So, I am about two weeks away from my travel date, which is the perfect time to reflect/ get excited/ freak out about my next three months. I remember last year, around this time, when my friend Sam Mcmullen was rushing to get all his affairs in order before getting on a plane to travel halfway across the world as a SISA fellow. I remember not being able to imagine being in his place and yet, one year later and I’m rushing around just the same. I’ve always thought of myself as someone who plays it safe, who reads about other people’s experiences on blogs and in books. So, to be frank, my process of applying to this fellowship was like applying to a dream that I didn’t and couldn’t imagine coming true, because it doesn’t fit with who I thought I was. But I applied anyway, hoping that through the process I would magically turn into the adventurer I imagined would travel to india to work for a non-profit all on their own. You can imagine my surprise when I was emailed an acceptance into the program. I was sitting in my boyfriends room in South Quad Dormitories, and I danced around the room to the music of my own joy for about five minutes before sitting down and going through, in mild despair, all the things I had to do before I could go to India, because I couldn’t trust myself to get everything done that needed to get done. Because I didn’t, and still don’t, believe that I was the type of person who could just travel to a new country all by themselves, without any “adult supervision.” Maybe there isn’t anyone who is like that, at least no one starts off like that. There are just people who make a jump, and trust the world enough to catch them and themselves enough to know how to be caught. So here I am, preparing to jump.
Source: Shunya.net, http://www.shunya.net/Pictures/Himalayas/DharamsalaMcLeodGunj/McLeodGanjTown.htm
A little about the work that I am doing- for two months, I will be living and working for Lha Charitable Trust, the largest NGO serving the Tibetan refugee community in Mcleod-Ganj/ Dharamshala. Tibetan refugees have been living in the area since the 1960s, when the current Dalai Lama was exiled from Chinese- controlled Tibet. Many Tibetans followed him due to a commitment to their culture and religion, or a fear of persecution by the Chinese government. Currently, my list of jobs is long and winding, I will probably narrow down what I’m doing when I arrive and learn the day-to-day processes of the organization. Currently, my biggest job will be designing and teaching english classes every day. I will also tutor people one on one and possibly write articles for the journal Lha Charitable trust compiles for the community. What first attracted me to this organization was the community they served. I was raised by a former buddhist nun who instilled in me a respect and admiration for buddhism as a religion and as a culture. The opportunity to learn from and serve a buddhist community felt like something I needed to do and experience- a completion of a cycle that was started when I was young. I have also, throughout college, been interested in cultural resistance and in lives “unimaginable” to the mainstream culture of the United States. Tibetan refugees, living exiled from their home country, not fully belonging to their host country, in my mind, lead lives that are in some ways “unimaginable” to me at this present moment. I want to make the unimaginable imaginable by learning and living with the community. That is, in part, why my research project is focused on how cultural perceptions and group homelessness (refugees are not citizens of Tibet or citizens of India) affect the individuals of the community and their relationship to each other and their religion.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, scared even. But when I think of the work I will be able to do, the access to communities and spaces and beauty to which I have never had access before, I am able to remember why I applied to this fellowship in the first place- to learn what cannot be learned in Michigan, to become a better ally and advocate for those I believe do not have enough advocates. So, in these next couple weeks I am going to read as much as I can, I am going to build up emotional strength, I am going to connect with my family and friends and remember where my love lies, all in the service of being the best ally and student I can be in the next few months.