Reflections from Amsterdam – A Year LaterAmsterdam, Fall 2009

The realization that it had been nearly a year since my departure in search for adventure abroad dawned upon me in the most unlikely of places: a Mexican fast food restaurant. I was sitting in a booth across from a friend who had come to Appleton to visit me, as I am working full-time at the office job I have held for two years. She was telling me about her own off-campus experience and as I set down my burrito that was brimming with black beans and rice, I mused, "Hey, it's been almost a year since I left to go to Amsterdam. That's weird." Not the most articulate or profound of revelations, but it certainly got me thinking. A year ago, I was working at the same office. I still held the same majors/minor and carried graduate school aspirations. I was still a shopaholic who spent too much money. (I blame Amsterdam; the habit of spending my money—for once!—is not going down without a fight. I wish I could claim dismay, but I just bought this cute, gray shift dress and a seafoam belt to go with it, so to be totally honest here, I should really be thanking my time abroad. … Seriously!) I certainly am no more certain of my place in this vast world. The more I reflected, the more crestfallen I became; I feel the same. The only differences are the greater number of stamps on my passport and the continuing deficit in my bank account. Maybe I am being too cynical. I am arguably better traveled (though by no means would I don the adjective of "well-traveled"), a fact that I make use of every once in a blue moon, which is usually accompanied with wide-eyed surprise, as if I cannot even believe that the adventures I am describing are my own. Though I have always held a degree of adventurousness, four months of living in a foreign country that I had only seen in pictures has made me bold. I have a wider circle of friends; social networks like Facebook are godsends in bridging distance and creating an illusion of physical closeness when it no longer exists. In fact, one of my friends from the program has asked me if I would be interested in backpacking throughout east and southeast Asia with her after we graduate from college next spring. A year ago, I would have shirked in terror at the thought-- the cost, the danger, the uncertainty. Now, I only hope that I have enough pages in my passport. There are few palpable or visible signatures of my time abroad. Instead, I see it in my choices, such as deciding to change my focus in what I want out of my senior honors project (the very one I slaved over in Amsterdam, in which I interviewed over half a dozen doulas and midwives) to that of sexual therapy/education instead of "sucking it up" because it would be easier and less fuss that way. I saw it last month during my family vacation to London, Paris, Prague, and, my personal favorite, Amsterdam, in which I drank in their sights and took in their heady smells instead of racing through them because I knew then what I did not understand merely a year ago; that I would someday return. I do not know where I will be a year from now, just like I did not know a year ago where my adventures in Amsterdam would lead me. I could be on the streets of Tokyo, chatting amiably with a fellow backpacker as we explore that corner of the world and all it has to offer. Or I could be tucked away in a small flat in Philadelphia, studying diligently for my upcoming GREs or looking for more doctorate programs to add to my list as I have now decided to postpone applying this fall, contrary to my once dogmatic beliefs on the matter. Or I could be somewhere else entirely, a place that will only reveal and unfold itself to me in time. In closing, I offer another sort of diary than the Moleskine notebook I mentioned in one of my early posts, a more Simple Diary, in hopes that life is lived instead of imagined. Instead of spending my days waxing poetically about the ideal life, I will be closing my eyes, jumping in, and capturing a few of life's treasures, imperfect though they may be.
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