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Listening to My Gut

By Pallavi

I’ve been home from my adventure in the pacific islands since November 10, working, spending time with my family and friends on break, and reacclimating to normal life. The last 6 weeks have consisted of many different things: applying to a ton of jobs, getting ghosted by those jobs, all of a sudden getting 4 jobs at once, narrowing it to 1, and then working and preparing for song auditions in nyc. My daily routine consisted of waking up, going on a long walk, going to work, which is at Aerie in Georgetown, DC, finding parking, and making the walk to work before my shift.

Rainy walk to my car through Georgetown after my shift!

Parking is my biggest enemy. I’m really bad at it, and I don’t live downtown, so parking in tight corners is unfamiliar to me. I park in the residential areas where the meters don’t usually get checked, and that usually leaves me about 15-20 min walking from Aerie. The walk is my favorite part of my day. I put in my half-broken earbuds, my playlist (which has lately consisted of a LOT of 80s rock) on shuffle, and my hands in my pockets to hide from the cold, and think about my life.

An issue I’ve been having recently, as dumb as it sounds, is having too much time to think. A lot has changed in my personal life recently, and my grandfather unexpectedly passed recently as well, so being home with a very predictable routine has given my brain a lot of time to over analyze my life. But for some reason, on this walk to work, I feel a lot more peaceful.

Maybe it’s because I love interacting with people and at work I get a lot of that. Or because of the combination of employee discount and working at my favorite store. My boss has labeled me the fitting room expert, and if anyone needs a bra fitting, somehow I am now your girl.

But, the upside about getting to think a lot is I have time to plan my future. I’ve spent more time with myself than I ever have before, if that makes sense. This past 6 weeks has felt like an in-between existence. I’m not quite at the next thing yet but I’m way past the first. I knew not always being super busy would be challenging for me because I genuinely cannot remember a time in the last ten years before this year that I had a lot of down time. It’s hard when you always feel unproductive, but also easy to fall into the comfort of home.

I remember reading a DGYP blog post from someone else on this last year and hopefully anyone reading this can have the same takeaway: it’s ok to not be as crazy productive as you’re used to. I’ve found that getting a lot of little things done during the day—even if they aren’t crucial in the big picture— can really make a difference.

Amid all of this change, I realized I also was craving a change in plans. Though I’ve spent almost 2 months singing and putting together material for the auditions I had planned on doing, I realized I had lost a little bit of the spark for it that I had before and that the stress of moving to New York alone in the dead of winter and entering a very critical environment was seeming less exciting and “growth opportunistic” and more like a very expensive chore. The timing felt wrong, and the universe confirmed that when my housing in nyc fell through. So I followed my gut and made a change.

I decided to look into a program my friend had told me about earlier in the year called VACorps, a company in Cape Town, South Africa that places you with an internship and housing and connects you with other gap year students for 2 months. Somehow I submitted the application, got interviewed, placed, and was allowed to sign up less than a week in advance…

Me about to leave to fly to Cape Town! Finally allowed to overpack again now that I’m not backpacking 🙂

So, I’m headed to Cape Town!!!! I’m editing this entry from flight UA2222 from IAD to CPT as we speak. In 12 hours I will be in South Africa, and I will be interning with an American lawyer named Kelly Stern working on human rights, gang violence, and mass incarceration. An internship in human rights was originally on my bucket list when I first decided to take a gap year, and though I didn’t envision it in January necessarily, I am so excited for this change. New York will always be there, and if come April the nyc spark is back, then I would love to try it again. If not New York, then I’m researching other music programs too. But for now, even just focusing on music for the past 2 months in preparation has sort of fulfilled me. Plus I’ve always wanted to see a safari!!!

It’s summer in South Africa right now, and much like the French, holiday is taken very seriously there. So, my internship won’t start for another week, giving me and the other gap year students plenty of time to explore the city and connect with each other. My pre-trip planning has included a very glamorous last day of work at Aerie where I scanned, by hand, as in manually, not one, not two, but three thousand pairs of underwear. It sounds like I’m exaggerating. I’m not. Probably one of the most mind-numbing 5.5 hours of my life.

Safe to say, I’m excited for some change in my life, and as I sit on this plane right now, I feel so much more calm than I did at this moment before my trip 5 months ago. It’s crazy to think about how different my life has been in the last few months, and how much my mentality has fluctuated too. I’ll miss my daily walks, but they’ll be there when I’m back. I can’t wait to see what the next two months hold (hopefully a safari and penguins!!!), and I will definitely be more active now that I’ll consistently have technology.

Call Me Jungle Woman

By Pallavi

This is long, sorry!

Yesterday marked 7 weeks since I’ve left home, and it’s safe to say that my time in Indonesia and here in Fiji has been both eventful and amazing. There are so many cool experiences I’ve had, like trekking 8 hours through a jungle, working with women’s health clinics and mental health services, experiencing traditional Fijian dances, hiking in a waist deep river (you can imagine how graceful this was with a 65L backpack…), cooking traditional Indonesian foods, and more. These are all things I am so grateful to have experienced so far, but to my own surprise, these are not the aspects of the last 7 weeks of my life that I feel most compelled to share in this post.

I’ve spent the last 7 weeks living in close quarters, and I mean very close, with the same 9 people. They have become my best friends and my biggest pet peeves, and with every day that passes, I learn something new from each one of them. I  anticipated that what I would take away most from my experiences abroad so far would be learning from the people around me, but I didn’t expect those people to primarily be my groupmates, who all came from the same country as I did.

Indonesia and Fiji have been beautiful, moving, and empowering facilitators of relationships on this trip. The people we have met throughout both countries have graciously shared their culture, their jokes, their friendship, and LOTS of their food. But when we reached the halfway point of the trip and reflected at one of our nightly evening meetings, our group of 10 in unison realized that the most valuable part of the trip has been the authenticity cultivated by each other. Moving across the world with no phone and no familiarity essentially forces you to be yourself. You are your best resource to meet your needs, and in order to get the help or friendship you might need from others, they need to understand who you really are, not just who you want to be presented as.

That same authenticity makes our experiences here in the Pacific Islands even more valuable, because we aren’t only receiving culture from locals, but we are giving our group culture back to the community members as well. It’s a trade.

Not having a phone, communication, comfort of normal life, your usual food, a hot shower, and my personal largest fear: large foreign insects, were all things I predicted to be the hardest aspects of the trip. But even just a few days into the trip I realized that the physical comforts and my lack of outdoorsy experience are not the biggest things that make this challenging. What makes it challenging is grit. The need to fully rely on yourself in the beginning, to take care of yourself when you have 7 full nights of food poisoning, to establish boundaries in a nice way with roommates, to keep putting in 100% effort when things get really out of your comfort zone, and as cheesy as it sounds, to be vulnerable with people you have never met.

Contrary to my pre-trip thoughts, it’s been harder to open up about feeling homesick than it has been to take a cockroach out of my room, but it’s also easier knowing that’s a universal experience that inevitably has brought us all together. It’s easy to feel isolated or to tap out of contributing fully in group discussions, but I’ve learned so far how to identify when or if I’m feeling that way, how to pull myself out of that feeling, and how to ask for help.

For example, on day 4 of the program, we embarked on a jungle trek through the Leiser National Park in Bukit Luwang, Sumatra, Indonesia. For reference, prior to this trip, I had embarked on one long hike in my life. A cold and dreary morning of February 27, 2020 in Shenandoah, West Virginia. It did not go very well to say the least. The fact I remember the date reflects that…So, naturally, the prospect of hiking through the mountains of the rainforest for 8 hours with a group of strangers in Indonesia was a little bit daunting. The first few hours were scary. I felt alone, physically challenged, unused to the extreme heat, and slightly defeated.

The group mid jungle trek!

My watch didn’t seem to move, and though I saw the comfort of 13 orangutans and hornbills, the first real relief was when I turned to 2 girls, who are now some of my best friends here, saw that they were struggling too, and confided in them. It was then that I first found solidarity. And that solidarity is what allowed me to soon find gratitude and excitement.

The hike (trek) became funny, a memory we all fondly look on. We went through the jungle hearing songs like Awimbawe and Don’t Worry Be Happy from our amazingly spirited and athletic guides. That was the first time on the trip I felt true panic followed by a wave of calm. I’ve only had that extreme feeling 2 or 3 times on this trip, but with each time that wave of relief comes and I exit the feeling of panic, I feel my scope of tools widen.

Catherine, the orangutan (who I spotted) that tried to steal our lunch in the jungle…

Anyways, somehow, I managed not to fall until the last 2 minutes. As we screamed and hugged for completing the most insane outdoor experience I have ever witnessed, I slipped on mud (on flat… ground…) and completely ate it. That is one of my favorite and most ironic memories of the trip.

You might be wondering, if you are scared of bugs, not normally outdoorsy, and bad at hiking, why would you choose a 70 day backpacking trip on the other side of the world? At times I have wondered that too. But I know I’m glad I did. Now, I am in Suva Fiji, and just got back from a rural village called Namosi in the highlands. No electricity, no service, the floor as the mattress, but a village full of people who I now call my friends, and who somehow got us on national Fijian TV. But that’s a story for another time.

In Namosi, we hiked up a mountain to see rural farming in the area. We summited, and I turned around and looked at the view in the pouring rain. My instructor, Kyle, caught my eye and smiled. “Gotcha,” he said. And I knew exactly what he was referencing. Nature won. I officially liked hiking. We did it mom!!!!!!!!

Friends and I at the top of the mountain!