I came to Georgetown University unsure what to expect.
After a worry-free summer picking berries and making butter in the Black Forest of Bavaria, Germany, I went home for a few days before taking a leap of faith. As an only child, I was used to having all the attention of my parents and teachers growing up; as a native of Shanghai, I thought myself cosmopolitan. As I said goodbye to my parents and boarded the plane alone, I felt prepared. I looked forward to my long-term study abroad.
I didn’t know where the path would lead me. Little did I know that at the end of the four years I saw life not as a straight path toward a predetermined goal but rather a journey with memorable experiences and people.
Though I refused to admit it, freshman orientation gave me culture shocks. Two weeks of endless cheering, shouting and deafening pop music made me wonder where my American classmates found so much energy. I quickly learned that “We should get coffee!” does not lead to actual appointments. Soon, I developed my own prepared speech to avoid silence during small talks.
I devoted almost all my time to academic work, but my biggest challenge in the first year was participating in class. While many of my classmates could deliver impromptu yet eloquent speeches from a mere skimming of the readings, I would diligently finish all the readings and still be unable to find the courage to make a comment. Nevertheless, I persisted in my daily efforts.
Slowly, I progressed from an outsider to a listener, then, finally, to an active participant.
I thought my time at Georgetown would result in a good GPA, research experiences and many internships. I expected these achievements to lead to a great future with good jobs and prestigious graduate schools. I slowly realized, however, that my real growth at Georgetown is not evidenced in substantive knowledge or by any academic barometer. Instead, I have grown in my capacity to love: to genuinely care about and connect with others.
Volunteering as a tutor for immigrant children was my first experience in practicing Georgetown’s value of “people in the service of others,” but it was soon followed by many others. I was amazed by the passion and enthusiasm of my friends, classmates and professors, whether through their academics, social justice or public service. I cannot count the times their genuine commitment and tireless efforts moved me. They reminded me daily that I can do anything with the right amount of discipline.
I received endless support from my family and friends. I was lucky enough to be a CHARMS success story: My freshman-year roommate turned out to be my best friend for four years. Our late-night conversations span from prose to politics; she became the sister I never had. My many restaurant explorations with friends and FaceTime sessions with my parents gave me a sense of belonging. I felt grounded because of them. I thought nothing bad could happen because I always had people who loved and believed in me.
Gradually, I removed the self-imposed bottlenecks I had created and purposefully abandoned the predetermined tracks I had set for myself. I realized there was no need to fit in and that life has no destinations. Yes, there were many moments of ecstasy when I got 4.0 GPAs after semesters of hard work, when I landed that Brookings transatlantic policy internship, when Madeleine Albright congratulated me for my admittance to Harvard Law School. There were also moments of disappointment when I didn’t do well on exams, when I felt out of place in networking events or group project meetings or when I fought with my friends. But they are little dots on a long line.
More importantly, my best friends’ company and the osmotic process of the Georgetown values taught me that life is a marathon, not a sprint. The friendships I made here, the moments of absorption into a book and discussions with professors were priceless. They constitute my time in Georgetown and made me who I am today. More importantly, they will teach me to always remember to enjoy the present.
When I first heard Winston Churchill’s quote in the movie “The Darkest Hour,” I thought it could almost perfectly capture my last four years: “Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It’s the courage to continue that matters.” I would also like to add — we don’t continue alone. Love and be forever grateful to those who are with you in your journey.
Shiyu (Jenny) Liang is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.