Birthdays are always a time for reflection. As loved ones, friends, and those notified by Facebook reach out with well wishes I find myself asking questions. What have I done in the past year? Am I heading towards my goals and aspirations? What changes have been made, or need to be made? I am my own biggest supporter and harshest critic. I’ve been on a plodding, meandering journey for the last three years and 26 will be the culmination of those experiences. For some reason, I’m feeling more nostalgic than usual on this day. I’ve never before written something on my birthday and I wish to avoid a soppy, sprawling array of exclamations and instead provide an analysis of myself. Most people say college was the best years of their lives, I’m not one of them. Every year since has been monumental, and I’m optimistic that the best is still yet to come. I’m writing this from a second-floor porch of a concrete home in a small border town of a third world country. This is my third, and likely final extended trip to Honduras. Maybe I’m tired of bucket showers and power outages. Maybe it’s time to think bigger.
The first birthday I spent outside of the country was my 23rd in Malaysia. It was my second week at SMK Bukit Diman and they celebrated by presenting me with a cake, wishing me a Selamat Hari Jadi (Happy Birthday), and maxing out the storage on their phones with pictures. My 24th was spent in Philadelphia with friends from Scranton, over-intoxicated and still struggling to find myself post-Fulbright and a year abroad. This past year, my 25th was spent at a festival in Puno, Peru surrounded by culture, excitement and great company. This year will be low key; a small, intimate dinner with those who comprise my Honduran family (minus Laura and Paul who are in the U.S. at the moment). I don’t need much else; a few hours swinging in the hammock and a banana soda. A call from missed family members and my supportive girlfriend. Maybe it’s maturation. Maybe the exposure to foreign elements helps separate what is truly meaningful.
In the past year, I’ve developed a more concrete plan for the future. I made the determination that teaching has been an invaluable tool with which to see the world, but was not a career path. I realized that I am at my most fulfilled serving under-developed countries. This past December I submitted applications to a collection of international development master’s programs and I anxiously await their decisions. We spend our childhoods being told what to learn rather than how to learn. I’ve learned more through traveling and volunteering than in any textbook or classroom. I’m excited at the prospect of studying something that I’m truly passionate about. I’m intrigued by areas like developmental banking, sustainable agriculture and increasing access to education and healthcare. But as I wrote in my essay, “It’s not all sunshine and roosters.” My friend group continues to get smaller, but as it contracts it grows tighter like stuffing an oversized blanket into a handbag. I’ve drifted apart from most of my friends from Scranton, aided in part by consistent distance and a lingering bitterness I feel. Three years ago, as I planned the celebration of my greatest accomplishment to date- a Fulbright Scholarship to Malaysia- I was flooded with confirmations of attendance and subsequently booked hotel rooms and transportation. When the time came, their indifference showed as only my two closest friends came. It meant more to me than they’ll ever know. Maybe I shouldn’t take things so personally. Maybe I got some clarity from it.
The most drastic change I see in myself since all of this began is my sense of right and wrong. I don’t see things in a partisan fashion. I analyze the very core of every idea and weigh its positive and negative contributions to society. If it helps, I’m all for it. That’s why I’ve drifted from social media, bar frequenting, and political indifference. I’m focused now on living in the moment, expressing individualism, and being informed. Every day I remind myself to be grateful for the advantages I’ve been given. I am fortunate enough to still have all four living grandparents. My two sisters are accomplished and inspiring. I have parents, step-parents, mentors, and guardians who advise and assist me. I see that being born white into a household with both parents, in a suburb of Connecticut puts me ahead of the majority of the world. To whom much is given, much is expected. Between now and the fall semester I’ll be working with medical brigades in Honduras, substitute teaching in the U.S., returning to Asia to visit my school as well as my sister’s, and enjoying one last summer free of most responsibilities. Maybe I’m crazy for pursuing this unorthodox path. Maybe I’ll have a better idea next year.