Disjointed Fellowship Fragments

Essays that I used to apply for the Interact Fellowship.

A few months ago, I applied to the Interact Fellowship, but unfortunately got rejected shortly after. The application essays however, were incredibly insightful and posed a lot of interesting questions that I found myself thinking a lot about. I wanted to share my ramblings for some of these questions because I think that they tell a lot about who I am as a person. Shoutout to Kenton for the idea.

One interesting thing to note was the limitation of 250 words per essay. I personally struggle with being terse in my writing, so this was a cool opportunity to exercise that muscle and be creative within the space I was given.

Writing

One part of the first question asked us to consider what projects this year we worked on that year that gave us the most excitement. Naturally, 2019 was the year my writing habit finally flourished from disjoint journal entries to thought out pieces, so I talked about the creation of my blog.

By far, the most meaningful project of 2019 has been my personal blog, which I started in February 2019. Throughout my life, I shielded myself within a private Word Document, pouring out fears, dreams, day-to-day minutiae, and essays on various topics of curiosity. Earlier this year, I started publishing my thoughts in a public space, inspired by my girlfriend Mackenzie, an accomplished writer in her own right. I decided to make this change in order to shorten the feedback loop, be held publicly accountable, and confront a deep-seated fear of mine. Putting my thoughts out there in the ether scared the hell out of me (still does), but I’ve realized that the worst-case scenario is as harmless as a mere disagreement with a stranger. I have since written about technology, spiritual journeys in Thailand, lactose intolerance, and my incessant quest for self-improvement.

Podcasting

One of the following prompts was a fun one. It asked us to consider things that we had done / experienced in recent memory that impacted our beliefs or values in a meaningful way. I’ll let the essay itself do the talking.

“Hi, my friend and I are traveling across the country and wanted to chat with you for our podcast. Do you have a minute?”

A couple of summers ago, my friend Takashi and I took a cross-country roadtrip from Florida to California en-route to our internships in San Francisco. This is what we would ask strangers along the way. Bizarre, I know. What started off as a fun creative project to keep us sane during our 21-day car-habitation turned into an enlightening experience that has informed my view of strangers to this day.

Podcasting being uncharted territory for me, I was skeptical that we would have enough interesting content. I was dead wrong. Of the 42 people interviewed, 41 incredible stories made the cut for Tuna Pasta (the name of our podcast) — with one scrapped due to wind. Our final question was always “What life lesson would you like to impart onto those listening?” We learned that every interviewee had lived a rich life with varied experiences, and therefore a unique life lesson molded by their worldview, almost always revolving around seeking community and fulfillment.

This understanding has been a deep undercurrent in my day-to-day and inspires me to travel and meet new people to learn their life lessons. It also compelled me to work at a place like Facebook, where I strive to learn how to build technology that empowers people to share their authentic stories and connect with others in meaningful ways, at scale.

Identity

Finally, the last one that I would like to share is a very personal answer to a very personal question (by design). Basically, they wanted to know what people typically do not find out about you until they’ve gotten to know you for a certain while. I discussed my cross-cultural identity, being raised in both India and America, and exploring a young Nikhil trying to make sense of it all. 🧒🏽

Dec. 6, 2001.

I had no idea why we were at the Hyderabad airport and surely no idea why I was howling for a plastic water bottle that I had named. All I remember is being confused the entire plane ride from India to America. I wouldn’t understand until much later why we left a comfortable life in Andhra Pradesh for an ambiguous and cold existence in North Carolina. I struggled to communicate with other kids due to my fragmented English, and my unfamiliarity with American 6-year olds’ nuanced interactions proved an uphill battle.

We returned for the first time when I turned 14, and it rushed back to me - the smells, the animals, the pastoral life of my grandparents. The experience struck a powerful chord of nostalgia. I had missed my homeland…until I contracted Typhoid. I couldn’t hold down food for a week, and felt as if my homeland itself was rejecting me. In my dilapidated state, I also noticed comments from relatives regarding my ‘foreigner’ Telugu and ‘western’ mannerisms. Although I wouldn’t become an American citizen until 2018, I realized then that I was no longer Indian.

My heritage connecting these early struggles is something that I tend to keep to myself, but the more I reflect, the more I realize this heritage permeates my identity. I grew up in two divergent environments and thus had my own unique struggles. I don’t identify as Indian or American, but somewhere in between is where I’ve found my truth.

All in all, I had a truly enjoyable experience drafting these essays and can only hope that future applications I write will be as ripe with avenues for self-exploration as this one was.