Last New Year’s Eve, I was watching Knightfall with Kiana Newman at my house in Stafford, Virginia. It was a very low-key and anti-climatic New Year’s celebration, and I had no idea what 2018 would bring. At this time last year, I knew I was accepted into university, and my plan was to start school immediately to “strike while the iron is hot.” At that time, I hadn’t heard of the Bridge Year program.
Flash-forward a year, and I’m here in Tiquipaya, Bolivia in Casa Amaru, the program house. I’m surrounded by a group of six intelligent, quirky, and generous individuals who I’ve come to know as friends. Four months ago, the people in this room were strangers with whom I may have never crossed paths at Princeton. As we all sit comfortably on the sofa in the projector room, Pedro and Raquel, our instructors, begin our weekly Meditation Monday. This Meditation Monday has a different atmosphere, as we anxiously anticipate the New Year. Pedro tells us to close our eyes and think about what we were doing on this day last year. I remember the scenes from Knightfall and conversations with Kiana. Then, Pedro guides us on a reflective journey of the past four months starting at the Bridge Year orientation. I look back on how nervous I was at Bridge Year orientation at the prospect of “storming” with my classmates. I reminisce on our time normalizing group dynamics in Coroico, practicing Spanish in homestays in El Alto, trekking in La Paz, and settling in Tiquipaya. When I finish reflecting on 2018, I’m reduced to the conflicting emotions of nostalgia for the wide-eyed excitement of finding out I was accepted to Bridge Year and actually arriving in Bolivia, as well as the enthusiasm of experiencing even more of Bolivia with my classmates over the next five months. I reflect on 2018, and I think about all the coincidences, blessings, and minor miracles that had to happen for us all to be right here in Casa Amaru, and I’m thankful for this whirlwind of serendipity.
Some people cynically believe the marking of the new year only brings a wave of short-lived, self-improvement resolutions. Other people remark it’s just an arbitrary date on the calendar, no more significant than the other 364 days that fill a year. Of course, some resolutions are not pursued with a vigorous commitment, nor do they help fully achieve the new persona articulated by the end-of-year trope, “new year, new me.” And, our world does have arbitrary dates to celebrate the new year. For instance, Willkakuti or the Aymara New Year is celebrated on June 21st, the start of the winter solstice in the southern hemisphere. So, if January 1st is nothing but a random date selected for the New Year celebration, I’ll happily take it as another opportunity to spend valuable time with new friends and to continue honing my introspection in 2019, while showing gratitude for all the blessings I enjoyed in 2018.