New Year’s

September, and not January, is the month that I think best marks the beginning of a new year.

(As an aside, I think a lot of people have certain times of year that they recognize as their “true” New Year.  I have a friend, for example, whose New Year begins on May 22nd, which marks the day on which her cousin, many years ago, died in a car accident.  She celebrates her New Year by making Swedish braid bread – a specialty of her and her cousin’s grandmother, if I’m remembering correctly – reflecting on important moments from the past year, expressing her gratitude and telling the people in her life that she loves them, as she was not able to do before losing her cousin).

This almost certainly has to do with the fact that I work in an academic environment, in which some form of “summer vacation” – however brief – is almost always a guarantee.  Having just returned “home” after travelling to new places, seeing old friends and family or simply just sleeping 9 hours a day for two weeks straight, you suddenly have all kinds of energy to dedicate to novel endeavors. (Perhaps it also has to do with the fact that September is a much lovelier time of year to ponder new beginnings than January).  In any event, I may not be buying mechanical pencils and a new lunchbox, but even at 25 the excitement and anticipation that accompanies the advent of a new school year is hard to resist.

In just two days time I will welcome a new group of students into Italy as they begin their time abroad.  The start of a new term is always exciting, and the start of a new academic year even more so (at least for me) – anything could happen this year.

Backing up a bit…my “home” can be found in Italy, at the moment, and my job (not yet a career, as far as I know), in the field of study abroad.  This is appropriate, since, like countless thousands before and after me, I discovered Italy’s joys during a period of study abroad (and its realities during an extended period as an ex-pat here…but I digress).  I, a pretty typical mid 20-something, am directly responsible for the happiness and well being of a gaggle of (early) 20-somethings during their junior years/semesters abroad.  As jobs for people my age go, I think this is a pretty interesting one; if nothing else, it gives me ample opportunity to reflect on the difference between young 20-somethings and mid 20-somethings (not to mention the difference between Americans and Italians/Europeans; privileged students and students from working class backgrounds; students from large, public universities and students from small liberal arts schools, etc. etc.).

I do wonder if my darling chicklings realize how vast the mere 4-5 years of age that separates us seems to me; I wonder if they, too, see me as someone older and in many ways different from them.  I try to keep this in mind when I’m imagining what 30, 35, 40 will look like; if they will all be distinct ages very different from the others; if my 30 year old counterparts view me with the same detached amusement for my immaturity, much as I sometimes do with my students.  Certain 5 year age jumps are naturally momentous and encompass an enormous amount of change (age 0-5, or 10-15, come to mind).  I think everybody knows this.  But personally I didn’t expect the jump from 20-25 to be just so…huge.

At 20, I had been with one boy; lived in one country; I spoke one language; I had never been to Europe, and perhaps the only significant change I had experienced in my life was a move from a small, rural town to a suburban/metropolitan area for college.

At 25, I have loved three men (or are they boys too?); lived in two countries and traveled to a few more more; learned a second language and studied two more; earned a bachelor’s and master’s degrees and held down three “real” jobs, each one a step up from the one that came before.  I think it would be very naïve of me or any 20-something to imagine that we’ll be lucky enough to maintain such an exciting pace in the years to come.

I look at my students, whom for the most part I truly adore, and I wonder what the next five years has in store for them.  I’m excited for how much they will change and experience and I hope they remember their time in Italy as a turning point in their lives, much like I do.  For the time being however, all I want them to be concerned with is acquiring a taste for red wine (and learning how to drink it sensibly), enjoying REAL food, learning a beautiful language and gaining some perspective on their worlds, which are bound to grow.

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