A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.
Three years ago I got on a plane and moved to Australia for a year. On the way back I spent time in Singapore, Vietnam, and home in DC before moving to Durham to adjust to life in one place again. I was inclined from the early days that my time in Durham would be limited so I didn’t apply for a job that would hold me there for a year or two. I took a job in a café that I could quit when the time came. And in the summer, it did when I headed back to DC.
In the year following, I reestablished a life here. I moved into a basement apartment owned by my friends upstairs. I sought to live a healthier life, exercising more and eating better and taking joy in cooking again. I found myself walking distance to much of what I wanted to do in the city and started combing the concert calendars and event pages frequently. I got a bike and took up exploring the city. I found restaurants I loved enough to show visiting friends and a bar nearby that had a good vibe. I found the benefits of living in the center of a public transit system and not twenty minutes out from the end of the line.
I reached out to old friends and aimed to restart connections that had fallen off over the years, either before my departure to Australia or because of it. I spent lazy afternoons popping upstairs for tea and conversation. I met those further afield at consciously set-up times for specified hang-outs.
I reached out beyond old friends and tried to start a new life for new me in this old city. I showed up at a few Couchsurfing DC events and some travel-lover meetups. I accepted all house-party invites I received and refused to stay within my comfortable bubble of pre-existing associates. I intentionally and directly met new people in the safe space of “we are both ranked cool enough to be invited by the host.” Those conversations that went well were nourishing to my confidence in myself and my faith in other people. Those that went very well turned into outside-of-the-party friendships. I made friends of friends of friends. I made museum plans with interesting people I met at bars. I went dancing with a friend I met while building a snowman in a park.
A year after moving to DC, I took a vacation. After a stretch of taking intense vacations yearly capped off by more than a year of continuous travel, going so long without striking out into the world was weird. But in the year and a half I’d been back in the US, the furthest I got from Durham was DC for a weekend, and the furthest from DC was Long Island for a weekend. So I packed a couple bags and drove 10 hours to Louisville, KY. It was a week spent truly on vacation, the first break from my daily life I’d had. And it was great.
And then I returned to DC after having a mental reset, full stop, to see my life with fresh eyes.
Those in my life were fantastic people. I didn’t want for the quality of connections, but I wanted them in greater number. In some ways I was in stasis, no further along my long-term path than I had been a year earlier except by virtue of being older. I saw the energy I put into the city. The year of a full time primary job. The year of part time hours in a secondary job. The year of additional hours on odd jobs and side tasks to make a bit more to survive. The energy put forth towards maintaining old friendships and developing new ones. Towards discovering the city. And I saw what the city was giving me back on each front. This is my life in all of its splendor.
And within a month of my return home I knew the answer. Time to go.
I love the city. DC is my birthplace, and the DC area will always be a home for me. But presently I’ve exhausted my resources here and hit a point of diminishing returns. So I will exit my relationship with the city in its current iteration, give a hug, laugh about the good times, and close this chapter.
As for the future, it is wide open at this point and I am not sure what is there for me. I’ve got no certainties on where I want to be long-term, or even if the answer is a single place or a nomadic trail. Perhaps the place that will best propel me forward doesn’t share the default overdrive of the Mid-Atlantic. Maybe I’ll find my stride in the more laid back West Coast. Perhaps the mindset I need will come from Iceland’s failure-is-okay-as-long-as-you-try society. Maybe it will be in a less cynical nation. Maybe from a place I don’t speak the language, or don’t fit in, or one where I blend perfectly. But the key is to try – new scenery, new places, new styles, new ideas. I know that I want to be doing something more meaningful with my time. I want to be challenged more – for the default position of the switch in my brain to be ‘on’ again. I’ve got ideas and notions on what work I might want to do, but things are still very much in the planning stages again.
I’ll admit to a bit of nervousness in all of this. I’m leaving the place that I grew up (again) and stepping into the unknown (again). But more than survived, I thrived in moving to Australia to be a traveler, to search the world and myself for lessons I didn’t know I was looking for. And though I’m stepping into the darkness and I don’t know fully what direction I’m heading, the act of stepping further from the center of the safety net may again be the motivation I need to walk strongly on the wire. There are many capital Q Questions, but the Answers will come because I will track them down. All that I know right now is that the answers don’t seem to be here in DC, and so I must continue my quest for knowledge elsewhere.