Final Princeton Update
In high school, a history teacher gave us a class period to come up with a definition of time. This ostensibly simple task produced one of the most stimulating seminars in memory. “Time is a universal enigma” was the truest characterization my group produced. We also toyed with verbose depictions of the past, present, and future, none of which proved effective in conveying the curious nature of time. Although I had just spent an hour trying to make sense of time, I missed the point of the exercise for ironically as soon as I walked out the door my mind was on to the next subject, the next project, the next obligation. In high school there were a lot of activities and assignments and not a lot of time and then come September there was. Time to question, to infer. Time to realize, to understand. Time to decide, to conclude. Time to appreciate. Time to reflect.
September meant Serbia and Serbia, among other things, meant the first year I didn’t have responsibilities already lined up from the previous year and additional activities which would undoubtedly arise. This isn’t to say that the past nine months consisted of merely downtime. My days were occupied with work, interactions with my group and host families, and immersing myself in Serbia and language classes but within those areas I wasn’t time-bound as I had been in high school. At work I was given the freedom of working within preexisting programs or establishing a new program at a Roma settlement. Because I wanted to work directly with the Roma youth, I implemented English classes in their settlement and independently created three levels of English curriculum. No one at the Roma settlement spoke English and only a handful at my service placement so although I kept myself busy teaching and preparing to teach I was essentially in charge of my time and how I invested it.
This personal commitment factor was equally applicable to my involvement in the host families and Serbian culture as a whole. I learned early on that the host family experience brought me the closest to Serbian culture and I set as much time as I could to understanding and appreciating this culture through my families and their friends. I chose to help prepare family meals, participate in cultural and religious celebrations, and visit their childhood villages and other parts of Serbia. Time was well spent and the delegation of it was up to me. No one had expectations for how I would spend that time, which was surprisingly relieving, and I was left alone with my thoughts more than ever before. Thoughts, mind you, make for vital but unsolicited company and often I found their progeny overwhelming.
Time and time again I confronted focus, a concept I tended to steer clear of in high school. I’ve learned to appreciate the value of saying “no”, or rather the value of saying “yes” to things of most importance instead of spreading myself out so thin that each activity is given less commitment than it deserves. My Roma classes quickly became the most important aspect of my life in Niš and though my service placement offered other areas I could volunteer I chose to devote my time to making the most and best English classes rather than stretch my service over various departments where each would receive less than its due. I expect some of my focus-repellent habits will again tempt with the variety they offer, but in the end I’ve realized that I learn the most about the world and myself through investing fully in select projects.
Another conclusion I’ve reached through musings made possible by time is that not knowing is perfectly fine so long as you never stop wanting to know. Last August I had an idea of what I planned on studying at Princeton stemming from my preconceptions of what should be studied at college. This May I am more uncertain than I was nine months back but blissfully so. Though I know it will be a challenge, I’m determined to take advantage of Princeton by seeking the most meaningful and rewarding experiences.
Figuring oneself out is a daunting task but the insight gained is well worth the undertaking. The key ingredient is having time to explore beliefs, discover interests, and thoughtfully reflect. Learning to focus, to say “no”, and to be comfortable with the unknown are three of myriad conclusions reached through reflecting invaluably in time. In Serbian there’s a phrase ima vremena; you have time, there is time. Perhaps the point isn’t defining or categorizing it, just knowing ima vremena and being at peace with this universal enigma is enough.