Ramona Arora thrives on exploration. As an analyst by profession, she digs in to ask questions, find meaning and make sense of things through data. As a solo travel enthusiast, she embarks on new experiences and destinations. As a volunteer, mentor and community advocate, she discovers new connections between people, ideas and passions. All of this comes together in the trail she’s blazing and boldly sharing — a journey which she took the time to share more about with us.
OwnTrail: Throughout your trail, you’re intentional about aligning your passions and your work through volunteering, mentorship and personal & professional development. How do you navigate finding opportunities to do this?
Ramona Arora: That’s a great question! I always had a passion for giving back to the community but initially, did not know where to begin. My first experience at volunteering was at a non-profit organization back in India, called Gramiksha. I started there as a volunteer with an intent to support efforts that helped in uplifting underprivileged communities and eventually got promoted to a leadership role. I still remember being surprised that I qualified for it. I was the only female in the core team, but was never treated any differently. I think that recognition and validation made me believe that passion and enthusiasm goes a long way. Even though the corporate life has made me challenge this belief many times, time and again I have realized that if I feel strongly for a cause and want to bring in change, then there are many organizations looking for support from the community. The hard part is finding relatable mentors or communities that align with your vision, and once you do, following up is essential.
RA: Last year when I got laid off, I was seeking something fulfilling outside my 9-5 where I could make a difference and actively give back to the community. I was grateful to have found Products by Women and OwnTrail that helped me build my personal brand, while giving me the opportunity to connect with some incredible female leaders. As a young girl, I never had female role models or mentors, and this past year I have come to learn how having a supportive community and mentorship plays a very important role in your personal and professional development. If you’re looking for opportunities to support and grow, the only way to start is by building a strong network and initiating conversations. If you don’t share your intent to support and what you bring to the table, then nobody will ever know. Trust me when I say, impact and passion matters and there will be people that will make you feel otherwise, but I stand as an example that it works and I hope this encourages people to take the first step.
As a young girl, I never had female role models or mentors, and this past year I have come to learn how having a supportive community and mentorship plays a very important role in your personal and professional development.
OwnTrail: Your milestones around your relationship with yourself are super inspiring. What advice do you have for anyone struggling with prioritizing themselves?
RA: This might sound cliche, but ‘you only live once’. I think we take that phrase so lightly (it’s more than just saying YOLO!) and don’t realize the honest intentions behind it. It is so easy to get overwhelmed by all of life’s struggles and opportunities, but you need to continuously remind yourself of your WHY. Every so often, take a moment to pause, reflect and re-structure. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Who is it for? Does it align with where you see yourself in the future? Does it make you happy? We are made to believe that you should keep working hard and happiness will come your way, but I am sorry to say that’s bullshit and reality doesn’t work that way. Happiness is something you need to work for and prioritize every day, and the first step towards true happiness is learning to say NO when needed and putting yourself first. When you choose yourself first, you tend to detach yourself from the toxic people in your life and move towards more authentic connections and friendships.
OwnTrail: You’ve been open about the challenges that come with being an international student/employee and external forces like the pandemic. What impact has owning this part of your story had for you?
RA: I think more than anything, it has been very liberating. I was born and brought up around a mindset that emphasized being silent about your struggles, as they are a part of our lives and should be accepted. There wasn’t a conversation around how these struggles are impacting your mental health, instead, it was considered to be a sign of strength if you have struggled and survived. I moved to the US in 2018 as an international student, but I wasn’t prepared for the challenges that it would bring to my life. I am extremely proud of everything that I have achieved but I had to unlearn as well as learn a lot, in order to reach a stable point in my life as an international student. There is a large amount of paperwork, time restrictions and uncertainty for someone on a visa.
I am extremely proud of everything that I have achieved but I had to unlearn as well as learn a lot, in order to reach a stable point in my life as an international student.
It actually took me about 3 months after my graduation to get my first job as an analyst, and it was a really stressful time in my life as I was only allowed 90 days of unemployment. I was also affected by covid layoffs within 7 months of my new job and it caused a high amount of emotional distress. (Like PTSD, no joke!) With many companies not hiring international students and the fear of losing unemployment days, I was very close to giving up. Eventually, I did end up getting a job but it definitely made me realize that people need to come out and talk about this more freely. I often see people label internationals as individuals taking up their jobs, but there is a whole lot that we go through that people are not even aware of. From not being able to see my loved ones to adopting a new culture in no time, it can get quite overwhelming. Having realized this and owning my story has helped me in educating and helping others, and is something I will continue to speak of.
OwnTrail: One of your passions is travel, leading you to launch Solo Wave this year. How has solo travel and connecting with other solo travelers impacted your path through life?
It was solo traveling and exploration that helped me take ownership of my life and not wait for others to be able to live my life to the fullest.
RA: Growing up, I was often told that it’s not safe for women to go out alone or wear the clothes they want to wear. There was also a huge stigma around ‘being alone’ as it made you look lonely, resulting in more dependency on other people. As you may know, the way our society tends to deal with women’s safety is by restricting women and their freedom. It wasn’t until I moved to the US by myself, that I realized how these restrictions and judgments had caused a fear in me and made me develop preconceived notions around people who traveled alone.
For the longest time, I was dependent on others for my needs and wants, so it was very easy to be disappointed. It was solo traveling and exploration that helped me take ownership of my life and not wait for others to be able to live my life to the fullest. It has truly helped me in stepping out of my comfort zone, building confidence and loving myself again. I still think it’s crazy that it took me 24 years of my life to realize my love for solo walks and alone time. From discovering local finds and culture to building lifelong friendships, solo exploration continues to enhance my personal growth and perspectives on things. It has also made me realize that there is a lack of representation in the travel space, leading to lack of awareness of its impact, but I am hoping this movement of Solo Waving can empower more women to go out and explore solo and challenge the stigma.