A Birthday in a Foreign Land…

Quite a few friends had told me that they felt older when they turned 24. They knew it sounded silly, they had said, but somehow, they turned 24 and felt like they needed to get their lives together – they felt they were getting older and needed to be taking steps towards growing up and settling down.

I turned 24 on September 22nd and…..I can’t say I feel the same way. Maybe it’s because I’m in a foreign country, away from all the social pressures of having to show that you have life figured out. Maybe it’s because I’m so removed from societies where success is measured by material wealth, a high paying job and progress towards a better position, a fatter paycheck, a bigger apartment and more material possessions. Or maybe it’s just because I’ve met so many people on this trip that are older than me but still manage to live young, travel often, appreciate the small things and pay their bills.

I turned 24 on an overnight bus to Mendoza – a city in Argentina, famous for its vineyards and wines. Because of the outrageous price of air travel, overnight buses are common in Argentina and more comfortable than you’d think. I booked this particular trip through an organization called BAIS (Buenos Aires International Students). There were about 40 of us on the 3-day trip to Mendoza, enough to rent out a whole bus for our group. Everyone on the trip was from different countries mainly in Europe and Latin America, here on some kind of exchange program or working. I think I was the only one representing the US or India or Ghana.

I told no one of my birthday, aside from the Vietnamese-French girl sitting beside me and expected a low-key but pleasant day in Mendoza. But the people leading the trip must have known because somehow at 12am, as we made our way at crazy speeds through the middle of rural Argentina, the whole bus started singing me happy birthday while popping bottles of champagne! I got sung happy birthday in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Finnish, French, German and a host of other languages. We spent the night drinking bubbly (and some other cocktail called Jugo del Amor), dancing to Danza Kuduro (and other reggaeton) and singing along to Michel Telo’s Ai Se Eu Te Pego.

Somehow we still got enough sleep to reach Mendoza refreshed the next day. The actual day of my birthday was spent biking to two different bodegas (wineries) and tasting Argentina’s red wines. And in true Argentine style, the night consisted of fernet and cumbia dancing at a boliche called Runner.

Biking between bodegas
The boliche at 4am

I turned 24 and felt younger. Freer. Less stressed. I turned 24 and felt no pressure to figure out life. And so far during my time in Argentina, I haven’t once thought about careers or GREs or grad school or settling down….(which may or may not be a good thing). But though I am probably as lost as I was before (career-wise), I don’t feel stuck anymore. I finally feel like I’m living. I’m doing what I should be doing in my 20s. And as much as I disliked the long hours and drudgery of my consulting job, I realize I owe my current state of happiness to my last job. If I hadn’t put in my two years of consulting, I wouldn’t have been able to afford all this traveling. And if I hadn’t been as unhappy as a consultant, I would never have quit and left. And I wouldn’t be here experiencing another country, another culture, another way of life.

So maybe I did grow up on my 24th birthday. Just not in the way most people do. I meet people here every day, who are living proof of the fact that life doesn’t have to be about working behind a desk for all but 3 weeks out of the year. Life isn’t about stressing or rushing to figure it all out. You just have to step out of the vicious cycle to realize how insignificant it all is. I turned 24 and now feel more certain than ever of what kind of life I want to have and what kind I don’t. And though this realization or affirmation may not be much, I’d like to think it’s a start. 🙂

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