First, I’m going to tell you a story that’s so common it will probably bore you: in the fall of 2013, there was a naïve freshman positive she wanted to be pre-med. The next million years sat unrolled before her, still and certain. She would become a doctor, then do something really cool like international medicine. Maybe concentrate in Public Health. Save the world and bask in self-righteousness. All that good shit.
That was the plan—but that was also before she realized that she was deeply indifferent towards most of her STEM classes. That she had no desire to do scientific research. That she really didn’t know if she wanted to set aside twelve rigid years of her life towards one career path.
Plus, she got really fired up over a much more practical field: literature, of course.
Naturally, there was a string of existential crises that ran all the way to winter break of junior year. The day she came back to Brown that January, she sat across from her dad at Den Den, staring morosely over a plate of dumplings. She didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life, but she was dropping pre-med. That dream had gone stale. When she told people about it, she didn’t feel much anymore.
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, the girl who managed to feel sadness while eating dumplings (unfathomable, I know!) was me. The decision was a relief, and it was for the best, but it also threw a wrench in my plans. For a very long time after that, when people asked me what I wanted to do after Brown, I either gave them ten million possible answers at the same time, or a simple “I’m not sure.”
Sometimes, when I step back to think about how my plans (and dreams) have changed, it’s like I’m walking along a railroad track. There’s a second track running parallel to the one I’m on. I can see it as if through a veil: the dimension that would have been had I turned a different way. I see my mom—who is a doctor herself—talking excitedly with me about med school. I see myself studying with friends for exams, or doing rounds in a hospital. There’s a twinge of melancholy, the loss that comes with every switch in the track and lingers around dreams that have been left in an attic somewhere to collect dust.
If I’ve learned anything over the last four years, it’s that life never really goes according to plan. You can mark up your Google calendar until the boxes are microscopic, but one thing after another comes along and—boom—your semester looks nothing like you thought it would a year ago.
This whole life-throwing-curveballs-at-you deal doesn’t really suit my personality, which is a fairly anxious one. I suck at uncertainty. I’m terrible at “going with the flow.” (I am deeply jealous of people who are good at this. I also find this ability impossible to comprehend.) The amount of times I’ve said, “Oh, I don’t really care what happens. I’m just living in the moment. Going with the flow,” while dating someone, then panicked 20 minutes later about whatever future or nonfuture I wanted with that person is embarrassing.
Now, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a deep hypocrisy turtled atop my aversion to uncertainty. If you’re picturing me as someone who checks her calendar every morning and color codes her school materials, think again. I’m pretty disorganized, and I mix up deadlines at least a couple times a semester. My room is always a mess. I’m five minutes late to everything, usually running around in an intense state of fluster-dom for about ten minutes before I finally get out the door. When I say, “I like to know my plans,” what I really mean is, “I’d love for everyone else’s plans to bend to my every whim so that if I want to do something or need to be somewhere, it can happen.” It also means that if a plan changes at the last minute, it really throws me off.
This semester has definitely not gone “according to plan.” To give you an idea of this, less than a week ago I decided I needed to buy a one-way flight from Kuala Lumpur to Chicago in early July. I’m not from either of those places. I’d tell you more, but I want to keep you in suspense.
There are countless other times my plans have changed radically over the past four years, moments when things haven’t turned out the way I expected. A few stick out.
Sophomore spring I went abroad, and I fell in love—twice. The first was with a person, and that REALLY wasn’t supposed to happen. He was an Australian guy who—shockingly—had to go back to Australia once the semester was up. I had to go back to Brown. It hurt a lot, for a long time, and it probably had something to do with why I didn’t really date anyone back at school for a while (or, at least, that’s what I told myself; I could just be a dork). Given the dramatic circumstances, it was not the kind of relationship I had imagined way back in my Boy Meets World watching days (Cory + Topanga 4ever). That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a rich part of the last four years.
The second love was not a person—that really would have been a lot—but a city. I visited Berlin for five days, and it fascinated me: the weird electronic music blasting from an apartment window and wafting over remnants of the wall at 2 p.m. on a Saturday (likely the end of a party that had started the night before); the best cake I’ve eaten in my life; more Turkish and English words buzzing through the U-Bahn than German ones; outdoor markets whose columns seemed never-ending. Berlin was brimming with stories, full of places to explore.
After five days there I realized I wanted to live abroad for some time after college, to see as much of the world as I could before school or work dictated where I had to be. I knew it might not happen—I needed to find a way to fund it.
Last fall I applied to two fellowship programs that would let me live in Berlin for a year, doing projects I was passionate about, and—by some stroke of luck—I managed to get one of them. This was after a tough first-round rejection from the other, a Fulbright grant. Until I heard back from the second program in April, I had to tell everyone who asked that I had no clue what my plans would be for the next year. It was embarrassing.
It’s funny—I was reading Hannah Dylan Pasternak’s send-off, and she mentions having gotten into a relationship this past semester, after not having dated anyone very seriously throughout her time here. I seem to have ended up in a similar boat. Once again, life happens in weird and surprising ways.
In February, I started dating a friend of my suitemate, and things went really, really well. He’s Boyfriend now, and I won’t embarrass him too much, but he’s pretty amazing. He also has a golden retriever, a car, and an air conditioner. And he’s upset that I chose to mention those three things and not how funny, kind, honest, and hardworking he is. Anyway, I somehow managed to fall in love during my last semester at Brown.
I also felt a big loss this semester: I had a falling out with a friend I’d been close with since freshman year. She’s been a constant throughout my time here, and when I think of Brown I always associate it with her. I expected we’d spend Senior Week together. On top of that, we were supposed to backpack through southeast Asia together for all of July, and those plans got cancelled. That happened less than a week ago. I’d planned to go for the month of June as well, so now I’ll be cutting the trip short. Hence the one-way flight from Kuala Lumpur to Chicago.
Chicago because Boyfriend is spending his summer in Illinois, another plan that developed very recently. I’ll get to see more of him—so even though my plans changed in a pretty painful way, there’s a big bright side.
That’s the plan—for now, at least. Who knows, I could pick up Japanese encephalitis in Malaysia, fall into a coma, and die.
I was going to end with the Japanese encephalitis thing, because I thought it would be funny, but like a lot of things I think will be funny, I realized it might not go over well, being a bit morbid and all.
Instead, I’ll end with this: life doesn’t go according to plan. Things rarely turn out the way you imagine them. That’s not necessarily a bad thing or a good thing, it’s just a thing. It comes with losses and gains. Through all of it, I’d suggest two things—they’ve guided (or driven) me over the past four years: spend time with the people you care most about, and satisfy your curiosity about the world.
Then again, I’m only 22 and can barely keep up with my laundry, so you might want to take a moment to seriously consider whether you should listen to anything I say.
Peace out, Brunonia. It’s been lit.