Episode 24 │ Cha-Cha, Then Kolkata (PANAMA/INDIA)
Updated: May 4
"When you're on vacation, you kind of want to cram as much as you can into your time there... In India, because I was there for three months, there was never a rush to go do anything. There was a lot less pressure on the trip." (Sharon, Episode 24)
Thanks to being in the same schools, Sharon Myladoor and I were aware of each other's presence for a few years before actually becoming friends in high school. She was a grade ahead of me, we were both in theatre and band (I was the perpetual second-chair alto saxophonist until she graduated), and I've looked up to her ever since I was a freshman.
Sharon completed her Bachelor's and Master's degrees in accounting at Oakland University, and while in undergrad she'd wanted to do a semester abroad but was intimidated by the prospect. She wasn't sure if she could handle going to a new country by herself (she had only traveled with family or large groups before), or staying there for that long. Fortunately for her, she had some friends who had participated in the business branch of Global Brigades in Panama, and hearing them talk about how rewarding it was encouraged her to sign up for the next trip the following year. This way, she would only be gone for a week during the summer, activities would already be structured for her, and she'd have an entire school year to get to know the other OU students whom she'd be traveling with. And what do you know, she enjoyed the experience so much that she went two summers in a row!
As a volunteer with Global Business Brigades, Sharon and her group spent a week teaching personal finance and financial literacy to indigenous populations in local villages. The lessons they taught were based on the communities' needs, and they varied from how to save money, to deciding when to sell a pig when feeding it was no longer sustainable, to figuring out which items to re-stock more or less of in a store's inventory, and more. In southeast Michigan, Sharon had previously done volunteer work helping under-served communities with taxes and personal finance. She still provides similar services now, and she remarks that her time in Panama taught her how to better break down concepts that we might take for granted, explaining them in a way that novices can understand. Part of that skill involves being able to recognize when people pretend to understand because they're too afraid to ask questions, and that's something she learned to do in the Business Brigades as well.
Having learned so much, met a different culture, realized how workable communication can be even with a language barrier present, witnessed the marvels of nature and wildlife, and having been able to finally prioritize what she wanted to do while traveling — her two trips to Panama confirmed that Sharon wanted more of all of that. So by the time 2017 came around, she was ready for a new adventure. By then she was working for a public accounting firm in Detroit, and said firm was looking for U.S. employees who were willing to live in India for 3-4 months to help train employees at its office in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). She'd heard the announcement a handful of times, but it wasn't until a colleague sent an email out to her team explaining why it'd be a good opportunity that Sharon decided to consider it. After expressing interest she was in India within less than a month; she arrived the week before Thanksgiving and returned home in mid-February, then hopped on another plane back east to South Korea (shoutout to Ande Hubbard from episode 22!).
She had never been to Kolkata and her family couldn't offer much insight (most of her folks live in southern and southwestern parts of India), so that city was a completely new experience for her. Though crowded, Sharon grew to appreciate the magnificent sites that were available (like the Victoria Memorial), the bars and restaurants that turned out to have amazing food, and co-workers and hotel staff who proved to be exceedingly friendly and welcoming. Though she probably wouldn't have visited the city if she were simply in India to see family, working in Kolkata afforded her a different perspective to add to her previous firsthand impressions of the country. Plus, she got to travel to other cities like Bangalore, Mumbai, and Goa, and when she did see her relatives (her cousins especially), she could connect with them in more fun ways because now they were all old enough to do what they wanted without worrying about rules or watchful elders.
"Once I got in, then I figured out everything... don't panic or think about the details."
Initially, Sharon hadn't gone to college specifically planning to go to Panama. She hadn't started her job intending to work in India either. She heard about both opportunities, thought they sounded cool, and signed up. Compared to when she used to be too afraid to travel to other countries because of all the variables that might be at play, now she's observed from experience that, "Once I got in, then I figured out everything. And it ends up working out, right? If you have an opportunity and it seems interesting, don't panic or think about all the details. Those will all fall into place." Sharon now lives in Detroit and works at a bank. All the more eager to travel, she wants to have visited 30 countries before she turns 30. She's got five more countries to go and Argentina is likely next, followed by a tour of East Asia. And of course she'd love to revisit India again! Sharon can be found on Facebook (Sharon Myladoor) or Instagram (@sharebear431 / @sharonmyladoor).
Be sure to listen to this episode, "Cha-Cha, Then Kolkata (PANAMA/INDIA)" for more! And don't forget to check out the resource list below!
More of Sharon's photos from Panama and India
Danielle G. is the creator, host, and producer of Young, Gifted and Abroad. You can find her other writings at DeelaSees.com.