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There’s nothing quite as sobering as moving to a new city and realizing that you don’t know anyone. And in that moment, you begin to question where you are, what you’re doing, and whether or not you even know yourself.

It’s a quarter till one in the morning and I’m walking back to my dorm from the Escargot, rubbing my hands along the sleeves of my sweater, trying to fight the brisk night air breeze that was biting at my skin. The pathway is dimly lit except for the lamp posts illuminating the cement road between buildings C and B, which would soon be blocked off for the start of a years worth of renovations. My phone buzzed in my hand, and I quickly looked down at the screen only to find a notification from Facebook.

So-and-so and 21 other friends will be attending Tacos and Tequila tonight in Austin. Let them know if you’re attending!

I clicked the home button and shoved my phone deep in my purse, picking up my pace as I noticed the darkness dissolve with every step I took. In the distance I heard male voices howl, whistling and slurring some words in French before being interrupted by the sharp shattering of a beer bottle. It was as if you could slice the air with a knife, the silence being the loudest noise around me.

Moments later I arrived at building B, running up the four flights of stairs to get to the third floor (oh yeah, in Europe the ground floor is level zero and I lived on the European third floor, which is equivalent to the American fourth floor). I knocked on my apartment door and was greeted by my parents. My dad began by quickly briefing me on all of the organizing he did in my room: where he installed my tea kettle, how he moved my bed to face alongside the window, and how he hid some emergency cash along the inner lining of my desk drawer.

My mom enthusiastically handed me a brown, glossy gift bag, which I reached in to and found two beautiful diamond earrings along with a certificate of authenticity, entirely in French. “This is your early birthday present, since we won’t be here to give it to you then,” she would say. I swallowed back my nervousness and indulged in the luxury of my present, paying no attention to the reality of the situation– that my parents were about to say goodbye to me as I moved to a new city, in a new country, in a different continent. Realizing the time, two hours past midnight, we exchanged kisses on the cheek and my dad prayed in a hush tone as he embraced me for one last time (a tradition of his every time I leave to travel).

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Game day in Austin, my new apartment, and my Dallas normal.

This was it. A rush of excitement reverberated through my bones, amplified by the hoots and howls which slipped through the cracks beneath the balcony door. While I was high on the adrenaline of being in a new country, a numbness sat idly in the back of my mind as I realized that I was on my own. That’s when the sobering silence began to seep in and I recognized the reality of the situation. I sat down on my bed and looked up at the moon through the large panel of windows along the wall. While I harbored a fear of losing myself in the commotion I felt relief knowing that that we all look up to the same moon. Swallowing my doubt, in that moment I knew that everything I would do was solely dependent on me. All that I was so certain of and with all other drivers aside, I’d control the reigns of my life and it would be up to me to make the most of all that would greet me in the new year.

All the sudden change and movement around me transformed into a state of constancy. My forever in the moment would soon deviate into a fond memory. As every day would pass, I would overwrite the uncertainty I’d face and discover my normal with the people I’d spend all of my hours with.

In the past year, my life turned into finding my new normal in a new city for an X-amount of time before having to move on to the next. The immediacy of every new setting sunk into my life, making that very moment in my life become my default, my new normal– square one. In France, waking up and walking down the street to Building T for class was my new normal. Waiting outside the Catacombs in the slicing, Paris night air for the 1:30 am shuttle from the city back to campus. In my home away from home I had found my new normal and in those fleeting moment, it felt as if nothing would ever change again.

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My 21st birthday in Paris.

A milestone of my life was turning 21 while I was living in France. At dinner at Paris’ Le Georges, to my surprise the waiters poured in to our private room with trays of sparkler shooters and velvety chocolate cake alongside a scoop of a ice cream and cannoli. As my friends sang happy birthday, I burst into tears and then to laughter. It only takes an instant to know something, and as my being trembled with emotion, I was overcome with the reality that I had found my new normal with the people I’d call my best friends.

As months passed, the excitement funneled into an anxiety obsessed over how the streets I’d walk and the people who I would talk to every day were only to exist in my life for a short amount of time before I’d have to move on to the next chapter. The honesty of being on my own rushed over me like a gradual intoxication. I thought my new normal was the definition of who I was, and when it came time to leave, I would have to leave behind who I became during that that part of my life.

It only took me 21 years and four months to realize that I was wrong.

Two thousand sixteen has been the year that I’ve lived mostly out of a suitcase and a carry-on. I’d start my year by leaving behind my second home, Austin, in hopes of finding myself eight thousand one hundred and ninety three kilometers away in the outskirts of Paris. Fast forward five months and traveling through 19% of Europe to when I arrived back in Houston, my hometown in Texas. Four days later, I’d make Uptown Dallas my new home and where I’d spend the entirety of my summer as an intern. After 9 months away, in the middle of August, I’d move to my new apartment in Austin.

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Wine on the Champ de Mars, Dallas skyline, and DKR Stadium at UT Austin.

I didn’t fully understand the concept of finding myself in my normal until this past summer. It’s a June, Saturday morning in Dallas and I lay in my bed, facing the large windows which overlooked Turtle Creek Boulevard, exposed to the beaming sunlight and white noise from outside. The silence rang in my ears as I wished so dearly to assimilate into my new city and clutched to the remnants of my old normal. Just a few days ago I was taking the RER into the city and drinking wine until the early hours of the morning. An hour passed of scrolling through my Instagram feed before I became cognizant of how my new normal wouldn’t come on its own. It would come when I dared to find myself in my new surroundings and in those individuals around me. I would look to spending time with others, not to mask a fear of being alone, but to discover pieces of myself through the relationships I’d form. Soon after, I quickly found my new normal in Dallas. I made the strongest friendships with some people I want by my side for the rest of my life. They made made me realize my worth, my purpose, and where I am in my life. As a young woman living outside of my comfort zone, I found that my perception of finding my “normal” was entirely skewed. I was so caught up in the momentary aspect of uncovering my normal that I overlooked how every experience and every exchange would form my person. The things you find in yourself stay with you even after you transition between your current routine of ordinary. You invent yourself in the different cities you travel to and the different people you meet. Your life should be spent finding yourself, and there’s never an end to who you are. It’s a puzzle. Everywhere you go and everyone you meet uncovers a sliver of who you are. The image of who you are in any given moment doesn’t prescribe all that you have yet to discover about yourself as you move on to the next part of your life. It stays with you and mends you in ways which may not be obvious in the present.

As my senior year begins at the best university in Texas, I reflect on the decisions I have to make that will contribute to forming my new normal picking a full time job, potentially moving to a new city, making new friends and leaving the shell of my comfort zone. Every time I leave for somewhere new, I find my routine in that new place and call it my normal. I’ve been using the word normal throughout the duration of my post, though this past year, my impression of normal has changed. There is no such thing as normal, it’s the extraordinary that we align ourselves with to challenge our journey. The excitement that comes along with our lives lies within finding yourself in the various opportunities around you and not confining yourself to your current idea of normal.

3 thoughts on “

  1. Hi there! I’ve been wanting to write you for a while, but didn’t want to bother you while you were in France 🙂 Now that you’re back in Austin, I’d love to get together with you to discuss some stuff. My name is Leyla Shams, and I’m the creator of the podcast Chai and Conversation. I have some ideas to bounce off of you! If you can, write me back at ***@***.com, and hopefully we can get together sometime (I live in Austin too)

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