As I finally have a moment to myself, I take a deep breath.
I think today arrived both slower and faster than we all expected. I still remember, 7 months ago, when I found out that I would be spending the year after graduation around the world. I'm not sure if my shock ever wore off, but I hope that I have been able to prepare myself in small and large ways. I slowly began introducing myself to international travel, first through a spring break trip to Spain, and then a month-long study abroad trip to South Africa. I learned how international travel can be incredibly challenging and rewarding, but it requires one to allow discomfort, and to sit in that discomfort and realize the reasons for it in order to allow growth.
Only a few hours into my eight months as a Bonderman Fellow, I have already been uncomfortable. Whether it was the sweaty walk from one terminal to the other in the hot LA summer with a large backpack, or the 3 times I've already gotten lost in this airport, or the long lines, I'm learning to be confident in my abilities and see where they can take me.
I would be lying if I didn't admit how nervous I am. Although I can no longer count the number of times I've traveled alone—be it a plane, bus, or train—and I've spent more time away from my family over the last four years than with them, this trip is a whole new adventure. One thing that my parents created for my brother and I from a very young age was a widespread sense of community. We moved quite frequently and we traveled often. Over the last few years, I've seen the benefit of this; there is no single place I call home and I often feel like I have "family" in many places that I go. My summer in New York allowed me to connect with the Sikh community in Manhattan through my internship. My summer in Washington, D.C. allowed me to reconnect with old Sikh youth camp friends. Although I have been "away from home" many times before, I always felt that home was with me.
But, if there are any disadvantages to this great childhood, it is this: I have never learned to be uncomfortable. Whenever I had a challenge or conflict in front of me, I could often solve it by running to my local "family." I learned to use this as a coping mechanism and, as a result, I think did not give myself the benefit to grow from these difficulties. As I embark on my time of solo travel, I hope to continue to build relationships and families and friendships around the world, but I hope to use this time to also build myself and grow as a person.
While saying goodbye to my family at the airport this morning, a sentiment that had bothered me for several months after accepting the fellowship briefly returned. I wondered, how strong will I be if I've hidden behind my community for this long? Can I really do this?
As my mom pulled me into a hug, I felt her pushing something into my hand. It was money. I looked at her confused, as I had already taken cash out of the bank the night before. She simply said, "savaa lakh." I looked carefully and noticed that it was a dollar bill and a quarter.
"To remember your Sikh tradition."
I smiled, remembering the stories she had told me as a child. Although Sikhs have always been the minority, our armies would elicit the notion of savaa lakh, or that the strength of one Sikh could represent the strength of 125,000. I remembered the email a dear friend, Teresa Mathew, had sent me reminding me of the "army of people" rooting for me in the U.S. I may be alone, but I still have the strength and the army of my family and friends behind me, and it will be this love that will carry me through the next eight months and beyond.
Although there are butterflies in my stomach and I know the 13 hour time difference will not be friendly to me, I am looking forward to eight months of discomfort, growth, change, and finding new homes. After all, "adventure is out there."