A Year in Review

Happy New Year!

I’ve never really understood the big deal about starting a new year. When I worked in retail I never used to wish any customers a Happy New Year unless they did first – not because I’m a monster, but because it just didn’t occur to me that that is a thing you wish strangers. It doesn’t seem like a holiday to me the way Christmas is. People use the changing of calendars as an excuse to make dramatic changes in life and then usually end up starting their fresh new year hungover. I don’t need a new year to inspire me to improve something; usually I have many experiences during a year that encourage me to better myself in some way.

New Year’s Eve has had horrible moments for me for years now, so I don’t like to assign it more importance than any other day of the year. In fact, last night I decided that it must be my least favourite holiday.

That being said, I don’t want to start pushing more negativity out into the world. Instead, I thought I would do a bit of a review of the last year. While I could do this any day of the year to get a more (or less) favourable snapshot of my life, this time the date is significant because it was exactly one year ago that my mom and I packed up her car and drove to Copenhagen.

Despite being excited for months about moving to a new city, finding work, and making new friends, I still vividly remember the sick and nervous feelings in my stomach as we left the cozy town, where we’d just celebrated the kind of intimate New Year’s you can only experience in such a small place, to head to a big city that I’d only ever visited for a combined two weeks in warmer weather. It’s been a year and so much has happened since then, but I still get uncomfortable thinking about what an emotional roller coaster January 2016 was. When I took the train back to Copenhagen after Christmas last week and sat on the ferry, the sickening feeling of leaving familiar Germany that I’d had on that first ferry trip to start 2016 was still fresh in my mind.

The first month was awful. When I think about the things I experienced during the time, it doesn’t seem like it was all that bad – I found an apartment within two days where I could at least live for a month in a city where I had grossly misunderestimated the rental market; from there I found a house to live where I would make great friends; I got to see and walk in proper snow for the first time in a long time; and I got a job in marketing, which was the whole point of moving to Copenhagen in the first place. Still, it was cold and dark and everything was new to me, including the whole concept of being an adult and having to pay rent and work full-time and make an effort to befriend people. I didn’t understand the language, I was alone in my apartment, and I cried almost every day, even after finding a job and place to live, because I was so overwhelmed by everything.

Luckily, things started to turn around once I moved into the house. I made more friends, got comfortable exploring the neighbourhood, and settled into a nice routine. I was incredibly lucky to be able to go on a free trip to Egypt with work, something that I had most certainly not expected when deciding to move to Copenhagen. I also had a few memorable work adventures to Stockholm that involved talking to strangers in Swedish on Tinder and scrambling to catch overnight trains. I decided to go to Lund for Valborg and Helsingør to see Hamlet’s castle, and as the days got longer I spent more and more time outside exploring. In the summer I went back to Germany and saw Lübeck and Heidelberg for the first time, biked to Strasbourg, watched the German football team come close to winning the Euro 2016 (though I stupidly didn’t take advantage of going to any public viewings), and helped my mom throw a fun and memorable 50th birthday party. When I went back to Copenhagen I let myself splurge a little to be able to enjoy aspects of the city I had avoided before. I even ended the year visiting Christmas markets with my paternal grandma who I hadn’t seen in more than two years.

A lot of great things happened to me in 2016, but they weren’t without difficulties. This was probably one of the most draining years of my life. I dealt with the stress of an outrageous housing market, lived without health insurance because of bureaucratic delays, crashed my bike, fell down the stairs, and worried incessantly about money. After working hard to get in shape in 2015, I took a step backwards the next year after I couldn’t afford to go to the gym and couldn’t resist the temptations presented by the free catered lunch buffet at work every day. I lost a job not because of my own choice or lack of skills, but because of monetary reasons, and the three-month long job search that resulted made me feel useless and unwanted.

In any case, I now know even more that great things don’t come easy. A year of having to fight and work hard for so many things has taught me a lot and made me more resilient. Of course, I still hope that 2017 will better.

In the spirit of my New-Year’s-is-nonsense attitude, I don’t like to make resolutions. The only resolution I ever remember keeping was about five years or so ago, when I decided I was going to cut down the number of paper towels I use in public restrooms from three to two. I succeeded. Then at the beginning of 2015 I came across this TED Talk about how to use only one paper towel which truly changed my life.

So, instead of hard resolutions that I won’t be able to commit to, I’d rather list some goals for what I want to do. Some are broad, some are specific, some probably won’t happen in the next year. But I’d like to have something I can focus on that will hopefully help me avoid another tumultuous journey like 2016.

1. Run a marathon.
This is a straightforward one. Back in October I decided I wanted to run a marathon in 2017 because it was an inexpensive, measurable goal that required hard work but was also fun and beneficial. Hoping to be able to check this off the list by the end of May.

2. Climb Kilimanjaro.
This is something I’ve wanted to do since I was ten or so and went to an IMAX movie about Kilimanjaro with my dad. One of the girls in the film who was climbing the mountain was my age and I thought, if she can do it, so can I. Eventually this became something of a “To Do Before I Turn 25” thing, but I won’t be able to do it before my 25th birthday this summer for financial reasons. Still, it remains on my list as something I want to do as soon as possible.

3. Build up my savings account.
Since I signed up to study abroad more than four years ago, I’ve been living in a cycle that sees me deplete my savings, put all my money from working towards building it up again, only to spend it all again on my next adventure. Doing a five-month unpaid internship without an additional part-time job or government support used up most of my resources this year. I live in an incredibly expensive city, but I hope my current frugal lifestyle will allow me to start saving regularly again so I can afford to take a proper vacation every once in a while. Which brings me to my next goal…

4. Occasionally treat myself to something nice.
I’ve been pinching pennies for years now. It seems ages ago that I had the freedom to buy myself a new hockey jersey whenever I felt like it, or to travel just for fun. I spent a huge chunk of last year not letting myself buy anything that wasn’t necessary, thinking I needed every last kroner to survive. I even got nervous going to see Deadpool with my roommates, even though it was a much needed break from sitting around at home at a time when the weather was still ugly. Once I started getting paid for work in the summer, I let myself spend a little more money on high quality things, like a proper pair of Birkenstocks, and it felt so good to treat myself a little, or even to treat my mom on her big birthday. So in the upcoming year, while I’ll still be putting money into savings, I’m also going to let myself buy the more expensive, brand-name mascara if it makes me feel better than the cheap drugstore stuff. I’ll pay for a meal at a café if it lets me get out of the house and explore the city a bit more. And dammit, I’ll go for an occasional weekend trip somewhere if I want to visit a new place (even if I only use Ryanair to get there).

5. Be more positive.
I spent a lot of 2016 being negative. I realize now that a lot of my early critiques of Copenhagen were culture shock, but it still doesn’t excuse my attitude considering I have at least always had a roof over my head, food to eat, and friends to talk to. Copenhagen and Germany both became much nicer places when I learned to focus on what I liked about them. Now I’m lucky that I have a home in both. I’ve long been aware of the negative attitude I developed since I graduated university and moved away, but it’s still something I’ve struggled to improve. So my work on being more positive continues in 2017. Part of that will be saying more nice things out loud.

If I could only use one word to describe the past year, it would be hectic. I’m hoping for a bit more peace and balance in my future, though I’m sure I could never live without the adventure I’ve come to expect.

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2 thoughts on “A Year in Review

  1. A fabulous and heart-warming summary of a young woman facing the economic realities of living in Europe in 2016. Balancing life, career, and travel is always a challenge, at any stage in life. Fitting in all the work and personal goals along your life path is part of the adventure. With each new experience, you will gain even more confidence in your talents and ability to deal with strange new situations. This was a great read. Thanks.

    Like

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