On Being 21…

and things I’m glad I learned in the last year.

Yesterday I celebrated a long awaited birthday for many Americans: 21. Or the long awaited day you ditch any fake IDs, stop paying other people to buy alcohol for you, and no longer have to rely on your friend being the bouncer at the bar to get in. Now I’m not saying I did any of those things, I will plead the fifth there. But  for many people their 21st birthday is long awaited.  I, however, happened to turn 21 in a country where the legal drinking age is 18 and no one has even asked me how old I was since getting here. Nonetheless, celebrating my golden birthday (aka the year you turn as hold as the day you were born) in Spain was incredible.

I was surrounded by friends and family, went to Roman ruins and and Olive Oil Factory, enjoyed a great dinner with my mom and one of other mothers, whom had traveled cross the atlantic to explore Spain and see me, and received phone calls from friends who are studying halfway around the world. To say I felt loved and blessed would be a vast under statement.

I love my birthday because it gives me a great reason to look back over  the past year and see what I have accomplished, what I still have left to do, how far I’ve grown etc. 20 was a difficult year for me for a number of reasons but with a brand new year ahead of me it feels like a great time to reflect on some of the many lessons I learned in the last year. So feel free to stop reading here, or read on if you  wish. Either way I wish you all the best and for those who wished me a happy birthday or contributed to my life in the past year thank you for being there through it all.

Things I learned when I was 20:

  1. It’s not always your job to give people the benefit of the doubt.  That’s not to say you should never do it, but sometimes you just have to move on. The hard part is distinguishing between the two.
  2. Just as easily as it is to make friends, friendships can dissolve. I lost some people last year as friends who I was sure I’d be friends with for a while. But, things change and people go their separate ways. It seemed disappointing at first but you never know what could happen in the future, so it’s best to give people their space when they ask for it.
  3. That being said, hard times do help reveal true long haul friendships. I made it though last year with all its ups and downs because I have some  truly great friends who were right there with me through it all. Never underestimate the power of a truly amazing friend and don’t take them for granted when you find them.
  4. There are things so much more important in the world that money can buy you or school can teach you. Note: I am to saying that either of those things are not worth it, money and school is important and both open doors. But, I’ve been blessed enough to have spent the past three months traveling through Europe and I think I’ve learned more than in any class I’ve ever taken. (sorry to all my professors) Now I know for many this type of travel isn’t possible, but if you have the ability and or opportunity I would say pick travel. It doesn’t have to be international, it doesn’t even have to be to a different state, just go explore if you can.
  5. Never underestimate the power of being alone. Contrary to my beliefs prior to coming abroad, I’ve spent a good portion of my time here being alone and I think that has been super beneficial to me. It’s not for everyone, but time alone for me I have realized I need and it’s okay to just take it when you need it.
  6. Loving yourself is a radical and important act of self-care. Even more so if you can love yourself unconditionally, through triumphs and failures.
  7. Let people make their own choices and mistakes. You are not responsible for everyone,  you’re only responsible for you. It’s the age old you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. It’s really true and it’s really okay.

And while I could go on and on, I’ll spare you all the details but I have to share the one thing that I think is the most important thing I’ve learned this past year. If you want to hear others I’d be happy to talk and share more personally with you; just ask.

There is room for everyone at the table. The world we live in is not black and white, it’s not me versus you, it’s not us versus them.  Other people can advance and that does not detract from me. I can advance and it does not detract from you. If the table is approached with positive emotions there is room for everyone to sit. Life is not a zero sum problem to be solved.

So here’s to turning 21 in a country where it didn’t matter, surrounded by friends and family, and feeling love from around the world. I wouldn’t have exchanged it for anything else.

Much love, Victoria

P.S a special shout out to Steph, Aurora, Ben, Sofia, and Rebecca for enduring the cold to botellón with me 🙂 You guys are amazing.

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