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I’ll be honest: I’m a bit of a control freak.

I don’t like to be late, and if I am, I want it to be my fault. I don’t like to be unsure of what is coming next. Essentially, I’m not that good at letting go.

When I boarded a plane two months ago to travel for 20 hours, landing halfway across the world, I knew I was letting go of routine. I knew I was letting go, at least temporarily, of the world I had known my whole life, and while that uncertainty was nerve-wracking, it was also thrilling. Stepping out of the Ahmedabad airport at four o’clock in the morning, it was already over 90 degrees. I could tell this place was vastly different from my temperate home in the San Francisco Bay Area, but I couldn’t really have known what else was in store.

Over the course of the weeks to come, I had to let go of many things, including but not limited to my preconceived notions of myself and my abilities, my need for schedule and direction, and my view of how to best communicate my ideas to others. The first step I took towards letting go happened very early in the program. Despite having applied to the program intending to work with children, I decided to work on microfinance as my primary project at Saath Charitable Trust, DukeEngage’s community partner. As a proud Political Science major who dropped out of Pratt a year and a half ago, I developed the notion that my quantitative skills were lacking, so this was stepping out of my comfort zone. For our project, the microfinance team consisting of two other Duke students and myself, we were tasked with developing an in-house credit rating system to standardize loan appraisals across the 12 branches of the Saath Savings and Credit Cooperative. After weeks of branch visits, surveys, and statistical modeling in R, I realized I missed immersing myself in quantitative projects.

Over the course of the summer, I also had to learn to cede control when it came to scheduling. In a country with different cultural norms and principles down to the side of the road that cars drive on, it was unreasonable to expect that I would be able to be on time for everything. Working at a nonprofit established more than 30 years ago and encountering hurdles like visa registration and language barriers, it was impossible to expect my work to be run as efficiently as it would if I were working alone in my dorm at Duke. And while scheduling hiccups proved frustrating at times, I realized that, in the end, the disappointment they caused me negatively impacted my work and overall experience more than the scheduling changes themselves. Even though it would be hard, I knew I had to start letting go if I wanted to be able to do my best work.

As the program rapidly draws to a close, I can confidently say that it was the moments in which I decided to let go that best defined my experience this summer. When I embraced the unknown, when I took setbacks in stride, I learned not only about the new world I was experiencing. I learned about myself.

Microfinance students interviewing clients on a site visit. Photo credit: Ravi Bhati