My interest in the Princeton in Asia (PiA) fellowship began in early October 2013. Representatives of PiA spoke at my school’s career center, touching on their own PiA experiences and the various positions available through the fellowship. I left the information session with a surge of energy. I had already studied abroad in Nepal the former year and was excited by the opportunity to return to Asia.
The very next day, I began working on my application. I started by tweaking my resume and researching more about PiA. I also began obsessively combing through the blogs of PiA recipients. I wanted to learn everything I could about their first-hand experiences. This all aided me in building my written responses for the application. I set up appointments with my school’s career center to review my resume and visited the university’s writing center numerous times to perfect my application. I was even fortunate enough to have a mentor read over my responses. By November, I had all application materials nailed down. Then commenced the wait to hear if I would make it to interviews.
By the end of December, I’d heard back about my interview date, which would be in the middle of January on Princeton’s campus. I contacted a friend at the University and she allowed me to crash in her dorm room. I slept on a thick exercise mat that I carried over from Brooklyn (I’d given away my sleeping bag before I left Nepal). It was uncomfortable, but I was super excited to be in the next step of the application process. When I woke up on the morning of the interviews, I coached myself through deep breaths and mantras to soothe my eager jitters.
I made it to the interview building, still filled with excited nerves, and recognized the faces of the representatives who spoke at my school just months prior. It was a pretty laid back day of waiting to be called for two interviews: one with a PiA representative and one with a PiA alum. While we waited PiA hopefuls were able to hang around and socialize with one another and the PiA representatives until it was time for their one-on-one interviews.
I had my alumni interview first and then my interview with a PiA representative. I put my best foot forth in each, although I felt most comfortable in my interview with the PiA representative. With my morning mantras still floating around me, I chose to leave the day in good spirits.
I happily headed back to my friend’s dorm room and then started home to New York City. The applicant pool was large and the team was working hard on securing placements for selected candidates. It would be four months before I heard word from PiA.
Although I had all the space to be doubtful and hard on myself, the beginning of my wait time was actually positive. I had people who were supportive of me in my pursuit of the PiA fellowship and it helped me feel confident about my status as an applicant. I used the wait to continue spending hours combing through the blogs of PiA recipients.
The deadline for decision day was pushed back to continue finalizing placements and my nerves surfaced once more. I was trying to reason with myself that I still had a chance of being accepted. I’d heard of people being rejected already, but I also knew a girl who was contacted by PiA to see how she felt about a placement. She fretted over what the phone call could mean, but I told her surely she wouldn’t be contacted about it if she wasn’t going to be accepted. She was in fact later offered the position she was contacted about.
I kept in mind that if people were being rejected and others were still having their placements finalized, I maybe still had a chance.
Then the absolute final deadline day at the very end of March came around. Six months after I first heard about PiA I was informed that I would not be offered a fellowship.
The staff member who had interviewed me on Princeton’s campus sent me a nice email. She was very generous and referred me to another program in a country she felt fit me best. Not one to deny an opportunity, I contemplated going for it, but the deadline had passed. I was given a chance to apply very quickly anyway, but before the night was up I knew I couldn’t go through with it. The application’s first question was ‘why [this country]’ and I knew nothing about it. I couldn’t allow myself to be dishonest to the community I would be applying to serve and I couldn’t be dishonest with myself. The wait had made the blow of the rejection harder for me to stomach, but I needed to start dealing with it.
I was crushed, more than I could even admit to myself at the time. One of my closest friends, who supported me throughout the application process, could see my hurt. When she came over to visit me in the days following my rejection, she commended me for always being extremely dedicated to anything I did. She begged me not to let this wound stop me from staying steadfast in my dedications. When a person puts that much hope into something it’s bound to hurt if it doesn’t work out, but it doesn’t make being devoted any less worthy.
I’m prone to put the blame on myself first and foremost. I judged myself, believing that the sole purpose for my rejection were the faults I had perceived myself to have made during the interview stage. Still, a part of my growth process is to also balance those feelings with the reality of a situation. I had taken the right steps and done my best. Still, there was a large pool of qualified applicants and I didn’t get picked.
In fact, the biggest and most immediate growth I took away from not getting the fellowship was that it was due time I dealt with rejection! I reflected and it became clear that up until that point I hadn’t experienced any weighty form of rejection, so this one felt huge. As sour as it was, I had perhaps been lucky to get a lesson in rejection just before graduating college. At least there I still had a net of support to catch me.
I still hurt for a while. I felt guilty that people had put their time into both me and my application and I saw my rejection as a let down to them as well. During my six months of mentally dedicating myself to the fellowship, I hadn’t applied to any other teach abroad programs, even though it had been my goal since junior year of high school. I had put all of my eggs into one perfect basket and it broke under the weight. After taking some time to bandage my emotional wounds, I began a full-speed job hunt.
Senior year played out well and I landed a good job. I found myself on a pretty path that looked like it would lead to a career, grad school, and eventually a house. Even though I could see myself in hot pursuit of the American dream something was still missing. I decided I just needed to keep my mind working and recalled how much I loved learning Hindi and Nepali during my college years. I decided to enroll in a Spanish class since it would be most applicable to my work and personal life.
I enjoyed the feeling of my brain tickling over a steady stream of new information. I also noticed something else. I liked my lessons and spent a lot of time mentally noting what things my instructor did well. I found that I was considering how to emulate these things. But why would I think to emulate them? I wasn’t a teacher. It was the hard boomerang of my high school ambitions to teach English abroad – it had swung right back to me! Grad school, a career, a mortgage, sure those all could carry rewards with their responsibilities, but they were always going to be there. I didn’t need to give up on my dream, I needed to stand up and start running after it once again.
The Next Chapter
This decision to veer from a linear path is what much of my blog is about. I learned a lesson of rejection in my senior year of college. Then upon graduating, I returned to New York City to begin working. At some point it just wasn’t enough. I decided I needed to chase a dream once more.
Now in less than a month I am off to Latin America. My dream to teach abroad was deferred, but not destroyed.