I came to Europe to find myself. This idea was inspired by reading two books, the alchemist and eat, pray love. Even more so, due to my frustration of not knowing what I wanted out of life, the frustration of feeling like things are just not going my way. If you are a planner like me am sure you can relate to this. So, I decided traveling was one way to figure out my true self, who Silindile really is. I mean other than the obvious- I am daughter, friend, sister, lover of fashion, sucker for romance, love my family to bits, stubborn, strong-willed, kind, love laughing and an avid reader etc.… I still felt there was more of me I needed to discover. The valuable things that are important to me, like what my purpose in life is and what change I want to bring to the world……. And in my mind, travelling was the answer……
So, I resolved to finally make my goal of travelling overseas a reality. I had a plan- the plan was to apply for a master’s programme in the UK to study social policy. That way I would shoot two birds with one stone, advance myself academically and use the opportunity to travel around Europe. So I dedicated my time to applying to a lot of Universities and I got accepted into most-University of Leeds, Bath, Reading, Edinburgh and Aberdeen and some that I have forgotten. But what I was really hoping for was the opportunity to get a scholarship into the Advances programme, because at least it was the only programme with the opportunity to travel and live in more countries (England, Denmark, Portugal, France and Poland). Sorry to disappoint those who interviewed me, I know I told you I wanted to change the world in my application form, that is still true but my motivating factor was the advantage of travelling.
At the time, I had been accepted into the programme but was on the waiting list for the scholarship. So when Jimmy (Advances administrator) finally put me out of my misery and told me that I had been accepted into the scholarship, I knew it was going to be an experience I would never forgot. I recall the words of my research supervisor at the time, “take this opportunity, it will change your life in so many ways and most importantly, you will get to develop yourself personally.” And he was so right. So, now that I have completed the programme, a few of my friends ask with a bit of mockery. So Lin, “Did you find yourself”? Was the experience worth it? And I reply no to the former and yes to the latter.
No, I did not find myself, because I realized that striving to find myself is like chasing the wind, you can never say you have truly found yourself. What I mean by this is that, life is beautifully complex, every experience and encounter in our journey reveals a different nuance to ourselves that we might not yet have uncovered and with it brings out a different side to us that lay dormant. So, my best answer at the moment is I have learnt to be the best version of myself I can possibly be. I am far from perfect, I make mistakes, I will make mistakes but, I have also learnt to be kind to myself. This required being true to myself and what I believe in, learning to be patient with myself when I falter and truly accepting the good and the bad that comes with it, like Maya Angelou said “When you know better you do better, you should not allow yourself to be judged for the person that you were but for the person that you are trying to be now.”
And to the second question, without a doubt in my mind I made the right decision. Besides the very interesting and mind blowing experiences. I had the opportunity to fulfill my life-long dream to live in Paris, travelling countries I never in my wildest dreams imagined. Travelling within Macedonia, dancing to Balkan music and tasting Raki (wine) in Albanian and Greek villages, tasting Dutch wafers, Italian and Romanian cuisines, tried couch surfing with complete strangers for the first time (to the horror of my sister and mum) and many more archived memories. The most important thing I will take away is not only the memories created but the lessons learnt. Lessons learnt from my very opinionated but very intelligent colleagues and friends, my very humble and insightful lecturers and also from my own personal experiences in this programme and the people I have met long the way.
Now of course I learnt so much from the academic aspect of the programme which is another discussion for another day, but today I would like to share with you what I have personally learnt or rather reaffirmed.
Your dreams are valid– I was just 12 years old when I told my friends who were mostly guys at the time that one day I would live in Paris and meet my prince charming at the Eiffel tower. Upon hearing this, they cracked their lungs with laughter and told me how my teenage romance novels were beginning to delude me… Fortunately, the Paris dream came true and I am sure my friends are eating their words wherever they are. As for the prince charming part, well, it’s a story for another day. I guess you might be wondering what the point to this anecdote is…well, the point is to say no matter how crazy, scary or ridiculous your dream or goals may seem, they are still valid, living in Paris after imagining it those many years ago solidified this for me.
Family and good friends are everything
They say friends are the family we choose for ourselves. This rings true for me. It is easy to have many friends when things are going well in your life. But friends that can still be there for you when you are down and out is what counts. So I would like to thank my friends (you know yourselves). Thank you for teaching me what it is to be a good friend. For loving me with my many flaws, for being honest even when I did not want to hear it, for not only being there in my happy moments but even through the sad moments. For patiently listening to my problems and tolerating my sometimes non-stop complaints, even though I know it drove you crazy lol…. For telling me that I was very intelligent and I would make it in times when I did not believe in myself and felt my research was not making sense. For reaching out when I decided to shut you and the world out during difficult and stressful days and for still being good friends and not giving up even when I was sometimes a crappy friend. You didn’t have to, but you still did. So, from the bottom of my heart, I say thank, ndiyabulela (I am grateful). I am the woman I am today because of the significant roles you played in my life.
Always be yourself
The hardest lesson I still find to stick by is to be myself and be truthful in what I believe in. True success for me comes with being true to who you are. As people it is really great to be liked by everyone, it is nice to get approval or affirmations from people but when it comes at the expense of not living the real you or being your true self then it is not worth it. I have learnt that sometimes it is okay to live your truth even if it is not popular with the masses, to distance yourself from people who do not make you grow and it is equally okay not be liked by everyone, because anyway not everyone will like you no matter what you do. I know for some this might seem like an obvious cliché, but for me it is something I knew and understood in theory but never practiced it in reality. One of my favourite authors Chimamanda Ngozi-Adichie said something that was very profound and resonated with me:
“All over the world, girls are raised to make themselves likable, to twist themselves into shapes that suit other people.
Please do not twist yourself into shapes to please. Don’t do it. If someone likes that version of you, that version of you that is false and holds back, then they actually just like that twisted shape, and not you. And the world is such a gloriously multifaceted, diverse place that there are people in the world who will like you, the real you, as you are.”
Humility in all you do
There is an African proverb known in the Nguni languages of Southern African which says “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” and translates to “I am because you are” or a person is because of other people. I am where I am today because of the people around me who love me and support my crazy dreams, encourage me, mentor me and even strangers who take the time to share random acts of kindness. From you all I learnt that you can be very successful and be knowledgeable in life but it is how you treat people that matters. The way you speak to people and value people that matters. Maya Angelou once said that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
So now that I have completed my masters programme and begin the next chapter of my life, the road ahead is still a bit hazy, unclear and sometimes daunting, but I will keep moving forward and embrace the process of confusion and uncertainty that comes with it. Now that Europe and its adventures are nicely stored in my memory, I cannot help but wonder what lessons and experiences await me in India……….