The Valentine’s Day didn’t mark the end of my trip but gave it just a memorable start.

After having those hefty realizations of creating an impact, I moved towards creating an impact on my bucket list. Thus, Dhruv and I went to try the famous hot chocolate of La Burdick because traveling is all about experiencing the local culture, right? In the freezing cold, nothing could have made us feel better than the delicious hot chocolate.

As the evening approached, we were all set for the excitements ahead encompassing the I-Night Carnival and I-Night Performances. While one was the display of the food and clothes of our own countries, the other was that of beautiful performances of dance and music.  But typical me, I decided to have fun on my own. When one of the delegates (who I hadn’t met yet) asked to go out to Shay’s Pub & Wine Bar on the delegates’ WhatsApp group, I was all in. Excited to experience the clubbing and nightlife of Boston for the first time (I wasn’t 21 the last time I came), I left immediately with him without thinking of informing any of my friends.

While sipping one of the most luscious beers that I have ever had, I had a few interesting conversations with Shiven. I came to know a lot about him including his outstanding achievements and his vivid experiences. As a few hours just passed by chatting and having fun, I recalled my everlasting wish of drinking and chatting while tipsily walking on the roads and decided to fulfill it. As a pleasant evening just ended, an exciting night laid ahead.

Amongst all my kiddish behavior and fun, I never checked my phone which had quite a lot of messages and missed calls from my friends who were worried as to where I went (I am not that irresponsible usually, or just a little maybe). Faltering on my steps, reaching back, I enjoyed some of the most splendid live performances of my life. The way everyone showcased their talent, as well as their culture, was truly enthralling. Those who don’t know this yet, I don’t leave any opportunity to dance. So, when the stage opened for us, I was the first one to grab the opportunity and started rolling on the wild dance numbers from different countries. It was quite weird and enthralling when Haryanvi songs like ‘Teri aankhon ka yo kajal’ started playing. Now, who could have thought of that?

While most of my experiences revolved around living the life of Boston to the brim, the events of this one night gyrated around getting to know the people I was surrounded by and making some connections for life.  Fanatical as you already know I am, I decided to skip the plan of going for dinner with a large group and decided to sneak out and explore on my own. As luck would have it, this time I was accompanied by one another soul, a person I had met only briefly yet, Ayush. We went on a night stroll and talked a lot. My roommate and Dhruv also joined us later and, soon we bid farewell to the night. (This ‘soon’ is apparently 2 am and only because Dhruv and I already had 5 am plans the next day, if we can even call it the next day)

At 5 am, we left for the Boston Harbor and didn’t know just yet that we were in for a surprise. It was something completely different from the pictures, and when I say that, I can assure you it was much more alluring and serene than we expected. We were led to the harbor through a pathway full of Valentine decorations and quotes and it looked so prepossessing that I started trying to capture with my eyes everything at once and was just not getting enough of it at all. It was so dark and it looked so beautiful, only if the camera could capture what our eyes fell in love with.

Crossing the pathway and reaching the harbor was a splendid delight. We just sat there for hours, gazing, feeling the breeze, and enjoying the moment. We were supposed to reach back for our first session at Harvard by 10 am but both of us were so lost in the moment that HPAIR was completely forgotten. The breeze sent shivers down my skin, but I refused to move. When the clock finally struck 9 and we knew it was time to go, I refused to accompany Dhruv. I was ready to miss my sessions, I was not even thinking about them, I was just feeling at bliss and didn’t want to go back. To say that he had to drag me from there next, won’t be an understatement.

I am happy he did that though because the first-panel discussion itself blew my eyes open. Being a citizen of an overpopulated, developing country like India, I thought I knew all about poverty, laws, and all the related issues but that day great people like Neeru Paharia, Judi Burgess, and Sandra Polaski made me privy to the rising tension due to income inequality and labor rights in other countries as well. I was told stories in which they had themselves witnessed a world where women were vulnerable to abusive practices at works, things which only I had seen on television to date.

After this heart-warming panel discussion, a lunch was organized for the scholars to meet the leaders and panelists of all the tracks and get a one on one perspective about things. I got an opportunity to interact with Taisa Veras, the director of Social media at NYC & Company. I was amazed by her approach towards work and the kind of success she had achieved at such a young age. What added on to these experiences was how philanthropic and down to earth these people were.

If you ever feel you have attained too much at a young age, you would have to think again if you would have attended our session of HPAIRx. These people, my age had achieved so much in their lives and done so much good for society. From introducing a reverse innovation of drone-based maps and Artificial Intelligence in India to negotiating mobility in gendered spaces of Pakistan, these five delegates had given their all to serving the nation. There couldn’t have been a more elated moment in this journey than realizing the fact that I got a chance to attend a conference where such driven minds existed.

After this, Impact challenge, a traditional competition held at HPAIR each year was introduced to us. We were given a brief about four cases, what constituted them, and the perks of winning each. We had to choose one and through a random allotment, we would be given our teams overnight.

After a very long yet fruitful day, Dhruv and I decided to explore around more. Though our initial plan was to explore the Skywalk Observatory, we ended up getting a lot of alcohol and walking on the streets drinking. The best part was sneaking into his hostel and let me tell you, the fun had just begun. We were later joined by his roommates and we had some crazy conversations. Now, don’t expect me to remember those, I was too tipsy, or so they say. I was too tired from the previous night’s rendezvous so instead of going back to my guest room back at Harvard University (it was 11kms away), I ended up crashing in one of the random unoccupied beds in a dorm room. This might be the wildest thing I pulled in this entire trip, or so I thought. (Let’s not talk about what would have happened if I would have been caught)

What I didn’t know then was that my fascinating luck is going to give me a shock in the morning. When I got up and left to get ready for the Impact Challenge which was the highlight of the day, I came to know that I haven’t been allotted any team. I hadn’t received a mail about the allocation and everyone I knew had. I was kind of half freaked out and half, ‘Oh does that mean I am exploring some new place today :D’. So, I hurried up, got ready, and reached the front desk (that was by the way two whole hours later to when I got to know I hadn’t received my mail, and just minutes before it was about to begin), and I finally got to know my allocation and I was all happy to know I had been allocated to the challenge of the refugee crisis happening in different parts of the world.

My team had people from varied countries, and it was fun to work for the first time with such diverse opinions on the Syria crisis. After three hours of hard work when our presentation was selected for the top 10 presentations to be given in front of the judges, it was indeed a great moment. It is such experiences that make me even more eager to go and get my MBA early, to relive these great moments, meet such bright minds, and create beautiful memories.

After the end of the Impact Challenge, we were all very excited to get ready for the Closing Ceremony, The Gala Night. As the splendid conference came to an end, it was a happy-sad moment because it was time to bid goodbye. I have never been a ‘keep in touch’ person but some of those people are a part of my life even today, seven months after the conference ended.

With everything coming to an end, and as I bid farewell to everyone, I was all set to spend my leftover 1.5 days at Harvard. Meeting professors, spending hours at the Harvard Library ‘Coop’, buying Harvard goodies, attending MBA classes, I spent the leftover time with myself, reliving and cherishing my love for Harvard and Boston.

But is that how the trip ended? Are things ever that simple when it comes to me? I have a record of having crazy endings to my trip. How could this one be any different? As I reached the airport and submitted my luggage, I realized that I still had two hours to go for my flight. So, I sat down before my check-in and started reading a novel. I tend to get so involved in my reading that I forget about the rest of the world. So, something was bound to happen. When only an hour was left for the flight to take off, I left for the check-in, and as I was asked to keep my electronics in the tray, I realized my phone was missing AGAIN!

You must be wondering how can a person lose her phone twice on the same trip. In case I never mentioned, first I forgot my neck pillow while boarding my initial flight from Delhi to Boston and had to run and get it after the boarding had already started, then I lost my phone in the airplane during the same journey and now this, I had broken my own records of clumsiness. With hardly a few minutes left for the boarding to start, I was wondering whether to leave my phone behind or take a risk of missing my flight and look for it. I was all panicked and alone and not knowing what to do I ran and checked at the bench I was sitting and reading at, and further asked the helpers and people sitting nearby but no one had seen my phone. Out of luck and dejected, I went to the check-in lady and told her what had happened, she asked one of the attendants if she could make an announcement, and coincidentally someone had handed over my phone to that attendant only. Gosh, that was a big save! I rushed off and boarded my flight just seconds before they closed the gate. And laughing on myself, that’s how my journey to Boston ended. I was taking home a backpack full of memories and a hope to come back again soon (and then Covid-19 happened).