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Courageous Spending: Grad Student Risks $3,500 On India Dream

Last week, Becoming Fearless ran a post on abundance which featured readers' tweets on the topic of financial bravery. One of those tweeters was Allison Asplin, who tweeted, "Sponsor bailed on funding my research trip to India. I paid for it myself - & it helped me get my dream job!" Here's the whole story, in her own words.

I'm getting my master's degree in International Relations and Economics at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in D.C. Last summer, I didn't really want to do a standard internship. I knew that in 2010, the TATA Corporation had funded several students' independent research projects in India, and I thought sounded good for me. I thought I'd go study energy efficiency in buildings in India. I pulled my proposal together; I planned to visit six cities in July and August 2011, touring as many LEED Platinum buildings that I could.

I planned to start in New Delhi, then go to Pune, Vadodara, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Bangalore. I made contacts -- the chairman of the Indian Green Building Council, a renowned green-building architect, people in individual buildings. Once I had everything together, I asked the heads of my department at school when to submit the proposal. And they kept saying, "We're just waiting for the approval to come through." So I'm just waiting, waiting, waiting. This goes on for probably six months. Suddenly it gets to be May, and I'm thinking, I don't know if they're going to come through! I need to buy my plane ticket! What do I do? An academic journal had already agreed, sight unseen, to print an article about my trip after I got back. So I thought long and hard, and finally said, "I'm going to go!" I ended up just paying for it myself, spending about $3,500.

Was that a big amount for me? Absolutely! I basically worked as much as I possibly could [as a teaching assistant], but part of what I had to do was roll it into the loans I took out for school. So it wasn't ideal. But I had a good feeling about it. And my parents were super supportive. They were proud of me for taking the risk and doing something that I believed in after the bottom fell out of it.

Most of my fellow classmates, though, were like, "You're going to be jetting around India by yourself? For a month?" India's notorious for being intimidating for women who are traveling alone. But at a certain point, you kind of have to say, "Yeah, that's what I'm doing!"

Once I got to India, the people there were incredulous that I wanted to see the basements of their buildings. I wanted to see what kind of water-treatment equipment they were using, what strategies. In India, almost every building of any size has a sewage treatment plant in the building. In Mumbai, they only have running water for three hours a day. The municipalities are overloaded; there's all these people, all this waste. It's actually a requirement in Mumbai that when you build a building, you have to put in a sewage treatment plant. And I have to say, not one of the plants I visited was smelly! They're running very, very well. I smelled many bad things in India, but a sewage treatment plant was not one of them.

They're really focused on water in a way that we are not. I was surprised at how miserly they were -- in a good way -- with their water. They were recycling and reusing it on-site; they were capturing rainwater. These buildings are even greener than they're getting credit for, because they're doing things that aren't even measured by LEED.

I came back from my trip so much more powerful. When you have an idea and you have setbacks and bad breaks and things that don't go your way, but you make it happen anyway, it's like, "I did that!" I got sick a little, but I got on every plane that I needed to get on and figured out a new city basically every three or four days. I developed a strategy, and it was: As soon as I'd get [to a new city], I'd find an ice-cream shop. For some reason, everything seemed better when I'd had some ice cream.

Traveling by myself for a month was amazing for my self-esteem. I was just coming off a bad breakup with a guy I'd been dating for three years. Before that breakup, I'd been in a relationship with a guy for eight years. So I was really coming off of 11 years of being attached to somebody, and all of a sudden... I wasn't. That summer was the first time since I was a teenager that I'd been single for any significant period of time. At age 33, I was getting to know myself again -- who I am apart from how I'm influenced by somebody else. I had a month of this continual self-creation process that I wouldn't have had if I'd been at home, because I would have been around my friends and family in familiar surroundings.

The things that have come out of the trip have been great. The publishers of the article I wrote are planning to use it in a textbook they're writing. And my experience helped me get my dream job! I'm going to be a fellow at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. It's an unusual position; there are only three of them worldwide each year, and they use it as kind of an internal think tank. After I got hired, I found out that they were really impressed with my work on energy efficiency, which is what my project was about. They hadn't known the ins and outs of what was going on in India in that regard.

I definitely got my fearless attitude from my parents. I'm an only child, and they have always encouraged me to be independent and make my own decisions. They raised me to be resourceful and to handle myself. But in India, I had to learn how to accept help, which for me has always been really tough. There were times where I'd feel that moment of freezing -- like when I had to take a bus in Delhi and didn't know the system. It was like, "What am I going to do in this situation?" And there was nothing I could do except ask somebody for help. Now I'm much more confident and comfortable asking for help whenever I get that stuck feeling.

One of my favorite thinkers is Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun who runs an abbey in Canada. She talks about how fear is a blessing in some ways, and if you can observe it, you can sometimes see that it's telling you something that you need to work on. I have all these things I want to do in my life. I don't have to be scared.

What fearless financial risks have you taken? Comment below, or tweet us all about it @HealthyLiving using the hashtag #becomingfearless. Tweeters will automatically be entered into Toyota Corolla's Most Fearless Tweet Contest! (Click here for the Official Rules.)

Images courtesy of Allison Asplin.

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