**This post was written for Portland State’s International Internship Program (IE3) as a past participant.
Last summer, as I completed my first year of the Master’s in Social Work Program at the University of Washington, I conducted a portion of my practicum placement in a rural area of India through IE3. At this time, I could not anticipate how this experience would change my view of the world, as well as the opportunities it would bring my way.
When I arrived in India, I stepped into a land where no one knew anything about me. In fact, the aspects I believed to be the most important pieces of who I am such as my education, career, and expertise were completely irrelevant in the context of working with impoverished women in rural India. Given this, one of the only tools I had was my ability to build trusting relationships with those who I encountered. I drew upon my experiences as a first generation American in the U.S. and my ability to relate to different cultures to overcome barriers and create connections with the women in the villages. Though the vulnerability I experienced from being so far out of my comfort zone was very difficult, it was also the greatest gift my time in India brought my way. It forced me to depend on my relationships with others, not only to access everyday necessities but to find the comfort and sense of belonging and community that I needed. In turn, this opened my eyes to a new way of living and existing in the world.
As my time in India came to an end, I felt an overwhelming feeling of sadness. I realized this sadness did not only stem from saying goodbye to my life and friends in India but the fear that I would never experience or be challenged to see my life the way I did while I was there. When I returned to school to finish the last year of my MSW degree I was under a great deal of pressure to determine my next steps in terms of my career path, my social work specialization and area of practice. Having worked professionally for four years prior to starting graduate school, I could not envision myself graduating and moving into another 9-5 job. This confusion pushed me to think about the times in my life that I felt genuinely happy and the first thing that came to mind was India. Through this realization I accepted that traveling, having new experiences, seeing the world, and being challenged by unfamiliar settings is a part of who I am and something that will never fade away. I also recognized the value of cross-cultural exchanges and how struggling to adapt in a foreign country will personalize and aide in my future work with immigrant populations domestically. As a result I decided to pursue opportunities for international travel as a post-graduate with the chance that it may become a reality.
Soon after, I learned about the Bonderman Fellowship, offered through the University of Washington, which awards seven undergraduate and seven graduate students at the University of Washington $20,000 to travel and see the world. The catch? Each student must travel solo for eight months, to at least six countries in at least two regions of the world. Recipients are not permitted to pursue academic study, projects or research. The charge is to simply travel, learn, explore and grow.
To apply, I translated many of the emotions I felt in India that fueled my passion for travel and my desire to connect with people from different cultures into a four page essay. Two months later, I got a completely unexpected and life changing call where I was told that I had been accepted as a 2010 Bonderman Fellow.
As a Bonderman Fellow, I hope to draw from my time in India, my personal experience as a first-generation American and my advocacy work with immigrant populations in Seattle throughout my world travels. I will travel to regions of the world, including the Middle East, East Africa, West Africa and Latin America which have undergone socio-political and economic turmoil therefore instigating global migration trends. In each country I visit, I plan to explore the histories and current context of various displaced and persecuted communities and gather their unique stories of both joy and struggle. Most importantly I hope to continue to utilize relationship building and human connection as a way to cultivate healing and growth both for myself and those I meet throughout my travels in a similar way that I did while I was in India. I hope to honor the hardships and experiences of the people in each country by folding their stories into my future life, career, understanding of the world and who I am as a person.
Although this opportunity is unique to the University of Washington, and I am so fortunate to have the chance to take on a journey of this magnitude, I also know that even if it was not through the Bonderman Fellowship, I would have found a way to pursue this dream.
Though it can feel as though once you return from a life changing time abroad you will never experience the same feelings of wonder, awe, exhilaration and personal challenge again (and in some ways you won’t), there are so many opportunities to continue to explore the world. A year ago if someone would have told me I would be standing in front of a world map pointing to the countries I will visit I would not have believed them. However, because I followed my passion and was able to open my mind and heart to new experiences while letting go of the traditional career and life trajectories, today this is my reality. The first step is deciding that you are committed to making international experiences a part of your life; once you have done that, everything else will eventually fall into place.
To read more about my time and experiences in India please visit: