“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
Everything looks a little different than it did when I left. But it’s hard to tell if I have changed or if everything else has. Perhaps both. Returning home somewhere is always accompanied with that slightly self indulgent surprise that, low and behold, most things did not need my presence to continue to survive. Another summer has found its way to Colgate, and part of me feels like I never left, it’s all so normal now. It`s almost unbelievable that a week ago this time I was still in Europe. Settling back in to the world of Colgate has been instantaneous and almost effortless—and yet it leaves me with this feeling that the last 6 months might not have happened at all. Like a faint déjà vu of Europe’s presence is all that lingers.
It’s funny to think about how long ago I wrote the first post of this blog. My trip abroad still seemingly far off in the distance and my heart and my head still so full of Colgate. And yet here I am, back again, taking inventory of the changes of last semester—both here, and within myself.
I don’t quite know who I am anymore. And you know, I don’t think I’ve known in a long time. Being in Europe might not have solidified a concrete identity of the ins and outs of my personality and potential, but it has, more importantly I think, made that seem less important. I kind of hope that for the rest of my life I’ll be asking myself who I am—changing myself to adapt to the surroundings and the situation. Growing, and changing, and forever being free from expectations of myself or of others. I never want to lose this spirit of exploration—within myself or within the beautiful world that I’ve been so lucky to absorb part of over the last 5 months.
And now that I’m home, I think it is time that I realize that the time has come for my next set of experiences—that I can’t continue to live within memories or goals of the past—that I have to push forwards towards an incredible, albeit different, episode within my life. I didn’t fulfill every goal I made for my time aboard— but I discovered goals I didn’t even know I had. And as I return to my life here at home and at Colgate, I look forward to the stories that will find me here—and the adventures I’m sure I’ll discover. New adventures mean it’s time for new outlets: so make sure you check out my new blog “The True and the Beautiful” at http://amy-elise-mcbeth.tumblr.com/ – because if there is one thing I’ve learned abroad it’s that adventure isn’t about location: It’s about attitude. As James Baldwin said:
““I met a lot of people in Europe. I even encountered myself.”
I’ve just dropped Steph off at the airport for her flight home to America. There seems to be a daunting finality about the process, about the realization that the next time I’m at Geneva airport I will be on my way home. I remember so vividly picking Steph up from the Montpelier train station when she finally arrived—5 distant months ago now. It feels both like a moment and a lifetime have passed since then.
It’s crazy to think about how much has happened since that first night in Montpellier—- how many strangers have become close friends—how much I’ve seen, experienced, and learned. Right now I’m enroute to Zurich, taking one last trip to see my best friend while I’m still on the continent. She was my first stop when I arrived in Switzerland and I like the idea of her being my last. It’s the “lasts” that begin to make things feel real. Last weekends. Last trips to the grocery store, last bus passes, last loads of laundry.
As I take this familiar train back to Zurich I am struck with the dramatic change in scenery. The quaint villages once dusted with snow are now peppered with wild flowers, what was once brilliant white landscape is now lush green country side, and snow capped mountains have melted back to reveal jagged rock faces.
Ecclesiastes says, there is a time for everything, a season for everything under the sun. And it occurs to me that the changing of seasons is neither effortless nor painless. Buds fight to break free from the ground, what is old breaks down to make way for that which is new, the ground must be tilled, and little animals must emerge from the safety of their winter homes to begin to search for new shelter; new sustenance.
These last 5 months have not been effortless either. As another season breaks through, and another summer begins again: I realize that the changing of seasons may not be painless: but it is inevitable. No bulb ever told its sprouts, I don’t want to bloom, no hibernating animal said, it’s too comfortable here within the ground.
To everything there is a season. And, as this season ends and my next one begins, I am both indescribably excited and inexplicably sad. These months here in Europe have changed more in me than I think I’m even capable of recognizing right now. And yet, it all seems as though it was for a purpose—I have always known that though this experience would be indispensible—it would also be temporary. My favorite part of travelling might be coming home.
It seems to me that Solomon had something right; there is a time for everything: the time to depart, and the time to head home.
The other day at work I talked to a woman who has been working at World Vision for a least a decade. She told me the story of her first real job. It was in Northern Angola, helping to demilitarize child soldiers. She told me that when she started her job she knew nothing of humanitarian work, she didn’t know what it was she was getting herself into, and she most certainly didn’t understand that this would be the beginning of a career in advocacy and humanitarian relief. What she did understand, she explained to me, was that she woke up every morning staring at the roof of the tent she called her home, in the middle of Northern Angola, and had never been so happy to be alive—had never felt so blessed, or so significant.
We had a mid-year business staff meeting today and I had lunch with the director of humanitarian response. It kicked in for the first time how big the thing I am involved in right now really is. Working for World Vision these last 6 weeks have shown me, predominantly, what I don’t want to do. As much as research and organizational learning is a vital and indispensible aspect of humanitarian work: I can now say with confidence that I am not the one that should be doing it. But, working with WV has also shed some light for the first time on my life on what it is I do want to be doing. Namely: disaster relief.
The idea of feeding those in famine, of cleaning up rubble, of riding planes into disasters while everyone else is evacuating, ignites more passion and excitement in me when I’ve felt in such a long time. The idea of rebuilding and of feeding, speak to something so deep within me that I can’t differentiate it from myself. I always felt it so cliché and dramatic when people would say things like this but: it feels like I might have been born to do this.
Having these kinds of dreams—having a semblance of a plan, of a goal, is exciting. But it’s also scary. I’ve spent so long mourning my lack of specific career aspirations that I didn’t realize how many other goals for my life I was already formatting— like falling in love, like having a family, like settling down in a house somewhere and decorating gingerbread houses and doing homework at the kitchen table.
I’ve realized for the first time that sometimes having big dreams means giving up smaller ones—or at least changing the way those dreams look. These are things that I want, and I know they are still possible within the confines of the job I’m heading straight into—but tsunamis don’t pay great care to birthdays, and earthquakes don’t schedule themselves around school plays. And a life of travel and relocation doesn’t lend itself to falling in love. I promised a long time ago that I would grow up and have a home. I would have kids that would grow up in one place—who could make memories and traditions. But I wonder now why I was so set on that in the first place. I wouldn’t trade my nomadic teenage years for anything—as hard and as confusing as they may have been at the time. Who says I can’t have my cake and eat it too?
Regardless, I have a lot of years left to figure it all out—and right now, I’m headed full speed towards the only thing that’s never lead me astray. Listening to the only voice that’s never given me a piece of bad advice, and the only person that’s ever loved me flawlessly. I’m moving forward, I’ll let God figure out the rest.
The moon is the closest it`s been to the earth in 18 years, so as of 15 minutes ago, when I turned 21, I am seeing a bigger moon than I have seen since I was 3. The moon— in its big yellow entirety, is in the midst of rising above the Swiss mountains out my window, and is casting eerie light throughout my open window.
The moon seems closer than it has in my entire memorable life. And as I officially become a real, live, adult, a lot of other things seem closer too—like death, for instance. Haha, okay I`m mostly kidding—but I do wonder when birthdays start feeling more like the end of something rather than the beginning of them—when you start to look back instead of forwards.
I must admit I was a tad spoiled in the adventure department during my teen years—I found my way all the way from Hamilton Ontario down to Hamilton, New York; with Portugal, Angola, Kenya, Uganda, Namibia, Tanzania, South Africa, and Bolivia in between. I graduated from the world`s best high school—then started my career at the world`s best college. I left friends and met new ones, left a home in Africa for one in South America, and well—I grew up.
But here I am, in my 21st year—5 months into my European adventure and starting to get ready to head back home—or at least to one of them. My 20`s have a lot to live up to, when you think about it, and it’s no wonder I can`t sleep. So, as I lay here, in the dawn of my 3rd decade on this earth, I`ve developed a to-do list of sorts: 12 things to do in my twenties. 12 things to look forward to, and at the end of the decade—to look back on. 12 things that, I warn you, might look completely ridiculous to you, And they are as follows:
Every freshmen seminar should have a new component called: “The office coffee maker”. I don’t know what it is about this iconic utensil that seems to have conquered every well intentioned intern—perhaps it is a coming of age really, an initiation to the office—the daily quest for caffeination. All I know is that my 50 thousand dollar education has failed to prepare me for this task. Now, to be fair, it might not be Colgate’s fault as much as Europe’s. Give me a percolator, a French press, or a Mr. Coffee and I am a coffee making fiend, but this fancy European espresso machine continues to elude me. It seems simple really—a large nob in the middle with the picture of a cup of coffee, that is, before you notice the medley of other, less self-explanatory nobs and warning lights—little red exclamation points and flashing orange coffee beans, and 4 or 5 different chambers containing water, or coffee beans, or old coffee grinds, all needing to be filled, or emptied, or turned on.
As I near the end of my first week of my first grown–up internship I have come to two conclusions: 1)I’m even more awkward than I thought and 2) the McBeth family’s propensity to be accidental plant murderers will haunt me for the rest of my life.
Now most people in my position of coffee making ignorance would be rational, and simply ask someone for help, but my awkwardness decided that it was a better idea to covertly scribble down the model name and go home and spend an hour watching 13 different youtube demo videos, only to head to work to be foiled by the machine yet again. Next I tried lingering in the kitchen as people made their coffee, trying to subtly observe the intricacies of the European coffee process. Eventually I began to put pieces together—first I succeeded at coxing liquid from the machine—only to discover it was water. Next I discovered how to brew coffee, only to be rewarded with a cup of tepid espresso. Finally at last I stumbled upon a decent cup of coffee—and just in time, I would need the caffeination.
The secretary, clearly not aware of the entire week it took me to master a task that is fundamentally pressing 1 button, informed me that as the whole office was leaving for a few weeks to go to meetings in Cyprus, I would be responsible for watering the plants in my office. Now I must admit, that I did, during my childhood, kill a cactus by not watering it enough. I had bought a cactus in the first place because I was scared by my mothers propensity to drown regular plants in an over eager attempt to care for them. I wondered in the moment, whether or not they include killing the office orchids in your reference letter.
But all in all, my internship is going well: my position is largely research based which is relieving; as that requires two tasks in which I am reasonably more comfortable in than mastering the Swiss coffee machine, or keeping plants alive: reading and writing. Being in the office starts to make me think that maybe I’ve found where I’m meant to be afterall: to the right of my desk is a bookshelf with titles like Jeffery Sachs’ The End of Poverty and to the left of my desk is a green canvas bag that’s labeled “Mosquito net”. I can’t help but think that perhaps that this might be exactly what my desk will look like in 15 years—a perfect combination of theory and action. A life of travel, and adventure, and humanitarian work.
I will however, have to make sure I live somewhere with a large starbucks, and a fondness for plastic plants.
I’m 40 minutes early for my first-ever real day of work. Typical, I know. It`s this nervous earliness that I Inherited from my father combined with my own predisposition to be late for everything. I`d never been to the office before, so I was nervous about my directional abilities (something I inherited from my mother): visions flashing before my eyes of me wandering around, lost in the office buildings of Geneva; diplomats and bankers staring out their high-rise windows with disgust.
So anyway as a result of my overcompensation, I`m hiding, in some kids park down the street, sitting on a bench on top of a plastic bag meant to be for dog poo so the bench doesn`t dirty my outfit, until it’s time for me to show up at the office. As I sit here, hoping that it doesn’t start raining, I can’t help but wonder if this might be the 1st day of the rest of my life—the start of my professional career. And as I sit here and think about this, I start to come to the realizations that a) that I forgot to shave my legs this morning b) that I`m not positive how to pronounce my supervisors name and c) that I`m a 20 year old, unqualified, college student about to start an internship in Geneva with an international organization that has a 2 billion dollar operating budget.
As you can imagine; these realizations are not helping my nerves.
And as I sit here I start to feel more and more nervous and more and more unprepared. And I`m sure that I`ll feel the exact same way for the next 28 minutes—but once those minutes are up, like it or not, I will walk back to the building, travel to the 3rd floor, and, prepared or not, I’ll start my first ever grown up internship with World Vision International.
So as my prickly legs begin to grow numb, and an old women starts looking at me and my doggy bag like I might just be a well dressed drug dealer waiting to lure small children into my laundering ring—I tell myself that I’ll write this moment in my memoir one day. And other 20 year old interns will read it and think… “well, at least I’m not as pathetic as she was”. Because what’s my life good for—if it’s not comic relief.