Monday, April 27, 2015

A New Perspective

I made a simple decision before making my journey to Tijuana, Mexico.  I was going to do this school the right way.  Unlike college, where I generally coasted my way to good grades and a degree, I was going to give this school my full attention.  Both in classes, and relationships, I decided I would completely embrace the experience with an open mind.  Because of that simple decision, I have already seen incredible rewards.

The biggest part of that decision was just making up my mind to say "yes" as often as possible.  If a classmate invites me to join in some activity, and I have no prior commitments, I have made it my own obligation to go along with them.  Because of that decision, I have developed a fierce ping-pong rivalry, enjoyed spontaneous worship around a campfire, and even joined a Zumba class.  Because of that simple decision, I've already formed lasting bonds with my classmates despite the language barriers (native languages include English, Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish), and in a mere week we've become as close as family.

Saturday night of last week, I got to reap the rewards of those friendships in the most surprising way possible.  After an enjoyable afternoon on the beach, body surfing, playing soccer, and reading the assigned book, I was settling into the evening with some Spanish practice when I was asked to play ping-pong. With that offer, I consented to an evening of intense competition prior to the "pajama party" the guys had planned that night.  As I grew weary of losing game after game (my Brazilian roommate is virtually unbeatable) a few other classmates joined us.  Some of the girls wanted to join our party, so it had to be moved to a common area, they said.  So we started walking off towards the party.  As we rounded the corner to the conference room, I saw way more people than I expected, and a surprising array of refreshments.  Just as I was about to let out my thought "Wow you all go big for a pajama party", everyone broke out into the Happy Birthday chorus.  I got duped hard!

 For a long time now, I have not been a fan of celebrating my birthday.  In 8th grade, I spent my birthday looking into the casket of my Grandmother, and in college, my Grandfather passed away a week or so before my birthday.  In the years surrounding those events, birthdays lost a lot of their importance to me.  Each year, I wanted to celebrate it less and less, until recently when I decided my perfect birthday would be one where I went to sleep on the 18th, and woke up on the 20th.  I wish I could articulate more clearly why, but my birthday was just a day of the year I wished would go away.

Since the dawn of Facebook, birthdays have become a popularity contest.  How loved you are is now measured by how many old high school friends, that you never talk to, wish you a "Happy B-day" on your wall.  There is so little sincerity, that I stopped caring.  But in the midst of these throw-away well-wishes, I began to develop a deeper desire to be shown true affection.  I secretly hoped to one day be the recipient of an unprompted grand gesture.  Never in my life would I have expected that to happen after moving to Mexico, and by people I'd only known for a week, no less. But that's exactly what happened.  

All of my classmates organized to celebrate my birthday on Sunday with a surprise late night Saturday party.  Honestly, I've never been so moved. In just a short time, they managed to set up a cake, drinks, and gifts from the local convenient store without me having a clue what was going on.  My roommate made a card for me and had everyone sign it with a short message.  On top of the package of stickers from the movie Frozen I was given, I got the cleverest gift to date.  My classmates, having found out my infantile nickname, gave me a jar of baby food. The night included a dance party, a cake smashed in my face, and a movie, all in the company of my new family.  I have never felt so loved, and I made sure to tell everyone how much I appreciated it.  You never really want to cry in front of people you recently met, but I'm pretty sure I wasn't fooling anybody trying to hold it back.

All the guys from class- the masterminds of the party.

To date, I would say this was the best birthday I can remember; not for the gifts, or the food, but for the company and a genuine act of kindness.  It is crazy to think that if I had held back from those opportunities to grow new relationships with my classmates, I could have missed out on that experience.  What I received that night was not just a party, for me it was affirmation that I am appreciated and loved; the effort I had put into these new friendships was well worth the time.  It was proof that being vulnerable with others about your thoughts can really open doors to friendship.  All this I chalk up to a simple decision to expand my comfort zone, and embrace the process of this completely foreign adventure.