Wanted to write a bit about how I spent my New Year’s, and what it’s taught me.
I spent this New Year’s in India. After attending the Learning Societies’ unConference, I went to the countryside a few hours outside Bangalore with my friends A and B. They had planned well in advance to stay in a beautiful treehouse in the jungle for New Year’s. I had tried to arrange to stay in the same area as them, but by the time I was inquiring (just two weeks before New Year’s), their resort was understandably already full. I ended up booking to stay at a forest lodge 18 km away.
I had no idea what to expect. 1) It was my first time in a jungle in India; 2) It was my first time in India period; and 3) As B lovingly welcomed me into his home for the first part of my stay, this would be my first time on my own in a country that, despite having been welcoming to me thus far, was still foreign to me. After a snafu that occurred the day we arrived in the area due to a misunderstanding over not being able to drive through the jungle after sundown (turns out tigers rule jungle territory at night), A and B dropped me off at my lodging the next day.
Here are 3 Lessons I Learned Spending New Year’s Alone in a Foreign Country:
1) Give people the benefit of the doubt. Be wary, but also be open. The way you treat others will be mirrored in the way you feel you are treated.
When I first arrived at my lodge, I was wearing a sweater and leggings. I had just bought the leggings a few days prior and found them to be one of, if not the, most comfortable pair of leggings I’ve ever worn. They are made of a sheer material but I wore them that day solely for comfort. After checking in, I noticed one of the male lodge staff staring and looking me up and down slowly. I felt very uncomfortable, and quickly went into my room to change into pants. I had heard about the male culture in India, and the horrific abuses that can happen to girls. I worried a little about whether I would be safe on my own at night, but remembered B saying he had stayed at the lodge before and that it was a trusted establishment.
That ended up being the only uncomfortable moment during my entire stay. All the other staff were nothing short of friendly and accommodating throughout my stay, answering any questions I had. Once I became aware of my surroundings and the cultural expectations of those around me, and once I let go of my fear and genuinely became curious to learn more about the lodge, its staff, the jungle and animals, my experience changed from one where I could have felt frightened and closed-off the entire time to a smooth, peaceful one filled with wonder.
2) There is no shame in being on your own.
When I was in Middle School, I remember more than a few times sitting alone in the cafeteria after school just having a bite to eat or doing homework. I was completely comfortable doing it. At some point I recall my sister telling me she herself wouldn’t sit at a table on her own, and I started to wonder if it was something others looked down on. Interestingly, when I was a bit older my mom also told me separately that if she was out on her own, she would rather return home to eat than go to a restaurant and sit at a table alone. So perhaps it is an attitude that runs in the family (?). Anyway, since Middle School, I have still had meals on my own in public every now and then. I’ve become more self-conscious during these meals, often looking around to check if I am the only one on my own, but am learning to be more comfortable with it as I do naturally enjoy my own company.
Back to India – At the jungle lodge, all the guests were to follow the same schedule. Meal times were scheduled and buffet style; safari times were scheduled twice a day; even snacks were scheduled to be given at certain times to ensure we didn’t get hungry. Over the course of my stay at the lodge, I had a number of meals on my own in the little dining pagoda that fit all 20 or so of us guests. I became quite conscious of the fact that I was the only one there on my own (others were there as a couple or family), but did my best to enjoy my meals leisurely. On New Year’s Eve, a campfire was set up next to the pagoda. I joined a group at the fire after dinner to warm up from the chill of the night. They turned out to be there as a family and welcomed me into their circle. They asked me where I was from and why I was there alone. I explained my situation – how I had wanted to stay with two friends elsewhere but had booked late. They understood, and we chatted and spent some more time together before the lodge closed up the area by 10pm and we all headed off to bed.
Full moon on New Year’s Eve
I was quite proud of myself. I don’t typically throw myself into a group of strangers, but I learned that night that, as long as (again) I stay open and true to myself, and, importantly, as long as I don’t judge and reject myself, I won’t experience rejection from others. Thinking back, I wonder if I would have had the same experience that night if I had been there on my own intentionally. If I had decided to go to India on a solo trip and adventure into the jungle for New Year’s. I think if I explained that I was there alone because I wanted to have a solo adventure, they would have probably respected that as well. (And anyway, my newfound perspective is that if they did judge me, it shouldn’t matter as long as I myself was happy with what I was doing.)
3) Without distractions, you are free to think clearly and be creative.
There is value in quiet and peace. There’s a reason writers, artists, and creatives of the past would retreat away to their chosen sanctuary – typically a quiet and secluded space – where they could think and create without disturbance.
I had been toying around with the idea of trying to write a song for a few days before arriving at the lodge. Prior to going to India I had only ever written one song, which happened when I was in Costa Rica, funnily enough also in a jungle. I must have a special connection with jungles, because on New Year’s Eve, I started scribbling the beginnings of a song. During the morning safari the next day, inspiration continued to strike and I came up with the title of my song – “The Road Less Traveled”. Related to the poem by Robert Frost, which my father loved and taught me and my sister when we were young; related to the beautiful paths we were driving down in the forest; related to this Road Less Traveled I wish to continue traveling down this year. I’ve finished the song and may share it at some point.
Two roads diverge in a wood Sighted fresh tiger paw prints on the morning safari! With our safari guide and jungle expert Safari selfie while waiting at a watering hole
What I hope you take from all of this is that it’s okay to do things in an unconventional way even though you feel others may judge. As long as it’s what you want to do and you are happy with your decision, don’t let anyone else make you feel any differently.
Here’s to cultivating more compassion, strength, and freedom in 2018!