For me December 31st/January 1st isn’t the only start of a New Year. As time passes, I seem to have collected more and more such “new years”: school beginning in September; my birthday on October 5th; the typical New Year’s; school ending in April (or, previous to post-secondary, in June); the spring season; and, finally, the usual end-of-school trip I have been taking for the past four years.
My, that’s a lot of “New Years” to celebrate! Looking back, it doesn’t make sense to look at each event as such – it seems more accurate to label them simply as the normal, to-be-expected, initiators of change they really are.
In any case, two of the more major ones for me have now ended: the beginning and ending of school years. As a side-effect, so has the end of school year trip. And, finally, my first year of not being in school since I was oh, about three years old, has just come to a close.
Now that I reflect on all this, I realise just how significant my trip to Thailand was last year at the end of school. What better way to end such an era of my life (the first quarter of it, if I should live to the ripeness of 100, as is the plan), spent studying, than to be swept off to some remote land? It was probably the biggest learning experience of my life compacted into a six-week period that I’d ever experienced up until then: I learned the ways of the pan-Asian pacific, picked up on morsels of a new language I never dreamed of learning, observed the extreme contrasts caused by a sharp divide between rich and poor, learned a lot about how I operate when yanked from my comfort zone, and came to a conclusion about how and what I wanted to do for the next little while, at least. All the while adjusting to the intense heat and food I’m not used to, seeing incredible beaches and getting to drive a motorcycle, to boot!
The entirety of the trip cannot be conveyed in words. Even now, a year of much digestion and deliberation later, I am still unable to properly convey all the thoughts and meaning the trip had for me. It was the most intense experience of my life, and thus the things that happened are so deeply ingrained in me that even now, at times I feel like I just arrived back in the country yesterday. Except that now my tan has faded and I’m back to my usual pale white British complexion.
When I came back with my parents last June, it was time for the Graduation ceremony. Standing amongst my fellow students, staring around at all the familiar faces I had come to recognize over the past four years, I was fascinated by the deep lines now marking their faces; the bags clearly underlining their eyes. This was a much more subdued, grown-up, and dare I say abused group than had entered the program in 2001.
I wonder what I looked like to them… if the six weeks spent on the beaches, in the intense heat, developing the sort of glow I’ve never had, of not worrying too much about what I was going to do next, of enjoying the life of riches in a poor country, had smoothed out my features so that i didn’t look quite so haggard. Or if none of that really mattered because the stresses of years of school can never really be erased from a person’s face. It’s just a part of you that tags along into the next stages of your life.
A lot of reflection here at the closing of the first year of my life (at least the part that counts – the part I remember) spent outside of school. That doesn’t mean, however, that my education has stopped. Indeed, I’ve learned so much about life in the past twelve months, I couldn’t possibly say that being out of school has halted my education.