“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the one who’ll decide where to go.” Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
My name is Teona Williams and I recently graduated from Bowdoin College with a BA in History and Environmental Studies and minor in Africana Studies. But don’t worry I promise this is not a blog about yet another unemployed humanities major, this is a blog about a girl who likes nature. Specifically, how nature has blessed her with the strength to leave the country for a year and find others like her. This year I am the proud recipient of the Watson Fellowship, a fellowship that provides financial support for a year of solo travel working on your passion. The stipulation is that you cannot return to the US for year. So my first blog is not only an introduction to my adventure, but also a look into my mental state as I prepare to leave my family in a week.
My love of nature began in high school. At 15, I volunteered for a local park nestled along the Anacostia River in Bladensburg, MD. It was the first time that I canoed, kayaked, or even went on a simple nature walk. I named every bird and turtle that came my way. Nature quickly became more than a healthy activity or my job, it became a place where I could think and contemplate about life. I even decided to major in environmental studies (ES) before I even applied to college, because I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life outside. As I progressed through my ES major I realized that nature was not accessible to everyone. I knew I wanted to change that, but I did not know how. When I learned about the Watson Fellowship I decided that I could use the year of travel to learn how other communities connect to nature. I will spend a year in India, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Brazil to observe how marginalized communities participate in outdoor leisure and what role nature plays in their lives. While an important part of my journey will be my project, the focus of a Watson is not to change the world in a year. It seeks to provide you with an opportunity to blossom as you engage in a passion.
“Congratulations! Today is your day! You’re off to great places you’re off and away.” Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Why A Watson?
Being the first person in my family to graduate college comes with overwhelming responsibility. I have spent the past four years of my life afraid to fail, because I thought if I failed then my entire family failed with me. I mapped out the next five years of my life perfectly. I convinced myself that by time I was 35 I would be economically stable enough to “uplift” my family out of poverty. The pressure I placed on myself nearly broke me by time I entered my senior year of college. I had a mini life crisis. I had no faith in any of my goals. All of sudden everything I worked for felt forced. It was as if I was living someone else’s dream. I wanted to remember what it felt like to be happy again. I knew that if I went straight to graduate school it would be a mistake, my heart was no longer in my research. I used to get excited about reading extra materials outside of class, now reading felt like a burden. I felt like I was at a pond on a hot day, watching all the kids dive in and scream that the water was cold. And instead of seeing for myself, I decided to watch from the sidelines. I knew I wanted to dive in, but I didn’t have the courage to do it. I applied for a Watson not to find myself but to find courage. To force myself to live life, to laugh, and even to cry. To make mistakes that would only affect my life and not my family’s. To be an individual. As selfish as it seems this Watson is more about saving me from myself, rather than saving people from a degraded environment.
“And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants. There are some down the road between hither and yon that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.” Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
6 Days before Departure.
Even though this is a voluntary journey, when it’s time to walk the walk I can’t help but cower behind my bed and convince myself that this was the dumbest decision ever. I am afraid of what is to come. My dreams are consumed with being alone for a year. I get emotional at thought of dining alone. I panic about getting lost. My maturity flew out the window, as I whine to my father about not wanting to go. Yet, there is no turning back now. I have to go. I did not come to the realization that it was too late to turn back on my own; it was my father, who as usual, has to calm me down when my nerves get the best of me. See below:
Me: <sobbing> but daddy I don’t want to go. I want to stay with you!
Daddy: baby you have to go. You don’t have a job here anyway.
Me: But daddy I change my mind.
Daddy: Baby you already spent some of the money. You know very well we can’t afford to replace the money you spent.
Me: But I’m scared. What if I get lost? I am prone to getting lost.
Daddy: Yea, you are boo <chuckles> But you must also be prone to getting found because you always find your way.
Me: What if I get kidnapped?
Daddy: Then I’ll fly over there and rescue you.
Me: But I’ll be lonely.
Daddy: Baby, you are great at making friends.
Me: But I’ll miss you.
Daddy: I’ll miss you too, but you don’t want to ruin an opportunity because of fear. You don’t want to be like me 44 years old at a job you hate, because you were afraid to leap. You want to live and find out what makes you happy. This will make you stronger, and you’ll comeback ready to take the world by storm. But if you don’t go then you’ll regret it. So you’re going and that’s that.
Even though I am an emotional wreck at this stage, as usual my father is right. We can’t let our fear of the unknown deter us from our dreams. This year will probably be the scariest year of my life. I will face challenges that I will have to overcome. I will become intimate friends with loneliness. But with all the doubt there is also excitement. I keep imagining myself in India. Maybe I’ll be cast as an extra in a Bollywood film! And finally meet my favorite actress of all time Kajol. A girl can dream right? Maybe I will get lonely, but when you have a team back home that loves you as much as mine you can’t worry about that. You just have to take a deep breath and dive in.
To my friends and family I hope this blog brings you closer to me as I travel. To other readers I hope I do not come off as too crazy or worrisome. While I have not yet packed for my adventure, I cannot help but feel ready for my journey. A year actually may not be long for me to live out my dreams. As I document the places I am going, I hope that as you read this that you keep the spirit of adventure alive in your own life. Whether it is taking a long journey or trying something new, I pray that happiness stays with you all. Keep checking in on me the next post you read will be from India!
In the spirit of Flo Rida, oh hey India, I heard you are a wild one!