Priya's Story: Why I Decided To Go On A Solo Adventure Across Europe.
September 17, 2018 | By Priya Bellare
I still remember that dark evening when I reached my apartment in Waltham. It was a cold fall day - my first day on my own in this city in Massachusetts, USA, far from my hometown, Bombay, India.
As a child I had been brought up in a small apartment, always full with people, noise and commotion, but with a happiness and a centered stability of my family. I grew up with simple and kind people and our family had many friends, who always visited us. My parents ensured I was focused on my education and my career. I also remember my mom being an individual, who did not focus on the way she looked and did not use much make up. What she was most interested in was reading and learning new things with an open mind. She was a fantastic example of strength to me that was my beam of support during hard times. This sort of an atmosphere around me was one of the building blocks during my childhood. My parents were (and are) most caring and supportive and encouraged me to come to the United States to do a Ph.D as it was a hub of science and biotechnology. I was nervous about the long-term commitment of studying and research that I would need to make. Despite my initial resistance, my father’s persevering, convinced me to make that decision. And I must say that he was responsible for introducing me to one of my loves – science. When I pursued it, I had to search answers to tough, hypothetical questions, and only with luck and smartness (that only came from doing more experiments!) I would embark upon something truly exciting, after which I would get my Ph.D. I remember going through dark times of almost giving up, but the support I got from my dear husband, my mentor and friends, made me go on. And finally it happened and my husband and I, both got our Ph.Ds.
I had first met my husband during my Masters in Pune and I had initially thought he was one of the most interesting guys to talk to about science. That of course evolved further and we fell in love. We both went on to doing our Ph.Ds together at Northwestern University, Chicago, after getting married. We had postponed starting a family until we got our Ph.D. - and it was okay to do that, especially here, in the United States.
This country and its people, that gave my husband and me the power to chose, also gave me the liberty to not just make my own decisions but also make mistakes and learn constructively from them. If I look back to 20 years ago when I just entered the USA, I was naïve, but excited by all it had to offer. It allowed me to understand myself when I was in the worst situations by myself. An example of this was being diagnosed with brain cancer. This happened when my son was 4 years old and my daughter was only 5 months. When the diagnosis was communicated to me, my journey to deal with this rough, uphill terrain had begun. Although it was a slow growing cancer, it involved surgery, chemotherapy and radiation and was marked with different ways in which things could go wrong badly. But looking at it from the flip side of the coin, and believing in some kind of force that takes care of us, it likely happened to me for a reason. I had the world’s best neurosurgeon who practiced surgery at UCSF only a walking distance away from where I lived. I got the best care with him, oncologist, radiologist and kind nurses. During the morning of my surgery at 5 am, I remember feeling this all-consuming nervousness and crippling fear, as a small mistake in the surgery could make my right side paralyzed for lifetime. But I had to look strong, at least for the sake of my son - who was also awake and wondering what was going on and started to cry. I did not cry. I hugged him and told him to believe that everything is good and I would be back in 5 days. The surgery lasted 12 hours. I was awake through it, as they needed to test my nerves as they operated to get rid of the connective tissue that contained the tumor. It seems surreal now, but it was a success and triumph for the neurosurgeon and his entire team. I was able to be a survivor, and it changed my life and my perspective. Some bad things in life happen for a reason, I feel. And this country and its habitat helps you find your way in the toughest times.
After a few years when my kids grew up, I got the courage to do solo trips to Europe, with a backpack, zeal and curiosity, with loving support from my husband. Although this was something even some of my closest friends did not understand due to its unconventionality, I felt a need to do it after my past experiences - an urge to enjoy every day of my life. I also felt armored by travel blogs written by women who did solo trips. They propelled me to experience alone, the joy of biking in Amsterdam, staying in a youth hostel in Zurich, hiking in Switzerland and also feeling the loneliness and fear while looking for my Airbnb in the dark night, on the streets of Heidelberg. All of this triggered the extrovert in me that had been latent for half my life! I felt the inclination to spend time with people that were different from me and people I already knew, which helped me understand and love the world in a deeper way. As the physicist and astronaut Mae Jemison said, “Don’t let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity.” This country allowed me to practice all this in real life.
The milieu in this country reminds me of a Bollywood movie called “Bareily ki barfi”. This movie portrays an Indian girl who gets happiness from being a rebel. Being a rebel is tough, often lonely and not all women / girls have the courage for that due to cultural constraints. But this country allows every girl to be a rebel, at least to some extent and realize gratification and solace from being their true selves…like it did with me.
Priya is a scientist, residing the Northern California with her two kids and husband. When she not working on finding research on infectious diseases, she travels and document her experience on her blog https://lifevoyagesite.wordpress.com/.
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