If I only think about everything I’ve been in the past 5 years, I think I’ve gained more life experiences and lessons than all the years before that moment, collectively. I arrived so full of hope, so shiny, almost arrogant in my demand for things to turn alright. I had worked hard all of my life to earn my right to come and study here. So, I firmly believed the hardest part was behind me.
I was completely unprepared for what I will go through. It was one of those experiences, in which you either make it or they break you. The difference being that in my case, you were pushed to the breaking point, and pushed, and then pushed some more.
Of course, it has not all being bad or difficult. It was simply a very quick lesson on growing up and in life overall. Things like breaking points, limits, heartbreaks, physical pain, crying were defined anew and then re-defined some more.
But to get back to the positive. Today, I will try to celebrate the things I have achieved since I arrived here.
1. I got a master’s degree from a super hardcore research program
I did not pass it with anything like flying colors. I failed courses, I had to retake me. Before that moment, I was a good student, failure was not something I knew how to do. I cried, I literally cried like a baby over how impossible and difficult it all was. But I ground my teeth and pulled through it. And it’s done and I never have to do it again.
2. I am close to getting a doctorate
I am writing the introduction to it, meaning the end is close. And this is another journey which has not been easy. There was again some crying, but less. If there is anything such a journey teaches you — if you are doing it right, at least — is humility. You see and know your limitations, you feel unimportant, you feel you are not good enough. And you need to find the discipline and faith in yourself to pull through despite all of this.
3. I ran a marathon
Before coming to the Netherlands, I had been doing running for a few years already. However, only here did I pick it up more seriously, and it is not difficult I thought at first, given that the country is so flat. However, we have wind which compensates for the flatness. And I started participating in different amateur races, a bunch of 10M ones, then came a half-marathon, then finally the full one. Well, in everything you do, you should see some progress, right? So I spent a few months preparing for it and finished it (and I am told I finished it well).
4. I earned how to cook and became quite passionate about baking
If you live on your own, sans family and friends, you learn how to manage that. Turns out, I quite enjoy cooking, and I realised there is much better cooking out there in the world than my mother’s. I’ve also discovered the joys and wonders of different cuisines, a chance I seldom had back in Bulgaria. And most of all, I discovered I truly enjoy baking. And with some practice, I became better at it. Now, simply the process of baking bring me comfort, I don’t even need to taste much of my own production. And if all else fails, this can always become my alternative career option.
5. I tried new sports, picked up boxing (ad urgently need to go back to it)
I have always felt passionate about martial arts and wanted to box but, again, I did not have the chance to do it back home. Well, adding the frustration and stress of the master’s program, it became the perfect sport for me. Unfortunately, being little short on time in the past months, I had to temporarily abandon it.
6. I met wonderful people and had the chance to travel to new places
Perhaps that would have happened even if I went somewhere else as I believe there are nice people everywhere, but I am quite happy I got to meet the people (and weirdos:P) I met, and to travel to the places I managed to visit.
7. I learned to take care of myself, my surroundings and be cautious about my finances
While I was a student, I had to live on a very tight budget, so I learned the importance of being cautious with your finances, I’ve learned the discipline and importance of building your own buffer and safety net for when yu are jobless, for example, and do not want or simply cannot rely on anyone in the world to help you. I’ve learned how to make a depressing dorm room feel like home, or an apartment quite nice and comfortable. I’ve learned to fix a bunch of things around the house (and with my bike). I’ve learned how to take care of plants. I do believe now they truly thrive under love, care, and attention.
8. I’ve learned what it’s like to be in a long-term, grown-up relationship
The one, in which the other person finally knows (ok, kinda) what they want in life. I’ve learned to be less selfish and that truly loving someone means accepting them the way they are without trying to change them after your own ideas and preferences. And it does take hard work but being a grown-up about it also means not to walk away the moment it gets hard.
Ok, I will stop the list here because I feel these are the most important items. When I look at it, it does not sound like a big deal. But most of these points has been like a preparation for a marathon — taking so much of you, and leaving you only with the rewarding feeling of surviving it. If there is one thing I miss about myself from 5 years ago, it would be my optimism and hopefulness. I so believed that happiness is around the corner. I had no idea I was just starting my fight for it.