That Time I Got Restless and Ended Up in India

The case for trusting your instincts on the big stuff

Photo by me, taken during a layover on the way to India

Some people conquer restlessness by reading or baking or going for a run. In 2013, my response to going stir crazy was booking a plane ticket to India to work at a rural residential school for three weeks.

Five months prior, I left my job and friends in New York and moved to Boston with my then-boyfriend. I didn’t know anyone in Boston when we moved. He knew one person. He went into an office. I spent my days freelance writing from home, the ceiling and walls shaking every hour or so as the three-year-old upstairs ran around and screamed. Eventually I migrated to coffee shops, but the streets outside were so quiet compared to New York that I found it just as off-putting as our apartment. I once sat at a table for 10 minutes on a weekday and the only sign of life outside was a woman walking a golden retriever.

So I did what any normal 24 year old would do

  1. I started applying to jobs that came with offices and other humans
  2. I told my friend, the co-founder of a non-profit, that I wanted to travel and volunteer somewhere before starting a full-time job again

Her response: “I’m sending you to India”

This wasn’t an empty statement. She was — and still is — the co-founder of an organization called She’s the First. They collaborate with grassroots organizations around the world to support girls’ education. One of their partner schools is Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project, a residential school in Southern India created for children from the country’s lowest socioeconomic class.

My reaction: “Okay. Sounds great!”

Over the next month or so, the following things happened:

  • I applied to be a volunteer teacher at the school
  • My friend wrote a recommendation letter
  • I was accepted into the program
  • Days later, I also got accepted for a job I was interviewing for in Boston
  • I told that company I’d only accept if I could start in a month and a half. They agreed
  • I bought a plane ticket from Boston to Bangalore
  • I applied for a visa
  • I got seven vaccines from a travel doctor in one day

And before I knew it, there I was at Boston Logan International Airport, saying goodbye to my boyfriend for the next three weeks before taking off alone to India. I’d never traveled to another country alone before. Oh, and I had zero teaching experience.

No one who knew me was too surprised

Back in the summer of 2011, just a couple of months after I met my boyfriend, he half-jokingly suggested I join him at a scientific conference he was attending in Barcelona. I was fresh out of college with no vacation days, little money, and rent to pay for an apartment in Brooklyn.

Within weeks, I floated the idea to my manager and she somehow pulled strings so I’d get paid for the time off. Then I started scouring the internet for the most reasonably priced plane ticket I could find.

“So… uh… about that trip to Barcelona,” I told my boyfriend one night at his apartment. “I think I’ll join you for five days after your conference ends.”

His reaction was the perfect mix of surprise and excitement that confirmed I’d made the right decision. What he said next confirmed things even further: “Maybe I should meet your Mom before we leave the country together.”

Not long after, the three of us went to dinner at a Thai restaurant in Manhattan’s East Village. Unlike my boyfriend who met me just a couple of months ago and needed some time to fully grow accustomed to my spontaneous side, my mom expressed zero surprise or hesitation at these travel plans.

She probably would have done the same thing. Also, before I graduated from college and moved to New York City, she said: “I just have this feeling that the first guy you meet there is going to be the person you marry.”

(Mom knows best. He went out and bought a ring while I was in India)

Funny thing is, I completely overthink day-to-day life things

When we moved to Boston, all of the stuff in our one-bedroom Upper West Side apartment fit in ¼ of our new dining room. After all, dining rooms are not a thing in New York City. It took us three weeks and a headache-inducing number of visits to furniture stores to agree on a couch for our living room. And that was far from the only piece of furniture we needed to buy.

I think it took me less time to warm up to the idea of moving to Boston — and trust me when I say that I’m very stubborn, so I would not have moved if I didn’t think it was the best thing to do. I’ve just always been really good at trusting my instincts when it comes to the big stuff.

Speaking of stubborn…

My boyfriend decided to propose the summer of 2014, two months before our three-year anniversary and about a month after I returned from India. I had recently purchased and immediately proceeded to lose a hat I bought at the local outlet mall. I searched the entire apartment for it with no success (this was a much bigger apartment than the one we left in New York City, so it took a while before I gave up hope).

We were about to go to dinner and I was sitting in the living room on the couch we finally agreed upon after three weeks of debate. I heard him say from our bedroom down the hall, “can you come here for a second?” I walked over and he was in the corner of our room, next to this standing mirror/jewelry organizer I had, with a smug smile on his face.

I’m not kidding when I tell you that my first thought was: “He found my hat and he’s about to brag about being better at finding things than I am.” So I stood in the doorway, refusing to move.

“Would you just come over here?” he said. Finally, I reluctantly walked over to his corner of the room. He didn’t reveal my lost hat. We never did find it. Instead, he opened the jewelry organizer, pointed to the ring compartment, and said “what’s that?” Amongst my costume jewelry was an engagement ring. He pulled it out, got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.

I said “yes, of course” without hesitation and hugged him for so long that he finally suggested I actually look at the ring on my finger. After all, I’ve never been one to question my instincts on the big stuff.

P.S.: I went back to India two years later. Are you surprised?

Writer. Editor. Marketer. Content Strategist. Articles in The Startup, Better Marketing, The Ascent, The Writing Cooperative // alyssagreenfield.com

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