Well 2016 has been quite the year. During my latest lap of the Sun I have enjoyed some of the most fantastic moments of my life and some (now very amusing) lows. That said, neither Brexit nor the US election were even vaguely amusing. 2016 claimed many a cultural icon, not least Great British Bake Off as we know it. I lived on two different continents and in three different countries. I learnt French, subsequently forgot it, improved my Spanish and perfected my Spanglish. I visited deserts, amazing cities, a glacier, salt flats, Incan remains, a boulangerie or two, the Rio 2016 Olympic stadium and many a bus station. I didn’t break any limbs and I made it through 2016 with little more than a cold to complain about, although I had nits who were more like pets because they clung to my scalp for such a significant portion of the year. I started my final year at university, and successfully put off every important life decision going. I studied a bit, spent a substantial amount of time procrastinating and set about trying to eat in as many establishments serving breakfast as possible.
In the last 365 days I have learnt SO much and also learnt that I have so much more to learn.
I have learnt that there are so many wonderful people all over the world. This year has been made so special by the amount of people that have taken me into their lives, taught me about their culture, laughed with me and helped me on my way. I went to the most lavish 15th birthday I have ever and will ever go to and had the pleasure of watching my host family’s plans turn into a reality. I attended an open-house at a squat where we were served home-made (squat-made?) donuts and then watched a Portuguese film with French subtitles thanks to a wonderful French lady who we now know as our French mother. I went to laughing therapy where I was forced to unwrap presents of laughter by eight French women thanks to one of our particularly eccentric English students. I found a home on another hemisphere thanks to my Argentinian host family.
I have also learnt that wealth is relative. I have bitched endlessly about the amount of excess I have had to pay on the insurance claim for the contents of my stolen handbag. Top tip: don’t take your eyes off your Longchamp bag containing all your worldly possessions whilst eating in a fast food restaurant in a South American capital city. I’ll admit it, not my finest moment. My insurance company gave me some money, but also kept a healthy portion for themselves. What I haven’t gained in money from my greedy insurers, I have gained in experience and I will treasure the memories made whilst I was travelling. All the fuss about compensation made me reflect on how lucky I am to have even had a bag quite so valuable. I can only assume the person that did a runner with my bag did so because they didn’t have another option. I have replaced everything I lost that day and eventually made it back to the UK thanks to my trusty emergency passport, and I have memories that money can’t buy (so sorry, unforgivably cringe) but perhaps that person still has no alternative but to commit crime.
I have learnt the value of a sense of humour. I am so lucky to have spent so much of my year surrounded by people who have made me laugh until my belly ached. From a particular student in France who would reply that it was ‘complicate’ whenever asked a question that didn’t require a yes-no answer; to my mum who hasn’t tucked her iPhone into her costume before going swimming this year, but continues to be the most amusing person I know; and my batshit crazy housemates whose day-to-day activities never cease to amuse (toast?). My sister regularly tells me that she is funnier than me and it is true that she has been known to tell the occasional good joke. Yesterday, my Dad congratulated her on her wit and proceeded to liken me and my sense of humour to excema, ie. annoying and persistent. Regardless, a life full of laughter is exactly the sort of life I want to keep living.
I have learnt that curiosity can take you a long way and that everybody we meet can teach us a little something. Although that said, my academic curiosity seems to have reached its limit and I have categorically forgotten how to study after my year abroad. Increasingly, I reckon I never really knew how to study and that I was just really good at passing off that I did. There is so much to be learnt by talking to new people, visiting new places or just asking a question. Ellie Berry changed my life by telling me a killer whale is actually a dolphin, although to be fair I wasn’t particularly curious about that one. One of my 8 year old students taught me that even if something goes wrong, ‘mañana será otra día’ tomorrow is another day. My heart almost melted, although his concept of a shit day was his classmate eating the last chocolate biscuit.
I have learnt that my appetite knows no bounds. I have eaten some exquisite food this year and legitimised it by declaring it part of the experience. I was kidding no-one when I said I walked 50 mins to work each day for the fresh air, and it was just a coincidence that I occasionally fell into the boulangerie on the way. In France, I ate an ungodly amount of cheese, foie gras, duck hearts, many a pinxcho (Basque tapas) and nutella on every possible occasion. I forgot what hunger was whilst in Argentina and was fed copious amounts of meat, discovered the beauty of dulce de leche and became quite a fan of mate. Instagram and social media tells us we should be eating smoothie bowls and smashed avocado with poached egg. Sharing food is so often an invitation to socialise, to relax, to get to know a culture, a way of life. By getting too caught up in how many calories are in the baguette, or how many burpees you’ll have to do to make up for that cream cake, eating becomes unnatural when really it is 1000% necessary to our survival, and one of life’s pleasures. Saying that, please remind me my New Year’s resolution is to reduce my biscuit consumption because guaranteed on Jan 2nd I will be found nonchalantly dunking pretending I don’t have an essay to write.
I have learnt that I am an absolute liability. ‘Classic Bethan’ has been a phrase I have heard all too many times this year. Bethan has an emergency passport which won’t let her back into Argentina without a visa where her flight for the UK leaves in less than a week: ‘Classic Bethan’. Bethan accidentally hung up on another unsuspecting member of the French public trying to get information about an excellent language learning centre in the Basque country: ‘Classic Bethan’. Bethan asked for a hooker instead of a t-shirt during her shopping trip today: ‘Classic Bethan’. Although I do have some common sense it is often overlooked and/or very well hidden.
As we may have gathered, I’ve learnt a lot this year but perhaps most importantly I have realised how lucky I really am. Today is my Dad’s birthday, so a very happy birthday and a special thank you to my parents for their endless love and support. Thanks for letting me trot around the globe despite knowing that Bethan and disaster are practically synonymous, at least pretending to be surprised when I announced I had lost yet another student card, and for being the best role models and friends I could have asked for.
Tomorrow is the beginning of a new year. I titled this blog post with a David Bowie (RIP) quote, I have absolutely no taste in music but the quote resonates. I’ve not got a scooby what I’ll be doing this time next year. Who knows what 2017 will bring, but I really hope it’s full of excitement and excellent people. Thanks to all those who have been a part of my year, and if you weren’t why not? Let’s drink tea. Thanks for laughing at me and occasionally with me, it’s been a hoot. Wishing my friends and family endless laughter, relative sanity and health in the coming year.