe that this is a crucial time to practice the analytical and practical skills that I learned during my first year at Fletcher while gaining initial field experience. As far as my future job search is concerned, this is just as important as the degree that I’ll hold in my hands in about a year and a half. I’m proving that I can do this.

There’s another reason that I was attracted to this fellowship, and it wasn’t until I read another blogger’s post about something entirely different that I realized it myself.

I remember back to conversations with family in November and December. My grandmother could only laugh that I’d prefer to go to India than Israel. (This came with my insistence that my AIF application needed time and energy, so I wasn’t really interested in applying for a birthright trip, regardless of my eligibility.) I remember my father just shaking his head, a little bemused. A decent summarization of a question he asked me would be: “Why do you keep picking these places?”

Part of it is instinct. I go with my gut for programs like this. I’ll hear about something, and then I’ll let it settle in the back of my mind. If it sticks, if it still niggles at my curiosity after weeks have passed, then I start writing the application. It’s in the gut – it’s right, or it’s not. Whether or not the application itself is successful, that’s another matter. But the decision to apply – that I leave to my gut.

At the risk of making myself sound like a masochist, I think fear plays a major part of this gut feeling. It’s in the challenge. In the blog I read tonight, the author said:

I’d love to say I’m fearless and do new things because I feel I can. I’m actually quite fearful so I do new things because I can’t stand my fearfulness. It annoys me, it insults my intelligence.

I freaking love this. YES YES YES. This is it. This is the little extra that pushes me forward through the days when living in a foreign country loses its shiny newness and the weariness of daily struggles threaten to overwhelm. Why I keep putting myself on planes bound for the other side of the world where I am the proverbial stranger in a strange land. I’d love to say that I pack my things into two suitcases and uproot my life because I feel I can. The truth is that these journeys are terrifying. There’s a reason that every airport goodbye begins with teary eyes. The unknown looms before me, and fear makes me question my sanity. And yet… I can’t stand my fearfulness. There’s something that drives me to look at that fear, tremble in it, and then instruct myself to make it happen. I can’t stand my fearfulness, so I face it headlong. A challenge that is beyond anything I’ve done before and that will probably knock me off my feet time and time again? Bring it on. Let’s do this.

A perk of letting this personality quirk take me to another country? I’m consciously recognizing the impact of this attitude on myself for the first time. I can see the dots being connected to form a cohesive image. This is the first time I moved across the world without a place to live. But if I could figure my way around Dhaka, I knew I’d figure Pune out. Bangladesh was the first time I encountered the dizzying extremes of those who have and those who don’t. I navigated the system of inequality and felt the sticky shame of having more than some people can even dream of. I left with more compassion and desperation than when I arrived. Korea was the first time I went to a country without a solid grasp of the language. I learned Korean, and I became fluent in body language. Japan was the first time I went abroad alone. It was awesome, plain and simple – it cemented my desire to experience the world. Fletcher was the first time I found myself in a cohort of insanely talented, intelligent, and awe-inspiring people and accepted that I too belonged. I held my ground pretty well, and I continue to learn daily from my classmates, even though they’re thousands of miles away. I ran 13.1 miles at once. I never knew my body was so powerful.

I could go on.

By persistently doing things that make me face my fearfulness, I have slowly and surely built up my confidence in myself. It goes a little like this: If I could do that, surely I can do this. It opens me up for the possibility of failure, but I’d rather suffer the metaphorical (and occasionally literal) pain of falling flat on my face than the mental suffering of knowing that I chickened out.

You learn more falling on your face than you do on your two feet.