Exactly one year ago, in July 2012, I officially left my life in New York for a journey into the unknown. The goal was two fold – one: to see if I would miss my US life enough to know for certain that I definitely want to come back and stay and commit to the long, laborious green card/citizenship process, and two: to take a year-long break from life and fulfill a long-awaited dream to go explore the world.
My journey took me from Argentina to Hawaii, from Thailand to Hong Kong. My eyes were opened to different cultures and different ways of life. My paths crossed with the most diverse and interesting travelers, all on their own journeys of discovery. My mind expanded, my beliefs were tested; my definitions of success changed.
Somewhere in the process, I grew incredibly comfortable with myself. Insecurities vanished, fears of being judged ebbed away. Interacting with so many different people from all corners of the world made me more accepting of others and in so doing, more accepting of myself. Being in environments where there was no one set or accepted way to dress or act or talk, no one social norm to conform to, I learned to be completely happy being just me. Moving from country to country alone, transitioning between languages, customs, public transport systems, I developed a confidence I didn’t have before. Yes, I could put myself in a strange, foreign environment and survive. And not just survive, but thrive.
Every place I went to, I fell in love. The grand, decaying, romantic buildings of Buenos Aires – my days spent absorbing Spanish and nights dancing tango….I wanted it to go on for forever. But then, I went to Thailand and Buenos Aires became a distant memory. I fell in love again, this time with the friendly people, the Buddhist culture, the beautiful countryside and my volunteer life.
And then, in the end, I found myself in India. My birth country. The one country I could legally stay in and the one country I never saw myself living in.
And I fell in love again.
Discovering India on my own terms and not with family showed me a side of India I had never been exposed to. I fell into a young, liberal, growing community of creative, intelligent, fun-loving people. I was in a city brimming with foreigners coming in to work, study, play, soul-search. I saw them mesmerized, intrigued, amused by Indian culture. My whole life, I had been encouraged to be Western – to follow a Western education system, to go to a good Western college, to settle in the West and do things the Western, “advanced” way. In India, for the first time, I felt truly and wholly comfortable accepting and even being proud of my “Indian-ness”. I wanted to eat with my hands, I wanted to bargain with auto drivers in my Indian accent, I felt good being able to sing and dance along with Bollywood songs. For the first time, I wanted to learn how to wear a sari, I wanted to improve my Hindi. I became more accepting and comfortable with the Indian part of my identity and that was a big breakthrough in this whole process of finding myself.
So does all this mean I’ve figured everything out yet? No, of course not. And do I now know exactly what I want to do or where I see myself in ten years? No. But I’m happier than I was a year ago and I’m ok with not having all the answers as long as I feel that I am continuing to move in the right direction.
Two weeks ago, I flew into New York – back to the beloved city that I had left a year ago. My US visa was about to expire and I wanted to spend ten days visiting friends, picking up leftover luggage and sorting out banking and administrative stuff before I left the country indefinitely. Friends came in from Chicago, DC and Connecticut just to see me. High school and college friends opened their doors to me and all my luggage. Together, we relived old times, visited old hang-out spots, ate at favorite restaurants. It reminded me of just how deep my friendships here ran. And just how fortunate I have been to have met such genuine, beautiful people during my time here. It left me feeling so grateful for having had the opportunity to spend the six years that I spent here, building the friendships that I know will last for a lifetime, regardless of geographic location.
And as for New York…coming back here made me realize that I will always love New York. This city will always be irresistible and addictive to me. I was reminded of the efficiency and incredible customer-service that the US is so famous for. I was reminded of the diversity, the energy, the freedom, the pull of New York. It was intoxicating. But as much as I’ll always love visiting the US, I now know I’m not ready to subject myself to being restricted career-wise just so I can get a legal right to stay here through an employer that has enough money to sponsor my visa. I am not ready to commit myself to one industry, one company, for years, just so that I can get a green card. I love New York, but not that much. And I know now there are other countries in this world I can be equally happy in that will give me more freedom to explore career-wise. And explore is what I want to do right now. This is my time to try out different industries, try the non-profit world and the for-profit world, try freelancing or taking on multiple projects. I’ve temporarily satisfied my urge to travel but I haven’t yet satisfied my desire to find a career I’m truly passionate about. And the only place I have such complete freedom to try out different career avenues is my country of citizenship: India. Now that I’ve experienced life there, I want to spend more time gaining real work experience. I see little reason not to go back.
I cannot believe this is officially the end of my year off. I don’t have any great, parting words of wisdom. But I will end by saying this: One year ago, I was not a bad person, I did not have a bad life, I was not in a bad place. I didn’t have to leave but something felt off, and so, I took a chance and did something some would call risky or bold. I followed my gut. I broke the social norm and took a leap of faith. I did what felt right for me at that time. It was the best decision of my life.