There are certain phrases I have said countless times this year. These include,
"I live in a state called Pennsylvania"
... no reaction from whoever I'm talking to...
"It's about 2 hours from New York City."
"OHHHH New York!"
"Yes, I miss my family, but I love everything about South Africa. The people, the music, your sports, everything!"
"I love your weather! Right now it's about 15 degrees below zero (Celsius) at home and there's about half a meter of snow on the ground!"
or, more often these days,
"I'm not enjoying the weather so much anymore... June, July and August is our summer at home. I liked it better when it was hot here and there was snow there!" =)
One of the things that always comes up is how long my term is. These days, people can't believe I've been here since "August, last year". They ask if I've been home at all (nope!) if I miss my family (yup!) and if I'm going to miss it here (of course!) But last year the conversations were very different.
When I would meet people in September or October they would ask me how long I'm here in South Africa for and I would reply, "Next year, July." "JULY!?!?", they would exclaim. Perhaps they didn't believe I was going to make it... maybe they didn't understand why I would go away for such a long time. Sometimes I even had those kinds of doubts. Would I make it to "Next year, July"? What would my perspective be at that point? Would I wish myself to stay longer? Would I be anxious to go? It was so far away, I could not at all guess how I'd be feeling. But I thought about "Next year, July." constantly.
I thought about the first day in Allentown airport. I thought about hugging my family and friends for the first time in a year. I hoped everyone would still be happy and healthy and not too different from when I left them. Slowly, but surely, the concept of "Next year, July." was pushed to the back of my mind... and I only thought of it when I said it to someone. Or when I completed another milestone. The past few weeks and months, however, the idea of it has been pushing it's way to the front of my mind, interrupting my daily activities, constantly on my mind.
And now... July. It's July. Wow.
Nearly 11 months have passed since I left home last August. Since I cried and snotted my way through the Allentown airport security and had people thinking I was crazy when I got on a plane for Chicago (for orientation) haha. A year.
This year has taught me some incredible lessons about myself, life, people, faith, culture, joy and love. Near the end of one of my favorite movies, Little Miss Sunshine, Steve Carrell's character, a Proust scholar, shares some reflections from Proust with his nephew Dwayne. He says, " [Proust] gets down to the end of his life, and he looks back and decides that all those years he suffered, Those were the best years of his life, 'cause they made him who he was. All those years he was happy? You know, total waste. Didn't learn a thing. " =)
Now I'm not going to say I have "suffered" this year... I'm not going to tell you that I have not had an incredible, happy time here in South Africa with incredible friends and surrogate family. If I were to tell you those things, it would be a lie. I love my friends and "host family" here and I love this country. I have had so many adventures and I have many happy memories from this year. But in the midst of the joy, the laughter and "is-this-really-my-life???" moments, there has been struggle. There has been loneliness, grief, heart-brokenness, homesickness and working through these challenges has changed who I am. They have made me who I am.
I feel so much more independent now... while simultaneously so much more interdependent on the community of people around me. I am astounded by my strength, my inner peace and my patience. I have connected with people this year in ways I never had before. And I made it! I made it to July!
I cherish each day. I know the time will fly so I am enjoying each second here with my SA family. But... I made it! =)