December 28th was my nineteenth birthday. I didn’t exactly know how to feel about my birthday because it was three days after my first Christmas away from home and a really bad wave of homesickness. But if there was one thing I have learned from this year, fellow fellows will always surprise you in the best of ways. About a week earlier, a fellow from the northern cohort, Joe, texted me saying that he was coming down for my birthday. It felt very “spur of the moment.” I didn’t know how to react and to add to this, I hadn’t seen Joe (or anyone from the northern Cohort) in roughly three months. I didn’t know how to react besides offering some hostel recommendations because Joe and I weren’t very close at all. I talked to my team leader about it and she thought I was being a bit unreasonable– which wasn’t wrong. After some more thought and talking with my host family, they allowed me to open their home to him. Joe got here the 27th and stood until the 31st.
Every year on my birthday, my parents would burst into my room playing “Las Mañanitas” at the break of dawn and always had a day full of birthday festivities. I didn’t realize until that morning that this year would be the first time without it.
As I laid in bed missing home, I turned to my side and saw Joe on the mattress next to me and he wished me a “Happy Birthday” and I couldn’t help but be excited about the day ahead of me. I opened the door and my host family ran towards me and hugged me, wishing me a Feliz Cumple and it was unreal. It was the first time in a long time that the loneliness and homesickness that often followed happy events here was truly absent. I was able to enjoy every aspect of my birthday, from having cake smashed in my face to replying to all the Facebook wall post wishes. A few months ago, I didn't know who any of these people were and they filled my day with laughs and good memories- there's no way to repay that type of love.
After my birthday, I still had three days to spend with another fellow in my city. It was crazy to think that his experience was so different from mine; yet we could bond over our frustrations and being teenagers in a foreign country thousands of miles away from home. Not to mention having another English speaker in the house was a nice break for my brain as I suddenly didn’t have to plan out every sentence I wanted to say. It was nice to be understood.
When the 31st rolled around, I actually dreaded saying goodbye to my friend. This despidido, like every other one this year has made me make, reminded me of saying bye to my family, my best friends, and other fellows I hadn’t seen in months. The only difference was this one wasn’t a goodbye but a “see you soon.” I cried as his cab pulled away but it wasn’t my “I hate my life, I have no friends” cry, it was a “I actually have friends, even ones who would travel 14 hours on a crappy bus and get their stuff stolen just to hang out with me” cry. It was a “I actually made the right decision” cry. It was a “I’m grateful for this” cry.
As of today, I have officially completed 133 days of my gap year and I only have 97 more days to go. The days I dreaded and thought would never end: they ended. The tears I shed over missing every little thing from home: they dried. I have touched the sky and swam in the ocean. Everything that was once impossible has been done. I finished 2017 and still had a head on my shoulders. I have some of the best friends in the world (and to my surprise, they’re not all from Chicago- crazy, right?) While a bunch of things still frustrate me and I don’t expect the next 97 days to be a breeze, I can actually say things are looking up. I have more goals than just “making it to April”. I don’t mind the showers that make me say achachay every 10 seconds. I don’t dread leaving my room every morning. The words “thriving” and “surviving” don’t make my blood boil. I only occasionally hate eating rice at every meal. I am happy.
An anthem of mine lately: