The time came for my family to leave Taipei and return to California, and a slight tinge of loneliness set in. Sure, I had a great roommate who I loved hanging out with. I had met a great crew of people from all over the world; South Africans, Canadians, Brits, and even fellow Americans – I had great friends. I even had a few language exchange partners who worshipped the ground I walked on, and thought I was their greatest teacher ever. It felt really good to connect with doctors and businessmen as an equal, and to meet so many other like-minded people such a long way from home.
Regardless, nothing could stop me from pining over the pictures of my friends from back home, all together and enjoying their final months of school without care in the world. I was coming to the end of my semester and therefore my scholarship, and had to decide if it was the right move to return home, or to find a teaching job and support myself in Taiwan. But the same questions always arose: For what? Shouldn’t I get started on life? What does that even mean?
I’d sit on the computer for hours each day, chatting with my newfound maybe-kind-of-boyfriend-but-we’re-not-really-sure friend, ABC, via skype while he was at work. At 9 years older, and already in possession of his dream job and a law degree, he couldn’t understand my dilemma.
“Why are you sitting inside all day?” he’d ask, “You need to go out and explore! You’ve been given such an amazing opportunity to be here, use it!”
“But I’ve already done that, I’ve been there, I’ve seen it! I’ve used my opportunity, but what do I do now”? was always my response. It must have driven him crazy to hear someone with the world at her feet going through such a ridiculous dilemma.
I couldn’t help it, though. I wasn’t prepared for this whole “life” and “adulthood” thing and I felt like nobody else understood.
All through school, I was told to get an A in class if I wanted to “succeed,” so I did. All through my university years, I did the same thing. I was so sure success would be mine as long as I always met the benchmarks, pleased those around me, and brought home a glowing GPA. I was told that’s all I needed to do, and success would be mine.
However, now, here I was in a world where nobody cared about my A in Anthropology of Eastern Cultures, not to mention my B (oh, it killed me) in Micro-Economics.
Why didn’t anyone warn me that there is no set path after graduation? Why wasn’t there a class called “This is what happens next. You better be freaking prepared”?
My questions and complaints annoyed ABC to no end. I felt so lost and confused. It was like a quarter-life crisis without any reason for having a crisis in the first place. I simply didn’t know what was supposed to come next. For the first time ever, there was nobody there to tell me what to do.
It was years later, after my friends worked, or rather didn’t, through the worst recession of our lifetimes, that I finally realized I was not alone, so very not alone, with all of these questions and feelings.
During the course of this time I fell into a type of depression. It annoyed me to no end that I couldn’t go and take care of things myself. If I needed a battery, for example, I had to just hunt for it and translate endlessly, it was a task that I was starting to resent. Each day felt lonelier, and the questions about my future just kept mounting.
This is the sort of thing about me that ABC started to resent. Here I was, a 21 year old girl out living a life others had worked years to reach – outside of the bounds of cubicles, 401ks, and dogs named spike and white picket fences. How could I take such an obtuse approach to something as wonderful as living abroad?
Then, one day, bad news hit; ABC would be an early casualty of what was beginning to be a declining world-wide economy, and he was let go from his dream job.
Why, world, why do we now both have to be in this position of uncertainty?
I remember on one of his final days he met me for lunch, and we took a walk. I was in limbo, deciding if I should stay or go, and he was also in limbo, figuring out what was next for him. I can’t remember the whole conversation now, but I do remember asking, “so what about us? IS there even an ‘us’? What happens if you get another job here and I can’t?”
He cut me off immediately and said “Don’t worry about that, we’ll figure out a way if we need to,”
Of course, me with my questions had to keep pressing, forcing him to say what I so desperately needed to hear “Ava, I wouldn’t be that selfish! If this is real, then of course I’ll put this first. Do you want it to be real?”
To this question I didn’t have an answer. I always told myself, after a massive heartbreak a few years prior, never to plan ahead with a guy anymore, because the future was never a given, and I didn’t want to set myself up for disappointment. Would we have a future here? Could we find one amidst all this uncertainty? Did I want to force him to be stuck in my tangled web of stress and questions? I didn’t know if it was fair. I wasn’t sure that I could be who he wanted me to be.
Amidst all the confusion I made a cardinal error, one I didn’t realize would have such drastic implications; I let my visa expire prior to the renewal date. As soon as I realized, I got myself to the renewal office and was told I had get a new visa, and renewal was no longer an option. This meant I had get a job, stat, but not before leaving the country first and paying $300 for a new visa, plus the monetary penalty for letting this visa lapse.
I was flabbergasted.
Are you sure? It’s just 3 days! I’m a student! Why does 3 days matter?!
It matters, kiddies, they don’t mess around.
So, I was left with an ultimatum, sign on to teach for a year (should I mention that I only like quiet, well-mannered children? Teaching probably isn’t my cup of cha), or foot the bill myself for another semester here. Or, I could just accept that fate had a plan, and it was time for me to be thankful for what I had, and finish out my 8 months here then take off into the unknown.
It was crazy. Suddenly I wanted to spend all day translating and trying to hunt for random items – something I had come to resent lately. I didn’t want to give up my fresh mango that never tasted as good back home, I didn’t want to give up my new friends, and I suddenly didn’t give a flying f**k about what my friends back home were doing. This was being taken from me? I failed that miserably?
I knew what I had do.
I picked up the phone, scrolled through to ABC’s number, pushed “call,” then held my breath.
Whew! I’ve never relived that part before! My brain needs a break, but I’ll wrap this up soon.
Self realization: Studying abroad brings more challenges forth than you ever think it will. Life will be changed, and there may be rough patches, but stick with me through the rest of the story. It was all worth it, in the end. I promise.
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