I’m sure some of you may be thinking that my main reasoning may be pretty obvious. I spent this whole year in Japan, working at a magical kingdom, and traveling Asia, so of course my year must have been amazing, right? Well, although those things were all pretty wonderful, there were other factors involved that made this year so much better than any I have ever experienced. At the end of the day, it was not about the opportunities I was given, it was about what I chose to do with them and how I grew as a result.
I came into this whole experience pretty blind and inexperienced. Before getting on that airplane, I had never even been out of the country and only knew a few people as I embarked on this adventure. I’m someone who tends to throw myself into situations even if I am terribly uncomfortable, but there were many more surprises than I had anticipated.
Before arriving, I remember hearing from many people that I was bound to change immensely. They explained that I would truly define my personality through an experience like this. Of course, I took these words to heart, but I underestimated how true they would be.
In the beginning of my contract, I was keen to make my choices based on what others did. For the sake of being social and making friends, I was delighted to eat food where everyone else wanted to eat, explore where everyone else wanted to go, and spend time the way everyone else wanted to. Although I was content doing this, weeks passed and I began to feel painfully stagnant. It was during this time that I began to truly assess what I wanted to achieve while I was here. I started to ask myself, “What are my goals? Aspirations? How can I leave this experience better than when I got here?”
Making this shift wasn’t easy. By deciding to take this course of action, it also meant that I was asking to be lonely in many ways. At first, I wasn’t sure if I liked the idea of not having company when I was half a world away from my loved ones, but it was a sacrifice that I deemed as worthwhile. Would I rather feel lonely, but satisfied, or have a strong social life but feel personally unfulfilled? I tried my best to achieve balance between these two concepts so I didn’t have to completely pick one or the other. Despite these efforts however, I have been tending to choose loneliness over lack of fulfillment.
Loneliness used to be the hardest part of this experience for me. For the first few months when people asked me how everything was going, I’d usually say everything was fine, but really, I had major FOMO. Seeing people’s Instagram stories and posts only made me resent my choices, and I used to be frustrated that I made the conscious effort to be different. I knew I was making a positive decision for myself, but it was heart wrenching when I was constantly being reminded of the fun times others were having without me. At times, it became unbearable, but now that I look back, I could not be more content and confident in who I am today.
I made the choices that I did, because I knew what I wanted for myself. For example, I am one of a handful of others that decided to enroll in school while abroad. At work, it put me in the corner as I sat intently with my earbuds in, and kept me in at night when everyone else was busy doing anything else that was not writing an essay. It was not easy to juggle, and I knew it wouldn’t be, but I did it. I did it, and I have never been more proud of myself.
Another factor that set me apart from others was my passion for dancing. I have loved dance from before I was even able to create comprehensive sentences, and that love remains true today. Every day I make a conscious effort to set time aside to dance. This means either going to the city to pay for an overpriced dance class, or practicing and choreographing during or after work. It was something that I had to go out of my way to make a habit of, but I am so thankful that I have been able to both maintain and improve my dance abilities.
I would say the biggest shift in my individuality occurred because traveling was introduced in my life. I used to be the girl that needed a person by her side to do anything with… I even required a buddy for adventures to the restroom. Now I am the girl who decided to hop on an airplane to South Korea alone because she had a few days off, and Seoul seemed like a nice option. I got bit by the travel bug pretty hard while being out here. Having never gone on any real excursion before, I used to find travel uninteresting and quite frankly, a waste of money. Now, it is a significant driving force in my life and I honestly can’t imagine my future without it. If I still relied on the company of others to have my adventures with, my bucket list would still have an endless amount of items unchecked. Doing things alone has been the greatest aspect of my time here. I never imagined living my life like this, but ultimately it has made me a greater, more independent person.
Naturally, things are usually more enjoyable with loved ones to experience things with, but traveling and living life alone has also encouraged me to find the bright side in every situation. Just because I’ve had some great opportunities this year, doesn’t mean that everything is sunshine and rainbows all the time. Sometimes storms come through while you’re riding your bike and you’re forced to spend the whole time soaking wet, sometimes you lose your retainer while on an amazing trip and have to get a new one for $300, or sometimes you may even be having the best day while you're training for your new job, and suddenly get the unexpected news of a loved one’s passing. Perhaps these things haven’t happened to you, but they do happen. It’s during these times that I was forced to make a choice. Do I let these situations make me hate my life, or do I embrace them and move on with my chin held high? In many cases it’s easier to choose the former, but this year was the year that I almost always chose to focus on the latter.
Especially when I was first getting used to being alone, self-pity and discomfort was my immediate reaction, but this only made me miserable and sad. Instead, I encouraged myself to find the bright sides of every situation. This year was the best year of my life because I choose to focus on the great things that have happened to me rather than the rough spots. On social media, maybe my life seems to be painted as “goals,” but that’s only because what I tend to focus on mentally, are the same items I choose to showcase to others on instagram. When people ask me what the negative sides of this experience are, it honestly does take me a while to even think about it. These negative thoughts are not consistently running through my mind. I’m not saying that bad things don’t happen to me, because they definitely do, but I don’t let them consume who I am.
At the end of this year, I look at myself in the mirror and see an entirely different person. I wouldn’t say my morals and values have changed much, but I have established a stronger sense of self-identity and brighter spirit than ever before. This change in myself is what has defined my year for me, not just the shift in location. During this year, I have been choosing to embrace self-discovery and positivity head-on, and although this was frightening at times, I wouldn’t change anything about 2017 for the world.
I can't wait to see what 2018 has in store for me, because life can only get better from here.