In less than two days, Julia Harper will be on her way to India to volunteer her time and energy to help with organic farming in the region. 

She’s never been to India. She doesn’t speak the language. She doesn’t even have a garden. But the former Dempsey Challenge coordinator is following her heart — and hoping it leads her to a new life’s work.

Name: Julia Harper

Age: 27

Town: Poland

Married/single/relationship: Relationship

Job: Full-time student of life

You had a good job and a comfortable life. What made you decide to uproot yourself? I often struggle to explain all the reasons, even to myself. The shortest explanation is that underlying inspiration was from listening to my intuition, which had been quietly telling me I needed to make some drastic changes in my life, ones which could lead me ever the more closer to finding my “life’s work.”

How long will you be there? I’m very fortunate that I have the opportunity to make this trip open-ended. Barring any unforeseen emergencies, I’ve decided I’ll purchase a return flight when it makes the most sense to do so, most likely when I reach financial or mental exhaustion. I’ve been telling people this might look like six months, but I can’t say for certain, and I don’t want to.

Have you ever done anything like this before? Definitely not. This will be my first time traveling alone as well as my first visit to India and the continent of Asia.

Why India? The idea of India was planted in my mind about a year ago, shortly after joining an online voluntourism site called HelpX is a global network of helpers and hosts that exchange labor for room and board. I had registered as a helper and left my destination undetermined, though I did have South America in my mind’s eye. A few days later, I received my first email invitation from a small organic farmer host in northern India. I immediately thought, “Wow! I could go to India!” After I became open to the possibility of India, a series of signs presented themselves, pointing me in that direction.

Are you going in completely alone or will you be working with a charity or other group? I’m going alone, though I will have connections to people in India through friends of friends and the networks of HelpX and World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming (WWOOF) India.

What got you interested in farming? I have a strong desire to lend my support to organic farmers and the food they produce, because I care about the planet and human welfare, including the many souls that I have encountered over the years who are dealing with or have lost a loved one to insidious diseases such as cancer.

Do you have a garden here? Nope. Between Portland apartment dwelling, squatting at my mom’s house in Poland and full-time work in Lewiston, the most I’ve managed to accomplish in the last four years is a healthy compost pile and few sad-looking potted tomato plants that were often sabotaged by my sneaky arch nemesis, the fat squirrel. Luckily, our household’s organic produce needs did not depend on my efforts. We invested in a farm share at Willow Pond Farm in Sabattus, so we never wanted for fresh, responsibly raised veggies all summer long.

What do you expect it will be like in India? I have so many swirling images in my mind: extreme poverty, spice markets, ancient temples. I’ve been told that no amount of books or movies can prepare you for India. One person told me his distinct memory was stepping off the airplane to the smell of both mangoes and excrement. Based on this, I’m trying to hold my expectations and be ready to embrace a wild new world.

What will you miss the most here? Of course I will miss my loved ones — friends, family and partner. I know I’ll also miss the creature comforts of reliable hot showers, Western toilets, ample toilet paper, hot showers, drinking water that doesn’t need to be sterilized and raw food that won’t constantly taunt me with the risk of giving me diarrhea, or worse.

Where will you go after India? I can’t say with any certainty what is on the other end of this journey. I will simply trust that by staying grateful for everything and keeping my mind open to all possibilities that the right opportunity for me will present itself, and I will know to follow it.

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