August 29, 2016

GUEST ROOM | From One Wilderness to Another

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Though I am in a different hemisphere altogether, I can still sense the frenzy of Orientation week that Ithaca bursts with every August. As a faithful columnist, an ardent alumna and a fervid fan of Cornell, I could not resist writing another column. It is kind of a plot twist after the tearful final column I wrote in May, but the Associate Editor pardoned my inconsistency. For those beginning their gamble on the Hill and for those worried about how fast their prescribed four years are flying, this may be important.

After graduation, I took up a job as Research Associate in public policy in the developing world. I had it somewhat easy because the developing country I am working in is one that I love and grew up in. That being said, it is nothing like anything I have experienced in my sheltered life in a boarding school followed by an Ivy League. This past month, I have been chasing public schools in central India across mountains, forests and rivers (not a literary exaggeration) as opposed to Pokemon in New York City. I have missed my friends, the hedonism America offers young professionals and Cornell immensely. I had a window of three days before moving to my new life. The professors who founded the organization I work with describe the induction process of new RAs as “baptism by fire.” I am not sure I would have survived this baptism if not for my four years at grueling but rewarding Cornell.

My job makes me push my own expectations of my abilities. I am still in the middle of nowhere. I am expected to lead my field teams and keep up their spirits through erratic monsoons during field work. Weather is only another geographical element after Ithaca and this is important, because you become less likely to quit. At Cornell, I was surrounded by genius. In my new job, the acumen of the team of professors, principal investigators and researchers I am working with is intimidating on an entirely new level. At Cornell, I used to question myself — how did I get here? I have done the same at my new job, but I have moved past that and embraced the J-shaped learning curve just like Ithaca taught me.

Cornell taught me how to deal with failure time and again, an invaluable skill across all professions. Cornell also improved my ability to make the best of every situation. I could have been singularly miserable given the transition of lifestyle my job demands, but somehow I find myself unequivocally happy so often. I suspect a lot of how I am maneuvering new fields (quite literally) comes from what Cornell sneakily taught me while I was freaking out about good grades. Finally, the relationships I formed at Cornell taught me the best part about life is our interactions with people. It still amazes me when I try to visualize the network of people my life is intertwined with spatially, and I am only 22. Moreover, my network could not be more diverse. My current job requires me to form high-functioning teams with people across a vast socio-economic and cultural bandwidth. I exposed myself to diversity at Cornell. I am certain that helped. (Freshmen, do explore the Intergroup Dialogue Project in this vein, you will start appreciating the world more). Finally, my job requires me to be able to keep up academically. One cannot escape academic rigor at Cornell, and we call it hell as students. As someone in a field driven by rigorous quantitative and qualitative analysis, I am thankful for 2 a.m. nights in Olin.

Finally, Cornell was simply beautiful. I have now moved onto landscapes which are gorgeous in entirely different ways. But I will never forget the beauty of my home for four years which taught me to identify and appreciate sunsets in every wilderness and over every skyline. Cornell has been good to me and two months into a very real world that a lot of us don’t even know exists, I had to share my reflection and gratitude. For those of you in Ithaca this week, remember that you share the fervor of a new beginning at Cornell with thousands of alumni across the world who only hope you get as much out of your experience as they did. Good luck!

Aditi Bhowmick graduated in 2016. Comments may be sent to [email protected]. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.