Friday, July 6, 2012

Unsolicited Advice




                I’m still figuring out what being on a Watson Fellowship looks like. Places, people, and daily life this year constantly change and I keep adapting and readapting.  I don’t consider myself an expert at this at all.
                That said, there are some things I’ve figured out over the last 344 days that I’ve been out of the country.  There is no possible way to prepare for a year as big and as new as this, but thankfully, there are no wrong answers either.  There are a few areas, however, where trial and error is not particularly helpful (areas like buying luggage or a laptop). I was lucky to be able to talk to a few former Watsons before I left the states last year, and have been trying to pay it forward by talking with a few future Watsons as well. In case anyone stumbles upon this blog, I thought I’d write down some of what I think were the best lessons I’ve learned/advice I’ve gotten along the way.  Feel free to leave a comment here or e-mail me if you have any specific questions.  
                There are as many ways to “do the Watson” as there are people doing it. Some people visit two countries and some people visit eight. A lot of the practicalities below have only been arrived at from my own experiences, which might be completely different from anyone else’s.  I hope the information below can at least give future Watsons or other long-term travelers some things to think about, and might give regular readers some further insight about how I structured this year and made my decisions.
                Disclaimers aside, here goes…

  
1.       1. PREPARING:

Booking Flights: The fellowship leaves it up to us how much we want to plan in advance. This means that we could leave home with every one of our flights booked to get us back to the U.S. the following year, or we could leave with just one ticket out to our first project country. There is really no wrong way to do it, and it just depends how flexible you want to be.
In part because I’m kind of a planner to begin with, and also because I had planned on going to 7 different project countries, I realized that it would be to my advantage to book as many flights in advance as I could. Of course, this made me make a lot of decisions last summer that I wasn’t sure how to make—how long to spend in each country for example, and what my dates in each would be. The way I went about making these decisions was somewhat arbitrary. Basically I divided by 365 days into 7 countries and estimated I’d spend about 7.5 weeks in each place. Once I did that, I got in touch with STA travel, explained my situation, and went about mapping out with them what the cheapest routes would be.  
I did not end up getting any kind of round the world ticket (I found most of these offers were too specific in their regulations—you can only move in one direction, for example, or can only visit x number of Asian countries and y number of African countries).  I did, however, end up saving a lot of money by booking so far in advance and by booking all my tickets together, and through STA travel (under a Watson fellowship we can qualify for student discounts).
Although I arrived at my flights and dates through a somewhat arbitrary route, and was worried booking all these flights in advance would leave me with too little flexibility, I found that actually having flight dates (however they were arrived at), gave me something to work with. During the planning process, it was immensely helpful to think, “okay, I’ll be in Morocco in December”, for example, and then when I began e-mailing contacts I actually knew what kind of time frame I’d be there.  I ended up booking all my flights from the date I left the states through April (that’s the furthest in advance you could book), and then booking the rest in December.
Although I can definitely see the benefits of leaving yourself more flexibility than I did, if you’re on the upper end of the 2-8 country spectrum, I would recommend a similar strategy. I did still keep in the back of my mind that if I ended up wanting to, I could cancel flights and rebook. I also added in a few side trips later (the trip to Istanbul for my birthday, for example), once I saw how my budget was doing.  

Making Contacts.  A huge part of your Watson application is showing that you can make contacts in each country. That said, I think the foundation mainly wants to know that you feel comfortable e-mailing strangers and have strategies for going about this, than that you follow through on your contacts you made months earlier. Some of these contacts proved to be really valuable to me, but many of my contacts (for research and for housing), didn’t develop until I actually arrived somewhere, no matter how much I tried to do ahead of time. It was often hard for me to show up somewhere where I felt like I didn’t have anyone to call on or talk to about my research, but it was also a lesson that sometimes this is the best way to go. In Bali, for example, I quickly learned that sending e-mails and trying to set up appointments in advance was almost always futile. I’d have much better luck having interviews with people if I started spontaneous conversations in town. 

Housing:  If you don’t know where to start in a place, book a hostel for a few nights and look for something else while you’re there.  Or, maybe you’ll love the hostel, cut a good deal with the owners and end up staying.  The website Airbnb has also been quite helpful for me to find housing (though I only recently discovered it).  A lot of the people on that site have spare bedrooms in their houses/apartments and might be glad to host a more long-term traveler. It’s a more permanent solution than something like couchsurfing, and often cheaper than hostels and hotels (plus, it most often entails living with locals).  If you’re ever going to be in a place for a week or longer, ask for a discount.
Also, use your resources. Be an obnoxious networker. Talk to people at home who know people abroad and realize what a small world it is. Make mental promises to pass on the kindness that strangers will show you to others at future dates. If random friends of friends do put you up, and don’t accept money, find ways to repay them while you’re living in their home (babysitting, dog-walking, doing the dishes).  I have been the lucky beneficiary of free housing for a few nights from random connections such as my sister’s husband’s sister’s boyfriend, to my mom’s colleague’s parents.  Adapt to their lifestyles, be clean, be courteous. We are living in an age where handwritten thank you notes (and chocolate) still hold immense value.  
Also, read online about how to check for bed bugs. Follow the steps every time you get to a new bed. Seriously. 

When To Begin: The Watson Foundation leaves it up to us to decide when we leave the country; this could be anytime between our college graduations and August 1st (all fellows have to be back for the returning fellows conference which is usually in early August).  I chose to leave on the late end (July 28th, to be exact) for a variety of reasons, some of which were purely personal (I wanted to go on vacation with my family before I  left and my sister was getting married in early July). That said, I would recommend a similar strategy simply because there’s some processing that needs to happen between graduation and when you leave. A previous Watson Fellow told me that she thought it was really important to give yourself a few weeks between graduation and when you leave to pay people visits; not only because it’s nice to have a proper goodbye but also because it’s nice for you to be able to see your friends’ new lives post-graduation, and be able to imagine them while you’re away.  That way, mentally, your relationships don’t only exist at the college you just left behind.  




     2. PACKING.

Luggage.  Don’t skimp on luggage. While this might be different if you’re being more sedentary than I am, I’ve found that using a chunk of my Watson stipend to invest in good luggage was an excellent decision.  Mine has held up remarkably well, despite dragging it along dusty Indian streets, through pouring rain on German cobblestones, and Zambian mud. It is also just about always packed to the brim, and it’s miraculous the zipper hasn’t given out on me. 
In other words, I’m basically in love with my Osprey bag, and I’m so glad I have it as my travel buddy. I decided to go with something I could roll and carry if I wanted (although I haven’t been in any situations where it’s been worth carrying it). It also comes with a detachable daypack. It’s forced me to pack very lightly, but gives me room for the essentials, and it’s pretty much perfect.  I would really recommend trying to stick with ONE big (not too big) bag and one small daypack.  Take deep breaths and remind yourself you can get rid of things/buy new ones as you go along.
This was the particular model I got (but I found it very on sale at Eastern Mountain Sports): 
http://www.ospreypacks.com/en/product/convertible_wheeled_packs/meridian_2875l

(Un)mentionables. Don’t skimp on underwear, either. I’ve probably mentioned my quick dry underwear on this blog already way more than is appropriate, but it’s been a great traveling tool. I discovered them at an Eastern Mountain Sports in Burlington (you can also find them online, I think the Ex Officio and Patagonia brands are particularly popular). Though it might not be the most attractive underwear you'll ever wear, you’re probably going to be doing a lot of handwashing and you don’t want underwear that’s going to fall apart. The best part about quick dry underwear is that you can wash them in a sink or while you’re in the shower (desperate times call for desperate measures), hang them to dry overnight, and they’ll be ready to wear by morning. They’re a great quick fix when laundry isn’t an option. So worth it.

Other Clothing. Before I left home, I found it immensely difficult to find “travel clothing” that was not intended for fifty year-old women going on hardcore hikes in the Amazon.  Minus the quick dry underwear (obviously), and a pair of waterproof/lightweight hiking pants, I pretty much just packed clothing I didn’t care too much about while trying to strike the difficult balance of being modest/staying cool in many of the countries I was going to.  If you get somewhere and feel your wardrobe is entirely inappropriate, the good news is that pretty much worldwide, people wear clothes these days, so you can buy what you need.  Do remember that although your mind might naturally wander towards “travel clothes = grubby clothes”, it’s been useful for me to have an outfit or two that’s a bit dressier for when I conduct interviews with professors,  attend religious ceremonies, or get invited to the random Balinese wedding.  Also, for the women-folk, scarves are wonderful things. They are often cheap to buy in foreign countries and very multi-purpose. They can cover various appendages (your head, when appropriate, your chest, when appropriate),  keep you from falling into severe outfit-boredom, and hide the fact you haven’t done laundry in way too long.

Shoes Are Important. (This item of business might be a bit gender specific). I think I have mentioned my crying-in-the-Burlington-shoe store incident on this blog before, but for whatever reason, packing shoes became THE manifestation for my anxiety about the Watson last summer.  Shoes are heavy and take up space and I knew I only wanted to bring a few pairs but could not figure out what would work in all of the climates/countries I was planning on visiting. I ended up bringing three pairs of shoes:
                                1) Combination hiking boot/sneakers. (These are also Gore-tex and waterproof and generally awesome. Just in the past couple weeks I've been glad that I'm able to both climb volcanoes in them, and go for jogs around my block. 
                                2) Chaco Sandals. You only have to see the (seemingly permanent) tan lines on my feet to know how much I’ve worn these this year. They can double as shower shoes in hostels, keep your feet cool, and are sturdy and supportive enough to walk in for miles on end. Adore them. (Really any sturdy sandal--Tevas, Birkenstocks, etc.. would work). .
                                3) Black flats. I got a pair of very supportive (i.e. kind of dorky) Merrell's flats that I can wear with skirts but also walk around in without being in any kind of pain/discomfort. 

Throughout the last eleven months I’ve also acquired and then discarded a pair of boots (Europe was just way too cold not to get a secondhand pair) and a pair of flip-flops. 

              Electronics.  My camera: This is the model I have and I adore it: http://usa.canon.com/cusa/consumer/products/cameras/digital_cameras/powershot_sx130_is. 

Before I left I was trying to figure out whether to buy a super nice, bigger camera to document all my experiences, or something smaller I could easily fit in my pocket, and I ended up with something in-between. The camera is small enough to still fit in a coat pocket (though maybe not a jeans pocket) but takes pretty wonderful photos.  I also chose this particular kind because it takes AA batteries, something I’ve found immensely useful when, for example, I've been on safari wanting to snap a picture of a zebra and I can just load up new batteries instead of having to figure out a place to charge my camera. That said, using AA batteries is less eco-friendly, so it’s kind of a toss- up.  (One thing I love about my camera that you might want to look for, whatever kind you go for, is the ability to take short videos on it). 
                My laptop: I ended up doing some research into getting a netbook v. getting a small, light laptop and decided that (although a bit more expensive), getting a laptop was the way to go. This is an updated model of the kind I have and I love how lightweight it is: http://www.shopping.hp.com/en_US/home-office/-/search-SimpleOfferSearch?SearchTerm=dm1z&cattitle=dm1z&aoid=51320. 
It’s served me well, and has more stamina/ability to multitask than most netbooks. 

                My Kindle: I never thought I’d say it, but I am a huge advocate for kindles. I love books--I love holding them, I love dog-earing pages (I’m one of those people), I love their covers, but I am such a convert. I got one as a Christmas present about halfway through my year and it changed everything. It is so nice not to be lugging around books or be on the eternal search for books in English. In many countries, I also learned that because English books were pretty much primarily for tourists, they were ridiculously expensive.  Some kind of electronic reader is definitely worth thinking about. 

                  Drugs. Sometimes I feel like a walking drugstore, but I’m okay with that. Most things, like band-aids, you can find everywhere, but it might help to bring some basics like painkillers, antibiotic gel, cipro, pepto-bismol, and a thermometer. (Really do bring a thermometer. It will help you figure out when/if you need to go to a clinic or not). Malaria meds can be a challenge to figure out. I learned, for example, that the only way to find the specific kind of malaria medication I needed for Zambia was in the U.S., but I could get the malaria medication I needed to be taking in India quite cheaply when I was there. It depends on the kind of mosquito as well as what is available. Talk to a travel clinic and try to remain calm when they tell you how much malaria medication costs. (It's insane). Also, one of the best things I did was to take samples of a few different kinds of malaria medication before I went. I tried doxycycline before I left (a much cheaper alternative to malarone), but found that it made me vomit about ten minutes after taking it. Not a good thing, but better to learn that while I was still at home and before buying two months-worth.  

        The following things are probably TMI and definitely gender-specific, but I owe it to future female Watsons to say them. 1) Bring tampons. There are some countries where these are very hard to find/don’t exist, and they don’t take up much room in your suitcase (especially if you take them out of the box first). 2) Bring a morning-after pill. This was some of the best advice I got before I left home, just because having it can provide a lot of peace of mind. Regardless of whatever you imagine your level of sexual activity abroad to be, if you’re a female traveling, I think you should have one in your suitcase.  There are some countries where this pill doesn’t exist and/or is illegal, and while I don’t want to go down the path of potential terrible situations, it doesn’t hurt to carry one with you, regardless. 

         Paperwork. Finding places to print things has been an unanticipated Watson-year challenge (or at least a hassle). In light of this, I would be sure to bring any essential documents with you in a folder (as well as a list of emergency numbers) and print out all of your flight information/itinerary in advance. Do not expect all airports to be like airports in the U.S. and assume you can just scan a code or look something up on your phone at the airport. You probably can’t. 

                   With documents I followed a "2 money belt" system I read about on a blog way back when, but in a slightly more toned-down way. I did pack two money belts and kept one either on my person or in my backpack/purse while the other one stayed in my luggage/bigger bag back at my hostel/hotel/apartment. In each of them I had copies of my passport, copies of my Watson ID, a bit of American cash, a credit card, and copies of my health insurance card.
 
                    Stickers. Before I left, my mom gave me a pack of 100 stickers to bring with me. Best way ever to make friends with little kids in foreign countries and they take up very little room in your bag. Basically, stickers surpass language barriers and create world peace. (They are much less potentially problematic than handing out money).


                   Sleep Sack. There is so much travel gear out there in the world, and it’s always a question of how much you want to spend and how much you want to make room for in your bags. I will put in a good word for buying a sleep sack, however. (You can also easily make your own by sewing two sheets together). Basically, in dubious-mattress situations, it gives a layer between you and your bedding and can also make traveling while in transit more comfortable. (Here is a link to one on Amazon so you get what I'm talking about: http://www.amazon.com/Hammock-Bliss-Sleep-Sack-Sleeping/dp/B004TB7RV6).  

                  Random Things: Think about bringing a watch ( “our generation” seems to rely on ipods/phones/computers to tell us the time, but when you're dealing with various time zones/technological barriers, watches are helpful to have). So is a pair of scissors, nail clippers, a nail file, and a cheap phone that can accept various foreign sim cards. Also, the Watson Foundation will mail you a card called, "Am I Getting This Right?" Bring it with you. You will read it often. (And you're probably doing just fine). 

                  Remember: You can always buy things as you go, and you will WANT to buy things as you go. You can (almost) always mail a box of stuff home, donate things to charity, and find ways to create space for the new lovely things you have happened upon. Also, remember to ask yourself as you pack,  “Would I have a mental breakdown if any of these items were lost/stolen?” I needed to make sure I was packing with that possibility/potential in mind, just to make sure I wasn’t bringing the most beloved possession of my life with me. That said, there are a few things I’m very attached to that have been inevitably destroyed with wear and tear this year, but I’ve accepted that these are very poetic and noble deaths and I'm okay they’ve passed their peak. Just be aware that you might be shortening the life span of whatever you bring with you. 
                      My mom gave me a pair of earrings before I left and said, “Take these with you and know that when you wear them, I’m thinking of you." She also then quickly added, “but if you lose them, don't read into it. They’re just things.” Treat everything you bring like that. 



  3. PARTICIPATING 

     Relationships. Relationships are different when you travel.  You quickly realize that there is no such thing as a social situation that is inherently awkward; people just make them so. I want to slap myself across the face for the number of times in college I thought “Oh, I don’t really know him/her, this might be awkward…”—note to self: do you know how much you actually had in common? Do you know what a gift it was/is that you spoke the same language?
        This is to say, you realize that you can talk, play, eat with, or simply coexist with just about anyone in the world. Worst comes to worst, you sit in silence and then laugh together about how weird it is to be sitting in silence.  After a few hours, it will be over.
        Even though you’re traveling alone, you will not have a problem finding ways to be social. In fact, at this point in the year, I am entirely sick of being social/meeting new people.  Also, relationships have a really different time frame when you travel.  I recently stumbled upon the blog of Jodi (OF Legal Nomads), who has way more experience traveling than me who put it perfectly, “When I meet a great group of people we end up spending days talking, sharing meals and exploring – despite the fact that if this was New York and I said “hey, let’s share lunch, dinner and drinks for the next seven days straight I’d be deemed a stalker. Those rules don’t apply. Most people are open to meeting others and learning from them as they travel.” (She has a great list of travel tips here: http://www.legalnomads.com/2012/04/tips-world-travel.html).
       That said, you also don’t have to be best friends with everyone you meet.  Even though you want to be seizing the opportunities you’re given, it’s okay to have some nights in by yourself watching bad American TV on your computer.
        Make friends but also embrace anonymity. You have the power to reinvent yourself with everyone you meet. Give yourself license to be a bumbling tourist at times--it's okay to be walking around with your camera and a map and be in embarrassing shoes. It's okay to ask for directions. You will probably never see these people again.

Being a Solo Female Traveler. I’ve read a lot of articles as of late on “being a solo female traveler.” Whenever I read them, I always completely agree that being a solo female traveler has its own set of specific challenges, while simultaneously feeling like people make way too big a deal about that title/role/perspective. I think that while being a woman alone in the world definitely has its own challenges, and requires its own adaptations, whatever and whoever a person is entails certain adaptations when you travel. 
It’s been interesting, for example, to talk to my friend, Deivid, who is a Columbian-American male, about his own Watson experiences.  We’ve talked about how in some ways, my gender has allowed me certain advantages; I’m able to be in traditionally-female spaces that would often not be culturally acceptable for him to be in. I can have conversations with women of all ages without worrying about how my actions are being interpreted. In general, people might trust me more as an outsider because most places in the world, white women are not viewed as being particularly threatening. That said, I probably got yelled at/taken pictures of on the streets of Delhi more than Deivid did.
You win some, you lose some.   
Whenever you travel, the visible aspects of your identity come with you, and unfortunately, often those aspects have certain stereotypes attached to them in the places you are going.
             Whoever you are, on a Watson, I would recommend that “staying safe” be a priority for you. This is not only because I have somewhat neurotic/maternal instincts, but also because there are too many moments this year where I’ve realized how long it would take people at home to know if anything happened to me (scary but true).  In some places I’ve been this year, this has meant timing my dinners so that I’m back at my hostel or hotel before nightfall. In some places this has meant not giving people the benefit of the doubt, even if I feel slightly guilty about it.
              I can speak to my own experience traveling as a white woman in many places where I was a minority and/or a rarity for walking around on my own. If you are like me, you will probably get a lot of attention (and casual marriage proposals). There are many ways to deal with this, but in terms of my own personal safety, largely I’ve ignored harassment on the street.   Even if you’re the kind of woman who regularly talks back to cat callers in Philadelphia (power to you), I don’t think trying to have a language-barrier-ridden conversation in an unknown environment with street harassers in Morocco will work as well, no matter how much the liberal arts student in you is begging for a cross-cultural conversation about feminism. (Though if you manage to do this, please tell me about it). For me, there would be too many unknown factors that would make this a dangerous thing. I tend to ignore anyone giving me attention that I don’t want, and, if I feel like I need backup, duck into a shop/stall until it subsides, or get the shopkeeper/owner on your side. Just as many strangers as there are who might make you feel uncomfortable, there are plenty more who will want to have your back.
                If you want to do more, I also inadvertently discovered a strategy one of my last few days in Zambia. I was walking by myself when this guy came up behind me and muttered something under his breath. I genuinely didn’t hear/understand him, so I turned around and asked him, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that, what did you say?” From the look in his eyes I could tell it had been something he did not feel comfortable repeating to my face.  So, that was that.
                If you do feel concerned, try to prepare yourself so that you can walk around feeling (or at least looking) confident. Carry a whistle. Make sure you have the local emergency numbers in your phone. Don’t be afraid to be assertive. Feel free to tell people you work for the U.S. Consulate and you are meeting your boyfriend/husband/Father in ___ location.  You can lie. You can ask to speak to a manager, you can threaten to call the traffic police. Don’t walk around being scared, you are in charge here. Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, find a way out of the situation.
                Also, use common sense. A general rule is figuring out what the people around you are doing.  For example, I stayed in after dark in India not only because people warned me about being a “solo female traveler” there, but also because I didn’t see any Indian women out by themselves after dark either.  Same goes for dress codes. I have major pet peeves against travelers who show inappropriate amounts of skin and/or exhibit PDA in places where it's not okay. While it may not be entirely appropriate for you to dress in a saree on your first day in India, either, be respectful. You are going to stand out enough as a tourist.

               Budgeting. Keep track of your budget as you go along. The Watson will e-mail you a spreadsheet with various categories on it. Make it your friend early on--you do not want to be scrambling at the end to remember where your money went/what currency it was spent in. Keep track and notice where you might have wiggle room, let it help you make choices: (i.e. “because  I got free housing for a week in Germany, I have enough money to do a three-day Safari in Zambia.”). 
                 Learn your priorities. I figured out early on that a place in my budget where I did not want to skimp too much was on housing. I found it really necessary for me to be able to have a home space to return to where I felt completely comfortable (and, after a lot of shared hostel rooms where I got sick of small talk, privacy also became important). Some people might be completely happy sharing a room all year, in which case, you can choose to prioritize something else. Figure out what makes you comfortable and what kind of lifestyle you can sustain for twelve month. 
                Also, two cents on food: it's worth eating PB&J for dinner three nights in a row so that you can then try the #1 Trip Advisor rated restaurant in whatever city you’re in, rather than having four mediocre cheapish dinners out.

                Time. Embrace the timeline. The whole Watson “you can’t go home for a year except in case of emergencies" rule at first seemed like a cruel, weird, imposition hanging over my head, but it's actually a rule I came to really appreciate. Having that structure in the midst of chaos was actually quite helpful. It allowed me to remember that there would be an inevitable endpoint, someone else had determined it for me, and, when things were hard, I could countdown and celebrate how far along I was.  

                 Daily Life.  Find a way to feel productive, but also broaden your definition of what productivity is. It might be learning more about a place you're in by taking a trip to the National Museum. It might be having a long conversation with a stranger over coffee. The times I got the most down this year were when I felt like I wasn’t “doing anything.” I realized I needed to redefine for myself what doing something was and also find a way to make my project feel more coherent. In my case, I’ve used writing “name posts” on my blog as a way to feel like I was doing something with my research. I've also tried to give myself some structure whenever possible; whether this means scheduling formal interviews or taking a language class. Other people have created different answers for themselves. 
               Be aware that when you’re abroad, different things take different amounts of energy and time. Some of the best advice I've gotten was to try to just do two things a day.  It might take a few hours to figure out how to do laundry in a new place or get a sim card or go grocery shopping. Be patient with yourself. 
               Most importantly, write, take pictures, draw, buy things, find things--do whatever it is you need to do to externalize this experience. Sometimes it's all going to feel like a dream. You're going to cling to these tangible reminders of all that you're experiencing, and so will many people who care about you at home.        

          24-Hour Blues. The first 24 hours in a place are usually terrible. You will wonder why you ever decided you picked this particular place, you will be jet-lagged, you will be irrationally angry that people don’t speak English. Read this article from the New York Times and listen to songs that remind you of college. Maybe cry a little. It will pass.

 http://frugaltraveler.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/02/when-youve-got-those-first-24-hour-blues/

              Other Things. Call/gchat/e-mail/facebook/write to your loved ones. Especially your parents/guardians. They are pretending to be really cool with this Watson thing, and they might almost fool you, but they’re probably actually really freaked out and worried. 
                 Also, send postcards. There is far too little snail mail in our lives today.  

Finally.... 
                 There is no such thing as the perfect Watson Fellow. I was talking with someone who is thinking about applying for a Watson the other night, and wasn’t sure it was for her, and I realized what I really wanted to tell her is that it can be for anyone. To be honest, the Watson is not the most natural fit in the world for me. I think there are some people who get wanderlust all the time, who get itchy feet when they’re in one place for too long, who constantly want to be uprooting themselves. I’m not really one of them. I love to travel, but I’m also kind of a homebody. I didn’t go abroad in college, I hadn’t even been to the “developing world” (hate that term, kick me now,) before this year.  Even when I was in the final stages of the process and finally learned I got the Watson, I took the couple of weeks we had before giving an answer to decide if I wanted to take it. It was pretty clear I was going to, but I was really nervous.  I knew it would be hard and scary and that all of my relationships were going to change.   
               All of that was actually all the more reason to do it. If you're like me, think of this year as a challenge, and embrace that fear. Nod your head when people tell you how lucky you are to be doing this, and how amazing an opportunity it is. They are absolutely right, but it’s also okay to hate the Watson sometimes. 
                 Let yourself be lonely and scared and sick of diarrhea and insanely hot weather. 
                Then pick yourself up again, and realize you're going to come out of it okay, simply because the only way to go through time is forwards. And you're doing that, one day after another. The days will pile up and be filled with discoveries and things that begin to feel familiar even though at first they felt so strange. You will realize how much more you now know. You will realize how many more friends you have, how many places you are homesick for, how much kindness you have been a witness to. You will want to throw your arms around the world. You will understand, in a new way, what a gift it is to be who you are in it.
                 You're gonna come out of it feeling like you can do anything. I'm so excited for you.       


6 comments:

  1. NELL! THIS IS FANTASTIC! Thank you so so much for writing this :):)

    Sending you lots and lots of hearts <3

    ReplyDelete
  2. I LOVE that list. I think it's helpful to anyone traveling abroad, you should send it to the watson office.

    I would just change one thing: Skip the tampons, take this: http://www.ladycup.eu/
    Doesn't need space at all and you don't have to find a bin.

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  3. "I love to travel, but I’m also kind of a homebody." Nell, that's exactly why we loved having you with us.

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  4. Thank you for posting this! I am a 2013-2014 Watson Fellow and am about to embark for Tanzania on June 15th. The packing suggestions were especially helpful!!!

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  5. Nell, this is awesome! I'm on a Watson right now and your note about redefining productivity is especially helpful. I found your blog because my mom, Jane, was elementary school friends with Nina Bang Jenson. Hope you are still doing what you love. --another Nina

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  6. Such a small world, Nina! It's made even smaller by the fact my mom is giving a presentation at Whitman right now. Enjoy your adventuring! All the best. Feel free to shoot me an email if ever I can be of help.

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