One year ago I was decked in Carolina blue cheering “go to hell Duke” as the culmination to the most transformative 4 years of my life. Surrounded by all of my friends I was in utter ecstasy. We laughed as we stripped our robes so not to bake under the hot southern sun. We nodded off to the lulling sound of honorary award after honorary award telling each other we should have gone to bed earlier. We flipped our tassels and knew that with that very insignificant shift, everything was about to change.
One year ago I ignored a phone call from a former boss while sitting in the bleachers at commencement, only to check my e-mail a few minutes later and discover I had the job offer of my dreams. Within seconds I went from having 6 months to kill to eagerly awaiting a challenging and rewarding first job. I switched gears from trying to convince my parents that a solo road trip was a good idea to reminding them that India was at least better than that plan. I was invited to return to Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project as the On Site Administrator, a job I’d been hoping to return to India to do since I was 19.
One year ago I was saying goodbye to the best people that I know, anxious to see where our respective lives would take us and wondering when they would intersect again. Thankfully, many of our lives have already intersected, including a reunion in India! But more often than not I find myself yearning to share new experiences with the people who’d help me understand them. The closer I get to coming home the more excited I am for it. The more I reflect, the more homesick I become.
But I chose this life for a reason, and I still have half a year to go before friends can become neighbors. Has this year been everything little blue-capped Meg had dreamed of? Of course not. But in a lot of ways it’s also been more than I could have ever imagined.
In the past year I have moved from Chapel Hill to India to Malaysia with a few stopping grounds back home in Baltimore. I have switched from a craft brewery enthusiast to living in a very dry state. I stopped writing 50 page papers and started speaking in an odd Indian/Malaysian/just slow and awkward voice.
In the past year I have grown up ten-fold. I quickly found out that children are hard to manage, and that adults are even harder. As an administrator with 4 different bosses, 10+ employees, and 300+ children, I accepted that “It’s not my fault” and “That’s not in my job description” simply do not apply. Responsibility took on a new meaning. I wanted to make sure the students were learning and having fun. But, they couldn’t have too much fun that they neglected their duties or talked back to their teachers. I had to make sure I did more than I was asked in a timely manner, but also know when it was appropriate to take liberties and do things “my way.” I explained time and time again to well-meaning volunteers with too much love in their hearts that being a friend and neglecting teacher-student boundaries didn’t serve the kids well in the long run. (Although I often caught myself wishing I could fudge those boundaries a little too.)
In the past year I have learned to be patient and forgive myself when things are not perfect. Sometimes the kids got yelled at for things that were not their fault, and I had to accept that there was nothing I could have done better to prevent that. Sometimes, it was my mistake! I could have communicated with a volunteer more forcefully about separating work and play, or made the children go to bed. But those mistakes too, I have forgiven. I have disappointed friends and frustrated co-workers. These too, I have forgiven. I have eaten more white rice than my stomach would like to admit, and my body has forgiven me for feeding it what is out of my control.
In the past year I have grappled with the often polarizing outcomes of my two passions: exploring cultural differences and advocating for the rights of women and girls. I believe that culture is never a justification for oppression, but what happens when the oppressed don’t feel oppressed?
In the past year I have discovered that all children – regardless of culture, language proficiency, global awareness, or family upbringing – are capable of surprising you. My students are always internalizing more than I realize. Whether it is my girl’s leadership club writing their own manifesto or my form 4 students remembering and illustrating the imagery of a poem, I am constantly amazed by their creativity and effort.
I cannot begin to summarize all the ways that I have grown this past year, mostly because I have yet to understand them myself. Working in environments so foreign from what I am accustomed to has pushed me to take initiative in different ways. Living in stifling heat has forced me to slow down and appreciate the day to day differently. I am excited to see how the rest of the year plays out. One day, I will be able to take these lessons home with me.