Written by Aqsa Pervez, 2017 Wellesley Contemporary Women's Leadership
As I stepped onto the airplane, passport in hand, I had a lot of inhibitions. I kept thinking: “What if I didn’t fit in? What if I didn’t make any friends?” Having a familiar face in someone from my college, a junior named “Aanchal,” was a solace. But, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking that I would stand out as an Indian girl who had never been abroad before. Little did I know that it would in fact be my strength and I would enjoy everything so much more because of the novelty of it.
In my five weeks as part of the Contemporary Women’s Leadership Program, I would be taking a course in Organisational Psychology and one in Women and Gender Studies. Again I wondered: “What if I could not cope with Psychology being an Economics and Finance major at college?”
Neither Aanchal nor I knew the first thing about travelling abroad. And at that moment I could think of at least a hundred things that could go wrong. But, there was no turning back. I decided to put aside my stream of thoughts and watch Julia Roberts go on her journey of self-discovery in ‘Eat, Pray, Love’.
I took a breath of relief when I reached Stone-Davis, my home for the summer, without incident. I was given a double occupancy room that I did not have to share with anyone. I had twice of everything: tables, chairs, dressers and twice the fun. Outside my window, I could see the lake. My room was just what I had hoped it would be. I thought to myself, “So far, so good.”
We had four weeks of classes, three hours a day for three days a week followed by a fifth week of experiential activities. Throughout those four weeks, I fell in love with the classes and my Professors. It was my first time taking both a Psychology class and a Women and Gender Studies class. I was amazed to see the passion and enthusiasm my professors exhibited. The four weeks just flew by and by the time week 5 rolled around, I had overcome all my inhibitions. We celebrated Fourth of July, went to the Prudential Centre, Legacy Place, Plymouth, the Museum of Fine Arts, Quincy Market, had karaoke nights and photo booths.
Every day, I explored a little more of campus. And as I got to know Wellesley better with all its narrow paths and steep hills, I felt a change inside me. I felt enthusiastic and energetic. I was adventurous and ready to take chances.
I felt that I could do anything, be anything, and achieve all that I have ever wanted and more.
I also found that all my fears of socializing were unfounded, as everybody was so friendly and warm that I felt right at home. At first, I did not immediately make many friends and I was beginning to feel that my inhibitions were going to come true. However, I took myself by surprise and asked a few of the ladies in my program to join me in finding the lake. The rest of the day was spent getting lost multiple times on campus while Morgan, Mona, Aanchal and I tried locating the lake. It was the beginning of the countless times I would get lost looking for the lake in an attempt to scale its perimeter entirely. By the end of the program, I had made four lovely, human friends Aanchal, Becca, Morgan and Mona and, one wonderful furry friend named Hero.
In the fifth week, I found practical applications of everything I had learnt in the previous weeks. I met incredible women who had turned adversities to their advantage and had stopped at nothing to achieve what they wanted. Their journey inspired and instilled hope in me. The best advice I received, was during our ‘Golf for Business’ session, where our instructor Leslie Andrews told us to always say yes. Women often miss great opportunities in the workplace because of hesitation and rumination. If somebody asks you whether you play golf, don’t deliberate. Don’t say, “Well, I have just played it once.” Or the classic, “I am not very good.” Stop selling yourself short. They didn’t ask you if you played well. They just asked you whether you played. The answer, in that case my friend, should always be, “Yes! Of course, I play golf.”
As the program came to a close, I realized that I had been on my own journey of self-discovery. I realized that I had been unfair to myself. I was discrediting myself even before I started any endeavour. Being at Wellesley helped me change that. Since it was my first trip abroad and one without any parental supervision, I was terrified that I would make terrible mistakes. But, I realized that I was actually not as irresponsible as I thought I was. I took care of myself alright and went around Boston on my own! Not too shabby, eh?
I made relationships that will last me a lifetime. I never thought that our vastly differing sets of experiences would, instead of distancing us, bring us closer. My friends taught me to believe in myself and to step out of my comfort zone. We were brought together from different corners of the world and in those four weeks we watched each other grow up and grow on each other.
My classes prepared me to face everything, head-on, like the leader I had always wanted to be. More importantly, I realized that leaders are not necessarily in highly visible positions — they can come from anywhere and do good work without us acknowledging them. Leaders are not just the heads of a team. They can also be someone who subtly keeps up the team spirit and encourages everyone to achieve their goals individually and as part of a team.
We often end up being too hard on ourselves. We don’t trust ourselves or give ourselves enough credit for everything that we do do right. I thought I was completely incapable of doing anything right on my own. But, turns out being on my own for five weeks is what I needed to regain my faith in my own abilities. I never knew something could change me as much as this summer did.
I have learnt to take chances, explore, go on adventures and to be open to experiencing new things. I tried sushi for the first time in my life and was even brave enough to try eating crabs! (Not a big fan). The whole experience has just been life-changing. It was truly one of the best ways I could have spent my summer. My advice to future attendees: Do everything! Walk around campus, eat food everywhere, walk around the lake, go kayaking, watch the sunrise on the lake, watch the sun set on the lake, speak to everyone, and make as many memories as you can. If you choose to attend this program, I promise you, you will not regret it.
Posted in: Contemporary Women's Leadership