This past week I have spent a considerable amount of time at my condo sorting out old things. There weren’t a lot of things, but each item brought back a vivid memory from the past. Because of that, I couldn’t help but experience the emotions that emerged.
For example, I found an old dormitory group picture taken from my first year in college. I remember at the time I was so excited to finally be on my own. It was a combination of not knowing what to expect, and but also expecting something exciting was going to happen. I saw a picture of the Chinese girl I had a crush on – her name is Kristie. And there were so many other familiar faces – some of which I missed the opportunity to build long term relationships with. If I could go back now, I’d know what to do. But when reflecting back, the whole initial experience was so overwhelming that I really had no idea what to do first. There were so many places to meet people – classrooms, lecture halls, dormitory, campus clubs, etc. So much was happening at once that it was nearly impossible to keep up with everyone. But one thing that was clear out of all of this was what I felt at the time. I had entered an environment of uncertainty, but yet my mind and heart was fueled with optimism and hope for the future. I just had that general feeling that things were headed in the right direction.
I also found the journal I kept during my first visit to China. I participated in a summer study abroad program after finishing up an internship that took up my winter and spring quarter. It was the first time that I left the North America continent into Asia. I remember my mom saying to me in my native dialect: “it’s about time.” This was about 8 years ago. I opened the journal and read through the first few entries, which started on the day I took off from the airport. There was one major theme amongst the first few days I was in Shanghai – scared. I lost count of how many times I used that word. I had landed in a country in which I didn’t speak the national language. I couldn’t tell who was trying to rip me off because I wasn’t aware of the cultural nuances in Shanghai. I couldn’t even order food without help from a classmate. It was that bad, hence that scary for me. But now, I’ll fly to China or Taiwan without much hesitation and start mingling with the locals, even if my Chinese isn’t so great.
The important thing about going through the past is that it gives you a chance to evaluate yourself and see how much you’ve changed. This is more important than most people may realize. For one, it gives us a chance to appreciate what has happened. You’ll see that you’ve grown, but also that you’ve been fortunate to experience and grow into the mature person (hopefully) that you are today.
In a way, this self-reflection ends up allowing you to value yourself more. For example, my experience in China reflected how much I had broken out of my comfort zone back in college. My first year in college reminded me there was a point in my life, despite how naive I was, where I didn’t let fear get the best of me. I didn’t have any skills to offer the world at that point, but it never stopped me from pushing forward so that I could soon give back to the world.
Most people may try to simply pack up and move ASAP, but since I had time on my side, I decided to let myself feel what had to be felt. This gave me some closure as I move onto the next phase of my life.