There is no rewind, there is no playback, and there is no second chance in time to choose to stay in America instead.
Last summer, I chose to study abroad in Sydney, Australia from late May to early August. Although I gained a lot of valuable experience working there and interacting with the locals, that decision caused me to miss so many key events in my loved ones lives that I can never go back to — My best friend getting married, my youngest brother graduating high school, and my partner shipping off to boot camp for the Air Force. I wasn’t there to see my best friend say her vows, nor was I there to celebrate this day with her. My little brother had neither his older brother (because he was in LA due to finals) nor me (because I was in Australia) to cheer for him as he walked across Vallejo High’s stage and entered a new chapter of his life. I wasn’t even there to kiss my partner as he departed for boot camp, nor was I there to welcome him once he was back.
These are important events I can never experience. There is no rewind, there is no playback, and there is no second chance in time to choose to stay in America instead.
And sure, I am thankful that to this day, these issues are not held against me, for my loved ones understand that I didn’t study abroad to purposely not be there for them; they knew I was doing something for my professional development (for work) and to fulfill a dream I have had for so long. And of course, I felt like the experience was worth it. I mean, it landed me the job I have now but to what extent was it worth what I missed out on?
When people see me after college, one of the first things they ask me is “What are you up to now?” Essentially, they ask the big question of where I am working and where my degree from UC Berkeley brought me. I then proceed to summarize my non profit work and the mission they aim to uphold. In response, they tend to say (assuming they have been following my life via social media) that I am “living the life right now.” I have been traveling to multiple countries within a year, and that is something they wish they could do at their age.
And in a sense, yes, anyone would love to travel for work, an internship or to study abroad. But in retrospect, I do have partial regret for the decisions I made last year. I told myself to not hold onto my feelings of regret, rather I should use those feelings to redirect my future actions, especially when it comes to traveling. I sound so melodramatic, don’t I? Well, let me make my point.
Many people will tell me that I don’t need to explain myself to anyone because my decisions are my own, and no one else needs to validate the reasoning for my actions. But I’m choosing to explain why I’m not travelling with my work in August as a way to self-reflect, understand myself more, as well as provide insight for others who may be undergoing something similar.
I’m young. There’s no question about that. Yes, I’m in that weird stage of being “too old” to be a teenager and “too young” to be a full fledged adult, but as a recent post graduate, I simplify the boxed category of who I am (which by the way, I hate box categories with a passion) as someone who is generally young. And something I’m told often about being young is that . . .
This is the time to travel! To see the world!
Seek every opportunity!
Don’t look back!
Well, as much as this advice is something I would have taken without a doubt back then, now I think I’ve begun to reevaluate what being “young” means to me in terms of my travels.
I can write about what traveling has taught me this past year, but I’ll save that for a time where I feel confident enough in all the experiences I’ve had thus far. My main point in writing this piece is to express why I’ve decided not to travel this August with my work, despite it being another country to visit (like a passport checklist) and another culture to understand (learn about and immerse myself in) for the nature of my work.
My reasoning may sound selfish, but I need to be purely honest with my readers, since beating around the bush will not get my message across effectively, if at all. But being away from August 9th-August 24th means a few things:
– I will miss my lolo’s (Filipino/Tagalog for “grandfather”) 70th birthday
– I will be unable to celebrate my 23rd birthday with him (yes, we have the same birthday)
– I will miss my my partner experiencing the first day of his last year of undergrad. (That’s pretty big to me, because it’s literally one step closer to adulthood and the unknown).
– I will miss the birthday celebration of my best friend in Texas AND a dedicated beach day for all of my friends to hang out as a group again, especially as people become more busy and have moved out of the Bay Area.
– I will be working the week before AND the week after my birthday, with doctors and nurses I won’t know, stressing out because I’ll be so focused on work and not my own well being.
– Stress. I am reemphasizing stress. It’s good to an extent, but I’m still not the best at managing it.
– I will be missing the opportunity to spend my day of birth with the people who make me feel like it’s worth living: my loved ones, friends, family, and my partner.
Family, birthdays my friend’s birthday and get togethers, and my partner’s last first day of college. Why does this all matter? There will be more birthdays to come, right? My partner’s education doesn’t matter too much to me, since it’s not his graduation, right?
But how can you guarantee we will all live to see those days though? I don’t say this to sound cynical or pessimistic, but honestly, I do think about how I need to cherish those I love now and not later. That these moments are important because these people are important, to me.
As people grow older, they become more susceptible to falling ill. In addition to this, you just never know when someone’s day will be their last. Unforeseen circumstances of accidents are a reality, and though not statistically likely, it’s still a possibility to consider. Now, I’m not saying to “live everyday as if it’s your last” nor am I saying that I am cowering in fear of my death or the death of my loved ones. What I’m saying is that I want to be present in the lives of the people who matter to me. This is my one life, and this is a choice I’m choosing to make.
At the end of the day, there will be future trips for me to go on with my work. Although Pohnpei, an island in Micronesia, is a place we have not served in almost a decade, I am sure that we will be given the chance to go there once again with a specialty team. Future trips also hold the possibility of not clashing with any major life events I may have, so I’m choosing to place my faith in that turn of events. But most importantly, I am ensuring that my work and my personal life are separate – This is the overarching reason for why I’m choosing not to travel in August.
As much as I want to be involved with my work, as much as I agree with the mission and want to see it thrive, it isn’t my entire life. My own Pilipinx culture is something I barely know about, and the fact that I am paid to serve another culture? It just doesn’t feel right that I’m unable to balance both my own life and my work life, that I’m working to understand another culture (because I literally am paid to do this) and putting that before understanding my own. I don’t want to lose myself in my work. It’s not to say I hate my job per say – I just want to be aware and cautious of the fact that my work and personal life are not intertwined. Certain values I hold as an individual can intertwine in both personal and work related aspects, but I don’t believe my personal life and work life equal each other.
Today, I informed my boss that I would be rejecting her offer to come with her to Pohnpei in August. As a young person, I’m bound to be asked or led to wonder “what if?” but right now, in this moment, I’m content with this decision, because I’m choosing the people who bring meaning to my life. I’m choosing the ones who deserve to know how much they mean to me. I’m choosing to make a decision unlike the one I made last summer.
This is a choice I’m making, and it’s a choice I’m completely okay with.
Have you ever been in a situation where you could have traveled but chose not to for a personal reason? How do you deal with people’s constant questioning of you “why” or potential judgmental comments on your choices? You’re not alone in this at all. And I’m not saying I will reject every opportunity – It’s just that for my birthday this year, I made a choice of who I wanted to be with. Hopefully, that’s a choice that can be treated with respect.
[Originally published June 7th, 2018. This blog post was reposted from my old wix site, also hosted at http://erilm.com]