Welcome to Bridge Year India 10.0! And welcome to your Yak Board!
I hope this finds you enjoying your final days of summer and moments shared with family, friends, and loved ones before embarking on our year together.
My name is Sarah. I’m your On-Site Director, one of a team of leaders who will be traveling with you in India for the next nine months.
I couldn’t be more excited.
Congratulations on making the brave decision to postpone your matriculation to Princeton for an entire year: this is no small feat. It takes courage to step off a defined path and dive into an ocean of uncertainty. Perhaps some of you have faced questions from curious or wary family members and friends who wonder why you would elect to defer from Princeton and come instead to India—a place you’ve never been before. Perhaps you catch yourself wondering the same.
This is normal.
It’s true you have chosen a brave way that’s outside the norm, and we’re proud of you for taking one of many courageous steps (you’ve already had to take a lot to get this far in life)! In the coming weeks, our respective paths will lead us closer to one another until we meet in Princeton to embark on our further journey of inner and outer inquiry.
Let me tell you a bit more about how I got into this adventure. I’m from southern California, and spent most summers of my childhood in the chaparral-covered San Gabriel mountains, occasionally scrambling the rocky Sierra Nevada peaks, and exploring the tidal zone of the Pacific coast. The first time I traveled to a country outside of the United States, I went to the Amazon rainforest in Peru with a science group from my high school to learn more about rainforest ecology. We fundraised by selling candy and hosting bake sales and working side jobs, among other tried and true methods. To say that the journey changed the course of my life would be an understatement. Since that time, I resolved to travel—not simply to check countries off a bucket list—but to travel as a practice, as a way of being in the world. By travel, I refer not only to moving over geographic space, although that can be one aspect of travel. I also mean the inner journey, the path we take that is replete with questions, a search for meaning(s), an unpacking of the literal and figurative baggage we carry, an act of radical imagination, a willingness to move from one perspective to another, even one way of being to another.
The writer Madhushree Ghosh asks, “What does it mean to travel? What is ‘the journey’? Can it be one inside our hearts? In our minds? From our armchairs? Or trekking through mountains in Peru? Or through rain forests in Guatemala? Is it a combination of all these?”
I am of the mind that travel is indeed all these things, and more. We will be asking the question repeatedly over the course of the year, and I invite you to begin wrestling with it now [as an aside: check out the above link to Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel to read Ghosh and other insightful writers].
After high school, I studied at Dartmouth College. I have worked in multiple fields since then: as an environmental educator in Vermont, an organic farmer in New Hampshire, in community agriculture and food security in rural Rwanda with the non-profit Partners In Health, as a chaplain at a hospital, and eventually, in the field of international education. Several years ago, I completed a Master of Divinity from Princeton Seminary: as part of my studies, I received a grant to research seed saving practices in India. I resolved to return again after that study, and have been living almost full time in India for the past six years. I’ve led multiple semester programs in India and Nepal with Where There Be Dragons, as well as a number of shorter courses in India and Peru. I also have eight years of experience working with Putney Student Travel and National Geographic Student Expeditions, leading trips to Peru, Tanzania, Rwanda, and of course, India. I was an assistant director for Princeton Bridge Year for two years before serving as the on-site director for the first time last year. Why do I list all these positions? For me, this litany of groups serves as a reminder of the immense gratification and appreciation I have to be able to walk with students like you on your journey as we encounter the new and different in ourselves, one another, and those we meet on our way. It is the privilege of a lifetime to learn with you.
If I can give you one piece of advice for the year ahead, it’s this: let go of your expectations. Let go of the need to know, to have it all figured out ahead of time. Trust me: you never will.
In a recent Ted Talk, the writer Pico Iyer posits that the “secret point of travel” is this: “to take a plunge: to go inwardly—as well as outwardly—to places you’d never go otherwise. To venture into uncertainty, ambiguity, even fear.”
Venturing into uncertainty, ambiguity and fear? That’s easier said than done.
But to release our expectations—again and again—and be willing to be receptive to the new, to that which is unknown: this is a profound, if difficult, practice that eventually yields the gifts of travel: humility, gratitude, insight, perspective. For Iyer, this posture is so important that he calls it the “First Law of Travel” or, “You’re only as strong as your readiness to surrender.”
In the coming days, you’ll be hearing from other members of your instructor team: Neerav, Uttara, and Hemant. We’ve been plotting away about our coming year together, and there’s so much we’re excited to share with you! The cedar-clad mountains of Uttarakhand, your first cup of chai, overnight railroad rides, old desert forts in the sand dunes of Rajasthan, the struggles and joys of learning a new language, the daily routines of cleaning out barns and feeding cows. History and politics, new art forms and artisans, cultural codes and insight. New skills. New family members.
We likewise encourage each of you to post an introduction about yourself so we can start to get to know each other. We’d love to learn a little about you before we meet in person, so please post to this yak board an introduction and maybe a picture. If you’d like, you can address the questions:
Who are you?
Where do you come from?
What are you looking forward to doing/seeing/experiencing in India? What have you learned so far?
Any random fun fact about yourself?
Here’s one about me: I’m totally into birdwatching and can identify a number of birds in the U.S. both visually and by their song! I’m still working on my Indian birds, but have improved in the past few years. So what about you? What do you geek out about? What inspires you?
In addition, please post any general questions you have to this yak board. Chances are if you have that question, someone else has it too! Neerav, Uttara, Hemant and I will be sharing resources and notes in the weeks before your arrival in Princeton, so please start checking this forum regularly. I will also be calling you soon: expect to hear from me by email regarding a call!
If you have a specific question or would like to check in privately, you can always email me ([email protected]).
Now, back to the art of surrender. One of my favorite poets from India is Kabir, a 15th century Indian mystic and saint. He wrote a lot about letting go, about surrendering to the unknown places within, an act which often yield the greatest treasure.
So I leave you with this:
The pearl is in the oyster
And the oyster is at the bottom of the sea:
With great anticipation-