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Yesterday was my twenty-fourth birthday. Early in the day, one of the other fellows in my cohort reached out to me to say, “happy birthday ily i am so grateful to have you in my life!! Your friendship makes this fellowship worth it.”

Living and working in rural areas has many charms and working in this program has taught me, and my fellow fellows, a ton. These lessons have ranged from personal to professional, and a few in-between. I have learned and grown more from my time in the fellowship than I have in the past two years since graduating college, but it has not been easy.

Becoming deeply involved in my community has brought me much joy, but also hardship as I see the bureaucratic and political limitations to helping those in need. Having my first apartment to myself in a town where I moved to, knowing no one, has given me a kind of freedom. However, it has also been a mental workout learning to cope with isolation at times. Being given nearly full autonomy in conducting high-level work has been exhilarating and has been an opportunity to show my strengths– but it has also been difficult in times where I had limited support from my supervisor to execute my responsibilities most effectively.

From these balancing acts, I have learned a lot about myself and how I find stability in times of distress. I have gained a deeper appreciation of having a walk on a sunny day, cooking for myself (when the only vegetarian option in your town is a taco salad or vegetable lo mien), and putting together a jigsaw puzzle– but what has supported me more than these meditative acts has been moments of connecting with my cohort.

No one knows the high highs and the low lows like those in the same situation as you. Virtual happy hours, going out after training, group chats, and cross-state visits have been my rock through my time in the fellowship. I did not realize that the people I sat with at the name game event during training would be people I would now call some of my best friends– and it’s a different bond than what I have with my non-fellow friends. There is a kind of solidarity and light that comes with ranting or laughing with my fellow fellows. I can turn to them when I need advice on a project, or when I want to complain about writing a blog post, or when I am lonely or sad, or to celebrate writing an ordinance. They understand the hardship, the reward, and the simplistic joy of talking to one another.

So, although there are many things that have made this fellowship “worth it”, I must agree that my cohort– my friends– have been the greatest part of my experience– and my advice to incoming fellows is to not be too afraid, embarrassed, or whatever reason you may have, to reach out to your network.

So to cohort three I say “ily” and to cohort four I say, you should make a “just fellows” group chat day one of training.