By: Ashley L

I’m a first time world traveler of the quiet variety, so embarking on a journey across the globe with a group of strangers to share my skills with the Global Autism Project was a decision I spent a good couple of months chewing on. Yet, every blog post I read, every detail of the website, all of the YouTube videos, and social media posts would set me on fire inside. I had to apply. 

   I interviewed, was accepted, and suddenly I found myself on the most wonderfully challenging adventure. Three art sales, two benefit shows, a paint-and-wine night, a quiz-for-a-cause, and so many personal messages later, I had raised my $5000. I was going to India. 

   The three day orientation in New York was packed with like-minded individuals itching with that travel bug. We explored who we really aspire to be, each person with their own unique comforts and discomfort levels…. And that’s really the point isn’t it? It’s when we are uncomfortable that growth happens. Your “why” should always be in the forefront of your mind. Why did I choose this? Why am I here? I saw a need. I wanted to be part of a movement. I believe every child can learn, and is so deserving. Little did I know, I would be learning more than I expected. 

Culture shock can be a very real experience if you allow it to be just that- a shock. Everything felt strange. From the moment I stepped off the plane I was on my way to conquering myself. What I mean is that by stepping off that plane, I entered into an ongoing process to withhold my assumptions, digest my discomfort, healthily curb my anxieties and uncertainties… I had to learn to let go. 

   For every reason to feel overwhelmed there was a reason to feel gratitude, and a reason to be mindful and present. I realized how easy it is to fall into a negative headspace. Am I doing the right things, am I asking the right questions, am I in the way, have I offended someone on my team, on the street, at the school… I won’t focus on that here though. Day by day, I’m learning to ask more questions, and to find solace in little moments of beauty in the midst of the unfamiliar. These moments, for me, looked like: 

   The resilience and resourcefulness of the strong and independent women at ASHA, the smiles and handshakes of the children who greeted me every single work morning, yoga class, the incredible lunches prepared for us each day by the staff out of sheer, warm hospitality…

   Outside the center my grounding moments look like children laughing and playing between buildings, a shop keeper feeding a cow fruit from his own stand, a family of artisans keeping their traditions alive, a man getting his haircut outside of a barber shop, the smell of mounds of jasmine at the local market, a priest chanting his mantra as he rang a bell, monkeys running across power lines, the colors of holi powder and saris… 

   For everything I thought I knew, there was a way for me to learn better. And perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that the need is most definitely greater than my discomfort.