There was a four-year gap between when I first studied abroad in the country my organization works in and when I was able to return. As time went by after my studying abroad experience, I began to look at my memories through rose colored glasses. I didn’t intentionally put those rose-colored glasses on, but there were some aspects of my original adventure that go warped.
For example, why didn’t we explore the country more during the day? Most of our classes were at night and had plenty of time in the middle of the day to be outside. When my co-founder and I returned to the country four years later, we tried walking around the middle of the day for meetings. In four years I had forgotten that the weather there was either hot and humid, or just really hot, especially in the middle of the day; we weren’t being lazy students, we were trying to prevent heat stroke.
When we came back, the whole country felt different. Which makes sense after four years, but it still took me by surprise when our favorite restaurant was gone and our favorite bar installed a disco ball. These things do seem small, but they were part of the glaring realization that time had changed this country, our organization, and us.
We were no longer treated like students, because we weren’t students anymore. A part of me still misses being coddled by staff and other groups, and a part of me is terrified that these people now see me as an adult and one of their peers. It was certainly easier for me as a student. I didn’t have the responsibilities of a non-profit weighing on me. I got to take fairly easy classes while volunteering in a school (a future partner school). Some days when I’m stressed about a logistical or funding problem, I pine for the days where being a student was my number one priority.
But then, I remember what my organization has accomplished over the past 5 years, specifically all of the strides we have made in establishing ourselves internationally. I realize that I have grown up a bit when I see and appreciate the respect we have achieved in our sector, and wouldn’t trade it for the world.
I’ve learned that looking at the past through a positive lens is great, but to not let it diminish what has been accomplished closer to the present. I can learn from the past, but appreciate who I am now. Wishing for a simpler time is folly, because life was never simple and the present is not something I should resent. The past may feel like the glory days, but I have a feeling that five years from now I’ll probably be talking about 2014 with the same reverence as I do with 2008.
Just like my organization, I need to learn from my past (and not be stuck there), be grateful for the present, and get excited for the future.