Monday, August 13, 2012

Watson By Numbers

 Greetings from PEI, Canada, where I've spent a sliver of every summer since I was five.
     I just realized I never posted a 12-month Watsoversary. There was a lot going on.
                During my 11th and 12th months abroad, I saw a free outdoor performance of Of Monsters and Men. I picked lupines on the side of the highway and figured out the Reykjavik bus system. I ate roast lamb at the homes of two different Icelandic families, I met with the former chair of the national naming committee. I stayed out until 5am and discovered eerily sunlit nightlife, went to a gallery opening, rode Icelandic horses. I received an Icelandic sweater (lopapeysa) as a gift and interviewed Iceland’s first female priest. I visited a summer home in Thingvellir that was full of red wine and patriotic singalongs.  I visited the Blue Lagoon, tried (and gagged on) rotten shark, said my goodbyes. I came home.
                I’m now somewhere between month 12 and month 13, because, as we learned/realized at the Watson conference last week, your Watson begins when you start applying and you’re on it for the rest of your life. The only difference is that after a year, the money runs out.
                The returning fellows conference in Wisconsin made for some of the most wonderfully intense days of my life. I was humbled to be in the company of such smart and innovative people; so caught up in the warmth and kindness that emanated from every room I walked into. Between the forty of us, we covered seventy-one countries this year. Since the founding of the fellowship in 1968, there have been over 2700 Watson fellows--we are now in their midst.  I got to see some of the faces behind the foundation, learn more about how the fellowship works, and hear about Thomas J. Watson, Sr. himself.  I met many former Watson fellows and listened to how this experience has continued to affect them (some in more direct ways than others) throughout their lives.
                I was deeply honored to be in the company of such incredible people. 

 This is the ONE photo I remembered to take during the conference...right before the opening cocktail reception with 2 of my roommates: Jessica Emory & Keren Yohannes. 

                 I think I can speak for all forty of us when I say that the conference helped us talk about our experiences in a way we hadn’t really wanted to (or knew how to) before. We were surrounded by people who not only understood the last year, but had lived it. Conversation topics ranged from digestive problems and bodily fluids to romance to language slips to serendipity, to the guilt that a lot of us were carrying. Guilt that comes from being a person of privilege meeting and living with people without many of the same privileges, and guilt that arises in our own country as we realize we had this $25,000 experience for our own personal development, and aren’t quite sure what to do with this gift. 

 After the conference...a group of us killing time at the Appleton airport. What a joy it was to travel WITH people. 

One of the things we gained from the conference (besides great conversation, shirts and water bottles), was a little red book with each of our photos and project descriptions. At the front, the foundation writes about the Watson as a year of “transformational exposure, intellectual entrepreneurship and experiential learning that contributes deeply to their [fellows] becoming more humane and effective participants in the world community.”
                We talked a lot about what this means and how we’ll all arrive at our own, individual, and often ambiguous answers.  People are always somewhat shocked when I tell them there is no pressure to “produce” anything from the Watson; but in some ways, I wonder if the lack of this requirement makes us more thoughtful about defining one for ourselves.  This might mean writing more about our research, looking for jobs with international aid organizations, or just living more thoughtful, examined lives in the U.S.  I know even if I do nothing further with this name research, my Watson experiences are going to profoundly shape how I see the world for the rest of my life. I will be a different kind of thinker, a different kind of writer, a different kind of daughter, a different kind of parent, all because of the journey I was lucky enough to take. 

Reunited with my beloved friend, Hadley, who came to visit me on PEI. She is a person who understands me like no other, and who is about to take a year-long journey to Amman, Jordan. I can only hope I can be as transcontinentally supportive, loving, and hilarious for her as she was for me. I am so excited for what lies ahead. (But in the future let's work on being in the same country at the same time).

                I’m still working on coming to terms with the past year, with what a gift it was, with how I will somehow merge who I am at home with who I was over the last twelve months. I’ll be home in Vermont with my parents over the coming weeks (months?) going over these questions and making lots of trips to see the people I’ve loved and missed. I’m taking it one step at a time. I have a final report due to the foundation in a few weeks that I’ll share with you then. I’m sure it will be full of more reflections and conclusions than I’m capable of making right now (I have, after all, only been back for 2 weeks—a good chunk of which has been spent at the returning fellows conference and, now, in Prince Edward Island, Canada…) Here is what I do know, some broken down pieces of a monumental year: 

Watson By Numbers: 

Days spent outside of the United States: 365

Blog posts: 163 (this makes 164)

Project country where I spent the most money on food: Ireland

Project country where I spent the least money on food: India

Visits to the hospital: 1

Broken kindles: 2

Broken cameras: 1

Packages of stuff mailed home: 7

Items Stolen: 0

Number of Project Countries: 7 (8 if we count Northern Ireland as the United Kingdom)

Longest Time in a Project Country: 55 days (Tie between India and Morocco)

Shortest Time in a Project Country: 35 days (Germany...if I count Ireland and Northern Ireland as the same country). 

Number of Countries Set Foot On: 16 (USA, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Germany, Denmark, Turkey, South Africa, Zambia, United Kingdom, Ireland, Iceland).

Number of Countries Where I Spent at Least a Night: 12 (Singapore, Indonesia, India, United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Germany, Denmark, Turkey, Zambia, United Kingdom, Ireland, Iceland). 

Number of Different Rooms I Spent a Night: 60
  (I’m trying to figure out a way to phrase the above that makes me seem more worldly and less promiscuous).

Number of these rooms I stayed in for free: 23 of 60
Number of these rooms that were on trains or planes: 7 of 60
Average number of nights in each room: 6
Number of Different Airlines Flown:  14 (+1 mircolight flight above Victoria Falls)

Number of Dramatic Haircuts: 1

Number of Journals Filled: 4

Number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites Visited: 15

Total pageviews of my blog: 30, 673

Number of names encountered: Too many to count. 

Random acts of kindness: WAY too many to count. 

Books Read:

Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
Slow Man, J.M. Coetzee
Life Before Man, Margaret Atwood
Flesh and Blood, Michael Cunningham
An Equal Music, Vikram Seth
Breath, Eyes, Memory, Edwidge Danticat
The Museum of Innocence, Orhan Pamuk
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
The Best American Short Stories 2011, edited by Geraldine Brooks & Heidi Pitlor
The Good German, Joseph Hanon
Insomnia, Aamer Hussein
Molly Fox’s Birthday, Deirdre Madden
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
Brooklyn, Colm Toibin
Light on Snow, Anita Shreve
Midnight Missionary, Kleinboer
Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver
Dubliners, James Joyce
Imperfect Birds, Anne Lamott
A Matter of Taste, Stanley Lieberson
Middlemarch, George Eliot
The Likeness, Tana French
Independent People, Halldor Laxness
Wild, Cheryl Strayed

I'm still putting the pieces together, but I feel so very whole. 

  Photo above: reunited with my grandmother. 

1 comment:

  1. It's been inspiring to read your blog this past year. Your writing has changed my views of life outside of our borders. Thank you so much for sharing.