It’s been six months since I came to the United States to serve at Magic Bus USA as an Atlas Corp Fellow. I was selected to serve at Magic Bus because of my background in online fundraising back home. While the organization is 16 years old in India, its fundraising chapter here in the US is 5 years old. The chapter has been taking shape over the years and has finally reached a stage where they need 2-3 employees with specialized skill sets to manage different aspects of its growth.

While my work has focused on putting together the organization’s online processes, it was a recent soccer camp I attended through work that got me thinking about how the fellowship isn’t just limited to skillsets (aka hard-skills).

The soccer camp was a week-long affair held by the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy (JFSLA). Magic Bus’ work falls directly in line with the mission behind JFSLA, prompting the two organisations to enter into a partnership of sorts a couple of years ago. Under the partnership, a handful of spots are reserved at the annual summer JFSLA soccer camps for girls from the Magic Bus program in India.

Due to passport and visa difficulties, only 2 girls – 13-year-old Nikhitha and 18-year-old Sangita made it across. But it was the selection of these girls for the camp as well as their interactions with the other girls at the camp that got me thinking about the similarities between their JFSLA experience and my own experience as an Atlas Corps Fellow.

Firstly, these girls were selected to represent Magic Bus based on a number of factors – their understanding of English, their soccer skills, and their level of confidence. These are all a result of the seriousness and dedication they have given to the Magic Bus program over the years. Atlas Corps screens all applicants for – relevant nonprofit work experience, their English speaking and writing skills, willingness to work in the States for a stipend and readiness to return to one’s home country at the end of the Fellowship. Both are clearly opportunities given to a select few based on the hardwork and dedication of many years – to the Magic Bus program in the case of the girls, and to the nonprofit sector in their home countries in the case of us fellows.

Secondly, at the camp, the girls are taught techniques that will help them better their game. The focus is on ensuring they understand the purpose behind each technique and how it can help better their game. After all, it’s not possible to drastically improve or even learn a sport in just a week. What is learnable in a week and what the camp also focuses on is values – such as leadership, team-work, trust, confidence etc. In a similar manner, the fellowship is helping me develop my soft skills over my hard skills. More than the Salesforce and Mailchimp exposure, it is helping me develop communication and interpersonal skills. The way Americans speak and interact at the workplace is very different from India – and that is turning out to be the biggest learning for me.

Most importantly, both experiences teach you how to be comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. The girls started camp the day they landed from India. Tired and jet-lagged, they were introduced to new people, their difficult-to-understand accents, their different-style of dressing, and new techniques on the football field too. It was just too overwhelming for 18-year-old Sangita, who broke down on field itself on the second day. Things got better for her over the days as she understood why and how all things American work. It was no different for me – experiencing my first Winter, seeing snow for the first time, learning to cope with that odd feeling of returning to an empty house at 6pm, building credibility and relationships with colleagues at a new workplace – overcoming these challenges made things easier over time.

Which is why I echo the words of Sangita, “More importantly, this trip has been an eye-opener to a new culture and way of life. For the most part of this short period, I was out of my comfort zone – but I feel this has helped me grow as a person the most. I believe I will be more open-minded about things going forward and also feel confident of undertaking initiatives on my own now.”

The Oxford Dictionary defines fellowship as, “friendly association, especially with people who share one’s interests.” But if you were to ask me, I’d say, “An opportunity to grow and develop both professionally and personally by being out of your comfort zone.”

NOTE: The views expressed in this post are based on my personal experience with the Fellowship. Every Fellow’s experience is different and this may/may not hold true for them.

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