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Bridge Year: A Hero’s Journey

Call to Adventure:

The Princeton acceptance packet was thick, and when I poured all of the various papers and infographics onto my dining room table, the Bridge Year pamphlet landed on top. From the moment I started reading, I was hooked. As someone who has always prided themselves on being adventurous and daring, the program seemed made for me. Three months, two essays, and one interview later, I was accepting a spot in the Bridge Year India 11.0 cohort with the primary goal of having the adventure of a lifetime.

 

Refusal of the Call:

It didn’t hit me that I was going to India until I had to pack up my entire life into a suitcase. I couldn’t have known, as I ruthlessly cut weight from my too-small backpack, that I would soon hold the title of best packer. I felt like I had too much stuff and not enough all at the same time. How can a person carry their life on their back? I had to enlist my dad’s help in making the final decisions (Do I need a pack of cards? How many books should I bring?), and in talking me down off my last minute panicky ledge. My regret was brief, and after a short conversation we decided yes I needed a pack of cards, two books was enough, and that I was indeed ready to fly halfway across the world, into the unknown.

 

Meeting the Mentor/Crossing the Threshold:

My memories of the 36 hours we spent on airplanes and in airports are a blur. I remember buying pretzels and hummus in the Newark airport (and promptly forgetting them at the gate). I remember trying and failing to sleep on the plane across the Atlantic, I remember playing foosball in London Heathrow, I remember curling up across three seats on the flight to Delhi and dozing for no more than a couple hours. For me, the threshold into the unknown wasn’t crossed until we stepped outside in Delhi and met Neerav and Lauren, two of our instructors, for the first time. Neerav placed marigold garlands around our necks and shoved nut crackers into our hands, insisting we eat them.

Although meeting the mentor is supposed to come before crossing the threshold, for me it happened at the same time. We entered India with three instructors by our sides, ready to guide us on our journey.

 

Tests, Allies, and Enemies:

The longest part of the hero’s journey, my trials and tribulations started the moment we landed in India. I wish I could say I remember more about the first few days in the capital city than the oppressive heat, my first enemy. Luckily, we quickly left Delhi and spent the first month travelling from Rajasthan to Uttarakhand to Himachal Pradesh, which were all much cooler. We met allies in the form of homestay families in Dharamshala, Mohomad at Sambhaavnaa Institute, Ajay Ji in the village of Majkhali, and everyone who smiled at us on the streets of Jaipur.

Everything that first month felt like a test. We negotiated our first autos, took our first overnight train ride, began our first Hindi lessons with Neerav, and later with teachers in Jaipur. I began to decode the Devnagari street signs and started to understand phrases being traded among locals. And just when I felt comfortable with our nomadic life, we came to Udaipur.

In the city we now call home, at least for now, I met even more allies and enemies, and encountered many more tests. Service sites and homestays and independant enrichment activity mentors, chai wallahs and program house managers and the security guard at my favorite grocery store. I have found friends in every corner of my life here, people who support me at my worst, people who will laugh with me, people who I smile at every day as I fly past on my bicycle.

My biggest enemy this year has been myself. I have gotten in my own way more times than I can count, overthinking and doubting and creating unnecessary roadblocks. Which brings us to the next stage of the Hero’s Journey.

 

Death and Rebirth:

“You know the Hero’s Journey?”

Sydney and I nod, and Pia continues.

“I think we’re right about here.” She points to the bottom of the circle she has drawn in the air. The abyss. We all laugh, but it’s true. The past few weeks have felt like a death and rebirth, and personally I have felt it manifesting in how I am viewing the remainder of Bridge Year. It feels like we are entering the final stretch of Udaipur, with only six weeks left in the city. By no means do I feel like my year is over, or that I have nothing left to learn, but I do feel a shift in myself. I have slowed down and looked up for the first time since I landed in the Delhi airport.

Last week, I stopped closing my window at night, so that when the sun rises it shines directly into my room. I’ve been waking up without an alarm to the sky glowing a brilliant orange over the Aravalli mountain range. I have started taking my time, from eating dinner with my family to walks along Fateh Sagar Lake to hours long conversations with Dani, Pia, and Sydney.

Even now, I watch as one of my babis hangs freshly washed saris over the side of the house to dry and my ten-year-old sister skips rope on the roof. My two-month-old sister is in my lap, staring up at me with big, brown eyes, and I am taking frequent breaks from writing to wiggle her toes and sing off-key lullabies. Her big sister drops her rope every minute or so to run in and give her a kiss on the forehead.

If the rest of Bridge Year follows the Hero’s Journey as well as the first part has, there are plenty of trials and tribulations to come. There is the long road home, and the return to the known world. But sitting here in the dying afternoon light, the remainder of the journey feels as exciting as it did nearly a year ago when I leafed through the Bridge Year pamphlet. The next few months will fly by, but I am determined to be looking up as they do.