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OPINION: Childhood Dreams and Living Abroad

Photo by Renata Steffens for The Circular

Alexa, play Taylor Swift.

It was a normal, boring Spring morning and I was getting ready for college. After a few songs about ex-boyfriends and enemies, it started to play an old song that I knew all too well: “Mean“. It was my favourite song years ago and listening to it again made me remember everything.

It is weird how daily life makes us forget, isn’t it? I was born in a 2000 people’s place. Everybody knew each other and the biggest achievement one could have was to get a job at the bank, or if you were smart and lucky enough to become a teacher.

No, I am not belittling teachers or bank workers! My point is that children were almost not allowed to dream. Why dream if reality would come to you and show that your future was already planned and could not be changed?

I was something around 12 years old, was discovering the world of the internet, spending hours in the school’s computer lab searching about other countries and cultures, looking at pictures of places many, many thousands of kilometres away and dreaming about visiting them. Life was good, and my spare hours would be divided between searching for new places or reading in the library.

Yeah, I was not the most popular and extroverted child, but I had a huge bucket list!

https://www.tiktok.com/@trip.com/video/7163307875329166594?q=bucket%20list&t=1682408208338

The librarian was one of the most amazing people I know, and after so many hours spent in the same room, we developed a friendship. When they received new books she would call me to see if I was interested in reading some of them, and kept those behind her desk, as I was a fast reader.

It was my Sherlock Homes’ obsession phase, my friends and I were hanging outside the room, and I was happily telling them about all those incredible and faraway places that one day I would visit. We were talking about London, and how it would be a lot of fun to work in a cool career there as if we were the main character in a book.

That class teacher (I believe it was History or Geography) called me, thank God aside, and started to say things about how I had to be realistic and stop dreaming about things that I could not achieve.

I don’t understand exactly what her problem with me was, or even why she had a problem with me… But before this moment, she had told my mam I was lazy and would not achieve much if didn’t change. I had serious anxiety problems, and it was not my fault that in the early 2000s people would just call lazy any student who had focus problems.

Anyway, she thought I was lazy and dreaming too much, and said I had to know who I was and to “know where you come from, and what your options are. The more you keep dreaming impossible futures, the more frustrated you will be when reality knocks at your door.”

I understand that maybe it was just a poor choice of words, and she was genuinely worried about my possible frustration. But that moment was terrible and I still catch myself thinking of it! Good thing I read enough books to believe that good things happen if you don’t give up.

Photo by Ron Lach for Pexels

Some years later, a new teacher started to teach literature and I loved her! Thinking back, it must not be a coincidence that my favourite adults in school were the librarian and the literature teacher.

I never stopped dreaming, even after being told to. I can’t remember what I answered the History/Geography teacher, or even if I did answer something. I can’t remember if I stopped talking about living abroad or what exactly was my reaction.

We were learning about classic writers and the literature teacher told us to write a story. We had two hours to finish the assignment, and as I had problems focusing she allowed me to go by myself to the school woods and just write alone with the birds in the sunshine.

After so much reading, and with a lot of dreams for myself it was easy to write a story and I finished it in less than an hour. I went back to class and chatted with the teacher while my classmates were writing.

I still get goosebumps remembering, she looked into my eyes finding my soul and said “Renata, you are too big for this town. If you want, you can have the world! It only depends on you, but I am sure you will make it happen…”

Maybe she didn’t know how that would affect me, maybe she was just being nice, and maybe she said similar things to all her students. But for me, that was exactly what I needed to hear! And it was the kind of push I needed to find my way on my dream road.

Taylor Swift released Mean in 2010 and that became my theme song.

Someday, I’ll be living in a big old city
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Someday, I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me

Of course, I had to go through a long way to achieve any of my dreams, and I had to develop more trauma to find my way. It was worth it. Kind of… Every time I was having some problem with my reality, I would listen to Mean and remember that one day I would be living in a big old city, and my main character phase just depend on myself.  

For me, everyone is the main character of their own story. It can sound a bit egocentric or self-awareness, but let’s be honest, if you don’t think of yourself as the main character who will? You cannot wait for others to write your story. Yes, sometimes you might lose faith, but you just need a literature teacher to tell you that YOU CAN realise your dreams.

Let me be this person for you today.

I’ve been living abroad for nearly four years now, finishing a master’s course in Journalism, and am sure that soon enough I will be working with writing and arts, just as I dreamt when I was in primary school.

So, if I can leave my future as a housewife in a village behind, you can do whatever you want! Just dream big, have high expectations and work for it! Nothing will come easily or without sacrifice, but if you believe and work for it you will see the world is small.

And you are too big for it!

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