As I was walking to the currency exchange place the other day in Berkeley to pick up some pounds for the UK, I found myself wondering what a strange year it has been. A really odd, unpredictable, yet quite fantastic year.
Simply sitting here, in Oakland, late August, writing this blog, is itself something that was a bit unthinkable at the beginning of the year.
Leaving a great job at UL in January, saying so long to Chicago, ready to do a bit of travelling for a few months, and teach English in some tiny town in Chile until December. No real plan afterwards, save for probably going to school in the US somewhere for a Masters in fire protection. In hindsight, that all would have been fabulous in and of itself.
But really, the fact that an earthquake can change so many things (for me) is remarkable. Part of me still thinks it is a stinker, my fortunes came at the expense of a giant earthquake. I was given the option to stay in the teaching program, albeit delayed and a bit chaotic, or opt out. I was having too much fun travelling, was a little greedy in that regard I suppose, so I took the chance and opted out. I would have been a pitiful teacher anyways (they would probably be the ones teaching me...haha). Well, actually, I know I would have adjusted and it would have been challenging, and I would have had a completely different experience. I like to think that even if I had gone through with it, although the experience would have been totally different, it would have been great in it's own unique way, you just never know. Which reminds me of when I told my friend Pree from Brasilia about that earthquake, she wrote back "Who would think an earthquake would change Nick's plans?' True story.
So, plans changed, and I basically did not have a plan for even the next day for 5 months straight, only knowing generally where I wanted to go, leaving open when I wanted to go, how to get there, and what I would do. And in retrospect, it was a great feeling. To be able to do what you want to do, go where you want, be in control of yourself and your own time, not adjusting to anyone else's demands or schedules. It must be in some ways what retirement is like, I've concluded. I guess I must be looking forward to retirement then, haha.
So, I proceeded to go lot's of great places. But along the way, the best part of the trip, in the end, was all the people I met. So many kind and friendly people, everywhere. We always talk about the differences between cities, countries and cultures, but the one thing I experienced, through couchsurfing and Rotaract/Rotary, is that people in general are very accommodating, kind, curious, and most of all proud. Everyone loves to show off their city, their foods, and their culture. Now, I recognize a certain aspect of irony in this in that everyone I was meeting and staying with can fit a sort of international stereotype. They too also usually wanted to meet people, and show off their cultures, requiring at least a certain mentality, not to mention for the most part at least a slight bit of economic freedom. But even when I was taken to parties or to meet friends and neighbors of people I stayed with, from what I saw, still, people were curious, friendly, generous, and proud. Maybe I'm psyching myself out on this one, but I think there's something too say for it.
And although it is almost cliche (dangit Pree, I'm saying that word now!), I do think that I changed at least a little bit because of the trip. On the surface, of course, seeing all the places I saw, and learning all I learned. Becoming a bit more sociable, because I had to. Deciding I like learning languages a lot more. Figuring out how I like to travel. Seeing new ideas & perspectives from different people that maybe I had not thought of before. And with all that damn time on buses, getting really good at thinking. Listening to music, staring out the window and thinking. What are you going to do when you're sick of studying Spanish, don't have a book, just woke up, and have 14 hours left on the bus ?
I came back to the US and sometimes I feel too humble when I meet new people in regards to my experiences. I simply don't feel the need to profess to people about all the places I went and all the stuff I saw. For some reason it just seems arrogant. I tell people I just got back from South America. They say...'Where did you go in Argentina?'....'well, let's see...Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Bariloche, Mercedes, Ushuaia....well...everywhere except the northeast??....' Then I say I'm going to Europe for a few years, because I got this fantastic scholarship, and it is almost a guilty feeling, haha, like a big F you because I've chosen to do my best to travel and do something a little different. Then that just makes me feel lucky, no student loans, good job in Chicago, ability to use my brain and control my spending (some call it frugal, okay, you're right! haha... but hey I remember 2 year ago I was not frugal), and that I actually have the ability to do such things. Then people tell me they'd love to do what I'm doing, but I think 90% of the time that's not exactly correct. Most people don't want to drop their things. Alter their spending habits. Adjust their schedules & lifestyle a bit. Leave some friends behind for awhile. Meet strangers through couchsurfing ('Isn't that dangerous or uncomfortable?'....No, it is not really...). Try something new and unknown. For more than just a 2 week vacation. But it is intimidating I suppose. It takes motivation, and a bit of opposition to the predefined, accepted path created by American society these days, which mostly involves working yourself like a dog, not a lot of personal time, maybe some kids, a house, an MBA, and a few similar commitments. I think I prescribe to the German approach, a 35 hour work week, a few more holidays here and there, maybe a little less GDP & income (oh no!), and the acceptability of a gap year sometime before or during or after college. So as Lennon said "Life is what happens when your busy making other plans". Dang, those Beatles and their quotes.
Well, anyways, after the earthquake and a grand 3 additional months of travelling, I stumbled upon that scholarship. It was total luck that I sat there in Edu's and his families house Asuncion, Paraguay, and saw it after searching Google for fire protection programs, at the precise right time. I had all the qualifications, and got it. Then after spending another month or so more in Brazil, and having the aforementioned abrupt return happen, headed home early to get everything sorted out. So, like I said at the beginning, could not have even imagined that happening in January, was not even on the radar. Moral of that story: Google is your friend!
So it's been really great to spend some time home, visiting family and friends for more than a few days. Even having enough time to meet a few new people. And I had a good trip to Chicago seeing good friends. In hindsight, I would have waited and gone to Chicago in August for more than 3 days so I could have seen more people, but I was rushed at the time, and so it goes. Lately I've also been trying to make sure I stay in touch with many of the people I met everywhere I went, through facebook, emails, and just getting people's addresses to try and send a cheery postcard from somewhere at some point. It's a bit of a chore trying to stay in touch, but I think people like it, and it's worth it.
So now, I got to pondering about what I'll do after the 4 semesters are up. Well, I'm doing my best not to think of 2 years from now. I'll be meeting more new people and seeing new things, and learning and studying my butt off, so that's where it's at for now. But still, I'd would love to live and work in San Francisco, if it works out. At the moment, that would be my first choice. I can only slightly see myself back in Chicago under various circumstances, definitely not on the East Coast, the weather is just too depressing for a large chunk of the year in my opinion. The thing is, the fire industry is small. So with that in mind, I might have to make myself realize that I could have to open up to the possibility of working somewhere in Europe, if that's what happens when I graduate...it is an exciting thought, yet daunting in many ways. Being a student resident for 4 or 5 months here and there is one thing, but a permanent resident is a whole nother ballgame. Heck, if Palin runs for President, I might be forced to leave the gun totin, 'freedom' preaching lunatics behind. What is 'freedom' anyways? Well, that brings me to a whole different rant, so I'll refrain, haha. Anyways, enough talk about 2 years from now, because that's in 2 years, which if you haven't heard, is 2 years from now, the year two thousand and twelve, 2012, one year after two thousand and eleven. By the way, isn't the world supposed to end in 2012? Like Y2k? haha...
So in closing, I'm taking off for Heathrow tonight, with a connection in Chicago. Spend the night in London, take the tube in the wee hours to King's Cross station, hop on the train for Edinburgh, and arrive Friday mid-morning. And thus begins my stay in Scotland. See everyone (in the bay area) in December!
(someone tell that guy on the right to get a tan! Can you spot the foreigner? Question 11: Please circle which person does not belong in this picture.)