January 2011 was the month I spent as an intern in Dili. It was an amazing experience:
I got to write a super interesting report for an NGO (the Judicial System Monitoring Programme).
I got some fascinating insight into the life of an expat community, specifically the expat development community.
I met a bunch of cool people.
I got to practice my Indonesian and Tetum.
I took some Scottish dancing lessons, reinforcing the fact that I can’t dance.
I visited a number of stunning Timorese locations.
I gained an appreciation for espresso coffee and G&Ts.
So it was an amazing experience – and yet I never considered it life-changing because it wasn’t the first time I’d been overseas alone and nothing worth writing home about happened while I was over there. I realise now, with hindsight, that a couple of things about my time in Timor really shaped me going forward.
Firstly, I got a huge confidence boost. It’s so superficial but it makes a difference.
Being generally well received by the expat community helped. Being able to speak (not fluently, but conversationally) two of the local languages made life easier and impressed people. I impressed myself by managing to decipher a court judgment written in Portuguese to write the report. To this day I don’t know how I did this, I’m seriously leaning towards divine inspiration as the explanation.
Secondly – and more crucially – four weeks was not quite long enough to make real friends, but not short enough to not invest at all in other people.
I regretted not doing more with the five months I spent in Madrid (precisely because I had thought five months was not long enough to make real friends) so in Timor I decided to get involved notwithstanding the very temporary nature of my stay. I had housemates for three of my four weeks where most people would just have stayed in a hotel or hostel; I went along to random parties, events, trips.
I began to accept the fact that intense but fleeting friendships are a normal part of life. We’ll spend a lot of time together for a while. We’ll talk about anything and everything and even share some pretty deep, personal stuff. Then we’ll part ways and we’ll probably never see each other again. And I am going to be okay with that.
And it was in Dili, sitting in our living room on a Saturday afternoon and going nuts because I was home alone and didn’t have anything on for a couple of hours, that I realised that perhaps this is what it feels like to be an extrovert. Because I was becoming one.