The Fulbright has challenged me in more ways than I could have ever imagined. When I opted to take the Fulbright over a lucrative banking career my family was surprised, to say the least. When asked to justify my reasoning I was often at a loss for words – I didn’t know how the Fulbright would benefit my future.
Sure, the Fulbright is a prestigious academic fellowship. The alumni network is amazing, and I’ve had the opportunity to learn about a whole new region of the world. When I started my grant, I couldn’t tell you exactly how it would impact or shape me.
One of my biggest challenges has been remaining open to the experiences and opportunities here in Sri Lanka. I get overwhelmed at times, and just want to close myself off.
I found myself in a situation like that two weeks ago. I had a particularly rough set of days, and just wanted to escape Sri Lanka for a little while. I had to travel to Colombo, and was all set for my overnight train ride. The battery on my laptop was fully charged, and I had queued up several episodes of The West Wing to get me through the train ride. I got into my cabin and my bunkmate was sitting on his bunk. I briefly acknowledged him as I dropped down my bags, and chatted on the phone with my brother (its amazing that a 15 minute phone call to the states cost me less than $2.00…).
The screech of the station master’s whistle signaled the start of my trip, and I bid my brother farewell. Getting into my cabin, I just wanted to climb into bed and shut myself off from the world. My traveling companion struck up a conversation with me, and we chatted for a few minutes. One thing led to another, and a few minutes turned into a few hours.
As it happened I was traveling with an optometrist, who worked for Vision Care. He had been in Trinco conducting free screenings and educational seminars to spot vision problems. I found out about several government schemes to provide free eye glasses to those who can’t afford them. At the end of our conversation, we arranged to conduct a session at my school in the middle of March. There are several students who need specs (as they’re called in Sri Lankan English), but don’t have the resources to afford them.
Had I closed myself off, and let the troubles of my week weigh me down, I would have missed this amazing opportunity. By turning off my iPod and taking out my headphones, I opened myself up to a conversation that turned out to be engaging and fulfilling.
Looking back on my days at University in NYC, I wonder how many engaging encounters I missed by closing myself off to the world. Openness brings opportunities.