I rarely post personal photos and stories online these days, but it’s fun to think about the end of my 20s, which were an era in itself, and to look back at all the different memories. As someone said, the best thing about being in your 30s now is that all your craziest experiences happened in the pre-Facebook era. So many parties, adventures and funny faces will, fortunately, never be documented and tagged.
10 years ago I was a young enthusiastic student in Vilnius, dreaming to be a diplomat in Japan by the time I reach, well, the point I’m at now. My 20th birthday was before the era of digital photography. At the time I had only visited Latvia and Estonia. But soon after there was a whirlwind of adventures on three continents. This is not meant as a birthday humblebrag – rather, it’s my reflection on how I decided to leave my comfort zone.
During my undergrad years I worked as a research assistant each summer. From opinions on the functioning of democracy in Lithuania to memories of senior citizens about their contacts with Jewish neighbor before WW2, these were fun and intellectually enriching student jobs, allowing me to travel in Lithuania and combine work with camping and exploring. Many of the colleagues who worked with me back then later landed fancy careers in public administration.
If one must start taking planes at some point, why not start from a real hardcore experience? My first flight ever was a flight to Tokyo via Frankfurt. Lithuania joined the EU and an EU youth leaders’ program by the Japanese MoFA opened up to us. This was my first trip to another continent. Traveling was different back then. No telephone, no internet access, and analog camera in hand. When I finished the film that I had and went to buy a new one, I got a paper bag which read “I love film.” For the Japanese, taking photos with an analog camera was an explicit choice already in 2004. It’s unbelievable that if I went on a similar trip today, I would probably make the same number of photos each day as I made during the entire trip.
At the age of 20 I also moved from a shared apartment to a student dormitory, which was an eternal source of crazy adventures. It was a school of life, where you get grades for remaining positive when nights might be noisy, the shared shower looks gross, the shared kitchen looks like an explosion happened a week ago and nobody bothered to clean up, after parties you have a choice between waiting for the first bus at 5 am or walking a long way in the dark, and there are always all kinds of interesting characters you might meet in the corridors. Notes, salt, anxiety, washing powder, advice and a view on green hills could all be shared there.
In a surprising twist of fate, I got my dream job still at the age of 20 and worked as a staff journalist until 2007 and as a freelancer since then.
This was when I started drinking coffee – since then I’ve had its good, bad and downright ugly kinds. The one above is a good one – from my Couchsurfing host in Italy.
EU accession also meant easier and more plentiful opportunities to study abroad. Erasmus in Sweden was an eye-opening experience, which made me reconsider many of my values.
Again, fortunately, everything was in the pre-Facebook era.
This was a time when people were still blogging on LiveJournal and sharing personal photos in CDs.
I will study and live abroad again, but it won’t be all fun and games, as some people think. After studies are over, office routine will step in.
… which, however, will make even more exotic travels affordable.
On the other hand, it didn’t make me abandon Couchsurfing.
I also didn’t abandon the hope to return to a writing career one day, so I kept writing articles for little or no pay, promoting them on social networks, until I was finally invited to blog for the European Commission in Lithuania.
This was an interesting time, many opportunities were only opening up. At my current job I often meet students, some of them are 20 now. They were born in independent Lithuania and they have enjoyed full rights as EU citizens all their adult lives. They take studying abroad for granted and are picky. They grew up with social networks, so they probably understand privacy very differently. They are more used to the idea that one who succeeds in proving herself/himself can live anywhere.
I read many stories of people who seem to be making the most of their youth, skills and energy. With ubiquitous social networks many of us are pushed to feel that others are enjoying a better life, more exciting holidays, more rewarding jobs and easier personal life. When told like above, with photos, these years of my life also sound so nice that I’m almost jealous 🙂 There are no photos of boredom, fatigue and anxiety. Nothing to document giving up a dream job because it’s not sustainable, making compromises, or being rejected. But as time passes, nobody will care. Indeed, it’s better to think of one’s past years as a happy story worth documenting (here’s an essay by my colleague from one project, on the benefits of ‘getting lost’ in your 20s).