Making plans for the summer seems to be one of the toughest parts of college. With pressure from your parents to get a job, pressure from your peers to get a stellar internship, and pressure from Netflix to watch the entire Breaking Bad series, it’s hard to decide what direction to take during each of the three precious summers we are given. How can we further our career plans without breaking the bank? How can we do something productive, yet still have time to relax and spend time with family and old friends? How can we find a suitable internship or job if we haven’t even solidified our major?
My first summer of college, I came back to campus for both sessions of summer school and knocked out 4 classes. I was doing the W&M in DC program in the fall, and needed to increase my exposure to economics before I spent a semester immersed in it. Frankly, being on campus in the summer was lonely and miserable. I’m grateful that I took those classes, but being away from my family and alone on campus for the whole summer was not ideal.
In DC, my professor recruited W&M alumni and friends of the College to talk to us about their work. Through this, I was exposed to people from the World Bank, local think tanks, many embassies, and government bureaucracy offices. One of the speakers talked about microfinance – providing access to financial services to even the poorest of the poor. The idea grabbed me, and I was smitten. I ended up doing my final paper on microfinance, specifically about the organization that started microfinance: the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh.
About this same time, I was trying to figure out plans for the summer – I was sure that I wanted to go intern abroad. I felt like getting an internship would teach me more than taking classes abroad – I didn’t need any more credits and I wanted to gain a new skill set. I looked at dozens of programs that set students up with internships and housing abroad. Most of the programs were way out of my price range and were in Europe, which I have no interest in. I wanted to go somewhere that I felt completely out of my comfort zone – that’s where I would gain the most.
On a whim, I went to the Grameen Bank website, and learned that they have an internship program at their headquarters in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It was a pipe dream to go, of course. I didn’t know the language, there was no established housing, and I would be a white woman traveling alone in a Muslim country. But the more I looked at other boring and typical programs, the more I thought about the microfinance program in Bangladesh.
Soon, scholarships to go abroad were due. I went ahead and applied, just in case there was some way this trip to Bangladesh was possible. In my head, it was still very theoretical. I went through the steps in hope that I would soon have a sudden revelation that it was feasible and safe and everything would fall together perfectly.
I had another opportunity for the summer to work on campus. It was so tempting to scratch everything and stay in Williamsburg another summer. In addition to getting paid, I would get to hang out with my friends in my comfort zone. But something seemed off – this job was something I could do during the school year. I wouldn’t learn anything new, and it felt like taking the easy way out, just because I doubted my ability to be successful in Bangladesh.
Summer is time to step out of your comfort zone and take a chance, right? It’s about learning something new, and finding yourself. It’s about preparing yourself for the rest of your life, which will be filled with setbacks and successes, fears and victories, leaps and falls.
So, here I am. In the terminal in Austin, Texas, my hometown, about to embark on a 36 hour long journey to Dhaka, Bangladesh. I can’t say I made a resolute decision to go – but I kept going through the motions to get here. I just got to the point where I couldn’t turn back anymore. I got a few scholarships, and used that money to buy a flight and get my vaccines. I took the steps, ecstatic about the idea of going, and kept thinking that the fear would subside eventually. I knew in the end it would all unfold perfectly – and it has! I was introduced to another W&M student who not only will be living in Bangladesh at the time, but will be doing the same program! That alone makes this whole trip easier – I’ll have a friend from home who knows the language and the country. He’s taught me basic Bengali, given me some Bengali money, and will pick me up at the airport. Other things have indicated that this trip puts me in my right place: my visa went through successfully, my mosquito net came in the mail right before I left, and I got the last window seat on one of my flights! It’s the little signs that indicate I’m taken care of.
One of my favorite books, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, runs along the theme that “the entire universe is conspiring in your favor”. It argues that everyone knows exactly what they want out of life, but are most times too scared to go through the journey to achieve it for fear of failing. So instead they live a life of least resistance and their dreams are never acted upon, when all along “the universe” was signaling for them to make the leap.
This trip has proved the philosophy of the book to be true. Even though going to Bangladesh to work with the Grameen Bank was my dream, I was terrified of all the ways it could possibly go wrong. I kept holding back. Then “the universe” started sending signs that I should go: getting scholarships, having a friend from school there, and the little technicalities falling into place. Once the path was laid out before me, I was the sole factor holding myself back. I had to make the decision to go or not – to jump into the unknown and not let fear get the best of me.
I’m still not sure what the next month will hold for me, but I know I’m in for the experience of a lifetime. Bangladesh, here I come!