When the unexpected happens

In a little over 5 weeks I’ll be off on a journey. I have no idea yet where exactly I will be, but it will be in the US, hopefully working with a great organisation for 4 months.

“If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place.” ~ Nora Roberts

And what I want is, to have a proper experience working in a non-profit that deals on women and gender issues issues. Something that I have been sort of working towards for the past 7 years, whether I knew it back then or not.

Back home, the opportunities have been very limited. I tried working with one women’s non-profit at home, but I had to leave because my aspirations didn’t match theirs. I worked for a second organisation that was related to what I wanted to do, but I was told to leave because I was in the “wrong religion”.

Now that I have this once in a lifetime chance, I am both excited and scared at the same time.

Excited to finally experience something that I long for, and the possibilities it might lead to. Scared to be in a country that I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to visit (blame it on bad media coverage and fear-mongering parents). Excited to immerse myself in a different culture and way of life. Scared of entrusting the care of my 2 year-old to others while I’m away.

But the voice inside my head that says, “you’ve gotta do this or regret this for the rest of your life” is stronger than my fears.

I didn’t even expect that I would be chosen for this journey, to be a Fellow of the 2017 Community Solutions Program (CSP), sponsored by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and implemented by IREX, a U.S. non-governmental organization. When I first applied, I was in the process of applying to further my studies in the UK through Chevening, which I had wanted to try for years. I saw that the applications for CSP was also opening, so I thought “why not?” especially since I was reaching the age limit for the program. I wouldn’t have another chance.

So when I received an email which told me that I was once of the 400 selected from the total of 2,500 applications from 74 countries, I was so happy.  There were interviews and other requirements, but the one thing that was holding me back was that I do not work formally for women & gender issues. It was mostly voluntary and I needed permission from work to be away for 4 months. Having a superior that wasn’t quite receptive of my aspirations was daunting and I left it at that without arguing my case further.

When I received an email from CSP in March informing me that I was selected as an alternate, i.e. I may only be selected again if someone drops out from the program, I felt deflated but yet I had somehow expected it. And the likelihood that I would be selected from a pool of other alternates seemed very remote.

“What chances do I have against that? They probably have 100 alternates for the 100 finalists”, I thought.

I also received a rejection letter from Chevening a little later, and it felt like my self-confidence was taking a beating.

On 9th May, I was already fully prepared for another year of being at home, with nothing out of the ordinary expected when I received an email that one of the finalists have withdrawn from the program and I was selected!


After much thought and trepidation, I decided to just go for it. And now after a flurry of medical checks, vaccinations and visa preparations, and especially requesting time off from work and getting it (!) I am somewhat ready,

I really can’t wait to find out where exactly I will be placed in the US. Cross fingers it will be this week that I finally find out!


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