I've been back in The Hague for about a month now, though if I stop think about it, it might as well be just a few days. In truly typical fashion, my suitcase is still unpacked and tucked away into a dark corner of my flat, and I've yet to see a majority of the friends that I actually quite missed while I was away.
I had assumed that leaving Spain to return to the daily hum-drum of life under the Low Sky would be torturous, but surprisingly the transition has been pretty routine and uneventful. About a week after my arrival, Kasia popped in one Saturday night and announced that I started at the restaurant where she works that Wednesday. I'd been by there a few times last semester before leaving for exchange and gotten to know the owner and several of her co-workers, so when she told her boss I was looking (read: contemplating the eventual uninterested dabbling) for a job, he immediately suggested I work there. No interview, no trial period, nada. Until now it's been a nice experience. The people I work with are an interesting, international bunch of eccentrics and flat-out weirdos, but the banter and abundance of extremely inappropriate jokes never fail to bring a smile to my face. Also interesting is my newly-acquired appreciation of cash and understanding of what it means not to really have any. This is the first (payed) job I've held down since 2002 and after just a few weeks of working, I can't imagine that I'd gone so long without doing so.
In addition to my new work routine, I've noticed that a lot of other things have changed since I got back. Primarily, my attitude toward uni and what I'd like to do after it's over. I remember sitting in a café in Utrecht a few years ago with my friend Jogchum, discussing life plans and the infinity of options available to young college graduates. He had graduated from Emory the year before with a double major in Biology and Chemistry and was about to return to Atlanta to pack up his things and move to Amsterdam to start medical school. He said to me that as long as he could remember, he'd wanted to be a doctor, but that sitting there on the verge of realizing his dream, he was suddenly filled with doubt and wasn't sure anymore if that's what he really wanted. I remember many conversations that I had with Jogchum. Some of them I could still recite word for word. But I will never remember anything more than that day when he looked at me, solemn and serious, without a shred of hesitation, and said "there is nothing that emphasizes uncertainty and indecision like graduating from college". Of course, at that time I had yet to even begin my adventures in higher education and took what he said with a grain of salt the size of Mount Everest, but now, years later, his words come rushing back to me with such clarity that I actually find it somewhat disturbing.
Until now, I had always assumed that I would follow graduation with immediate enrollment in a Masters program in International Relations or something of the like, that I would find a job at a relatively unknown NGO or, by some stroke of luck, work in a branch of the American Embassy somewhere in Europe or Latin America. In all honesty, I hadn't given it too much thought. Now, however, I find myself questioning all my old plans and ideals, wondering if I would really be able to subject myself to a life of service in a mediocre institution that had little to effect on the world or the issues which I care about. I wonder if passion could be a sustainable substitute for a feeling of fulfillment, or more importantly, if International Relations is a field which I am even remotely interested in.
I can definitely feel that my time in The Netherlands is coming to an end. I've stuck things out here for close to five years, a time span which has been highlighted by extreme moments satisfaction. But after these past six months in Spain, I've realized once and for all that while I will always love this country, there is so much more to explore and experience. I'm contemplating a return to Spain next year after graduation to teach English and study up for the DELE Superior exam. After that I'd like to think about doing my masters, most likely in journalism or something similar. I'd also like to finally realize my plan to travel through South America for awhile, documenting my travels and assembling the material into a book. Not necessarily with the intention of getting it published, but to have something concrete to remind me of the entire ordeal.
It's funny how much can change so drastically with time. A year ago today, I found myself in an immensely precarious situation and faced with the most difficult decision I'd ever had to make. Things changed in a way that I never though I would be able to come to terms with, but strangely that all seems so distant now, like a faint memory of a dream or glimpse into the life of a complete stranger. I suppose in the end these things happen with good reason, but while I still don't know exactly what that reason was, it doesn't bother me anymore like it used to. Sadness and resentment are elements every bit as fundamental to life as are love and happiness. In the past year I've experienced both extremes and come out somewhere in the middle. I no longer see the world in beautiful shades of pink nor simply shut my eyes in stubborn cynicism. Somehow, in the end, the luck that has gotten me this far has also shown me that things are never truly black and white, but that the beauty of life is to be found somewhere in the gray.