Back {home}

It took me two days to get home. A 30-hour journey from Gaborone to Johannesburg to Doha to NYC turned into 48 hours when I ended up with a surprise layover day in Doha. It was the longest flight delay I’d had all year – so of course it happened on my way home. Luckily, of all the places to have a long layover, Doha was the best for me to end up. (Who ever guessed I’d say that?). I was able to go into the city and meet up with my good friends there for dinner before getting on my very last Watson flight. It was strange to see them again so much earlier than I expected to, but it was lovely, and probably a good opportunity to start thinking about all that’s happened this year and all the people I’ve said goodbye to.

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A view from Manhattan.

In the past couple days, I’ve had friends tell me to remember to take some time for myself and to resist talking about the Watson so much that it exhausts me. I’ve been catching up with friends and family almost every day, as well as discussing my year with hopeful future Watson fellows looking for advice. I feel like I’ve hit the ground running here since landing on July 20th, and without much time to process on my own, maybe I’ve stretched myself a little too thin. I suppose this blog post, being the first one I’ve written since arriving in the US 18 days ago, is the result of my finally taking the chance to breathe, sit alone, and process a bit. (This is basically a warning that this post is long, sappy, and disjointed, which is probably a good reflection of my Watson year anyway).

I’ve thought a lot about the definition of home this year, and I’m thinking about it even more now that I’m “back.” I am incredibly lucky and joyous to have two loving parents that are happy to house and feed me for free, for as long as I need, even when I don’t always want to talk about all that happened on the Watson or when I stay out late every night catching up with old friends. My parents moved within the city while I was gone, so when I left New York, we were living in a different apartment than now. Not only am I coming back to a physically different space (not that I am at all bothered by changing rooms!), but I am also coming back at a different time, as a changed person, to people and places that have continued to evolve while I’ve been away. This is why “coming back” doesn’t seem like the right phrase. I was in NYC a while ago; I did a lot of things in a bunch of other places; and then I traveled to NYC. This whole time, I was thinking that my arrival in NYC would symbolize the end of the year, things coming full circle, my return to home, etc. But I don’t feel those identifiable patterns, those neat circles or even the simple linearity of life. I still consider NYC to be home home, and I am very happy to be in the city, but coming back to the US at the end of the Watson feels more like a continuation of my travels rather than an ending or a reset.

Speaking of home, I stayed in 50 distinct rooms over the course of the past year! I slept on friends’ floors, in an ashram, in really fancy hotels, on a Russian woman’s couch in Sweden, in a Japanese capsule, in a bed shared with two other women, on a boat, in the guest ward of a hospital, and more. I thought it’d be a fun idea to keep track of them all throughout my travels. It averages out to be a new place for almost every week of the year, though of course I spent many nights in some places and only one night in other places.

Now, writing from Philly where I’m staying in a friend’s spare room, I find myself eager to keep the tally going, to keep counting these beds, because they weren’t just rooms I stayed in – they were micro-homes, they were real places that mattered to me all year, even if they were ant-infested or tiny or shared with a friend, and even if none of them were spaces I owned. I wrote down these places as though I would forget them, as though it was the location that made them home, or the host, and writing them down would remind me of the degree of comfort I felt in each place – but now I realize that the only constant of these spaces wasn’t that they housed me, but that I was there and made them home. By looking for home in all these places, I ultimately created home within myself. (I know how trite that sounds). But I thought I’d return to the US with a feeling that I had left bits of myself all over the world, and while that’s probably true, I feel slightly more optimistic that I can carry those bits with me anywhere I go.

Anyway! Here’s a little round-up:

  • Watson rooms: 50
  • Individual flights taken: 32 (including 13 domestic flights within India!)
  • Countries for my Watson: 6 (Sweden, Qatar, India, Singapore, Japan, and Botswana)
  • Countries I stepped foot in this year: 10 (the additional four are Denmark, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe)
  • Episodes of 30 Rock watched: all 138 of them, for the first time, over the first half of my Watson
  • Harry Potter movies re-watched: all of them
  • Swiss Army Knives lost at the airport thanks to poor packing decisions: 1
  • Pairs of shoes that I destroyed: 1
  • New pairs of shoes that I bought: 2
  • World Wonders seen: 2, the Taj Mahal and Victoria Falls
  • Swatties found abroad: 9, from the class of 2017 to the class of 1958 (!)
  • Best food I ate all year was in: Japan (incredible sushi, sweets, donburi, noodles)
  • Worst food I ate all year was in: …Japan (due to a delicacy of cod fish sperm I unfortunately ate 3 times)
  • Blog posts: 111, including this one
  • Notebooks purchased: at least 6, maybe 10
  • Kindnesses received: far too many to count
  • Compilation videos made: 1…

Before I started the Watson, a friend told me about “1 Second Everyday,” an app that allows you to take 1-second videos every day and ultimately compile them into a video that summarizes whatever time period you choose. I used the app all year, and here is the result:

[Video link is here for those who can’t see it. Also, I chose this song because it’s my favorite one to listen to when I’m on a plane that’s just about to take off].

This jumble of thoughts about the year may or may not get clearer as time goes on, but that’s enough for now. Thanks for reading!

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Packing for a year

In roughly 26 hours, I’ll be leaving NYC for my flight to Stockholm. Recently, packing has been the main adventure as I struggle to figure out everything I will need and want over the course of the year (and, of course, how to fit it). I always think that the best way to do it is to pick a suitcase that is the maximum size of what you want to carry, or ideally  less than maximum, and then stuff it to the brim! Although this ratio of stuff to bring and suitcase size isn’t looking too good yet:

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I wanted to do an extended post about packing and what I’m bringing because these posts have been a valuable source of advice for me. I have to give a big thanks to Nell Bang-Jensen of namesacrossnations.blogspot.com, who did a Watson 2011-2012 and wrote incredibly helpful posts for future Watson Fellows. I ended up getting the same suitcase as her (the Osprey Meridian, which was actually recommended by many different people I spoke with) and followed her shoe advice closely in order to get one nice shoe, one super comfy walking shoe, and one every day shoe (walking sandals). Feel free to check out the links in my “Bags” and “Shoes” sections below.  Also, Legal Nomads is a good general resource, especially for considering what to pack and being a solo female traveler: http://www.legalnomads.com/wds.

What follows is a super detailed list of what I’m bringing, and that’s mostly for me in case I lose something. I’ll be unpacking and repacking countless times this year, so I wanted to have a good list of what I was taking beforehand. I’ve never done this for a trip before – not even when I studied abroad – but I hope it proves useful. And, if you’re interested, I hope this list helps you think of what you might need for your adventure!

Bags

Clothing

  • Underwear: 8 pairs of ExOfficio (quick-dry travel underwear); 2 pairs regular
  • Sports bras and regular bras
  • 8 pairs of pants
  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • 16 shirts
  • 2 skirts
  • 3 dresses
  • 2 scarves
  • Socks
  • Tights and warm leggings
  • Pajamas
  • 2 warm sweaters
  • Coats
    • REI Windbreaker/raincoat
    • North Face black fleece coat

Shoes (again, thanks to Nell @ namesacrossnations.blogspot.com)

Medicine & Toiletries

  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, facewash, floss, comb, deodorant, razor
  • As recommended by travel consultations: Advil, Pepto Bismol, Immodium, and bug spray
  • Malaria pills

Other

  • International charge adapters and voltage converter
  • NYC souvenirs to give hosts (keychains)
  • Cocoon sleeping bag liner
  • Quick dry towel
  • Washcloth
  • Camera: Canon PowerShot G9 X
  • Kindle
  • Blu mobile phone (in each country, I’ll swap in a new SIM card to get a local number there; I’m also bringing my iPhone to keep a US number just in case, though I will mostly use it as a WiFi device)
  • Watson passport holder with passport (of course!) and the “Getting it Right Guide”
  • Credit cards, Watson ID, Seven Corners travel insurance ID
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Swiss Army Knife
  • Notebook, paper, journal, etc.
  • Pencil/pen case
  • Sunglasses
  • Mini leather jewelry box (gift from my aunt Kate) with a couple pairs of earrings, watch, etc.

Now to see if it will all fit!