A year ago on my birthday, I had just come back from Kabul, Afghanistan, having spent time there working with women lawyers to expand access to justice. The time spent there, albeit all too short, was exhilarating. I had finally found passion – a deep love for something that moved my heart, that made me want to dedicate long hours to raising funds for women’s empowerment and legal services projects. After what had felt like a long, long search, I was finally home. On the brink of 22, I had found something I believed in.

And yet, it was one of the loneliest birthdays. After leaving a city, known in the news for suicide bombings and riots, but known to me as a place full of love and compassion and courage, I felt utterly alone. The week before, I had been immersed in a different culture, surrounded by a new family that showered me with affection. Suddenly, I found myself back in the cold, dark clutches of a D.C. winter, without a community I had learned to love. In the few months prior, I had locked myself in my room – studying, preparing for the next step – but while looking to the future, I had failed to embrace the present. I had not given myself the time to be open hearted, open minded. I realized that though my heart might be abroad, my body was squarely planted in the District. Surely, I had to build some roots around myself to survive and grow here — to find the sun amidst the clouds.

Since then, the year of 22 has transformed from a time of desperation to one full of beauty and love. I have found community in this city of transient twenty-somethings (of which I am one), policy wonks, and grubby networkers. Anyone who moves to D.C. inevitably finds themselves lamenting, at some point or other, the lack of true human connection in this city, and mourning the shallowness of friendships that sometimes results in such a professionalized environment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Everyone just wants to network in D.C.” And yet, I have found true new friends and re-connected with old ones in this supposedly “hopeless place.” I have had coffeeshop chats about non-profits, public interest law, international development, social enterprise, working abroad, government, Afghanistan, India, feminism, Asian American identity, twenty-something angst, and women’s rights. I have loved late night heart-to-heart conversations, but also countless happy hours, delicious brunches, museum Saturdays, dancing and karaoke. But most of all, the dynamism of young people in this city and their dedication to social justice, activism, advocacy, and doing good has made me feel like I found my people, my place, my city. Somehow, over the past year, D.C. has grown from a place I hated to one I will sorely miss. And just when I find myself settling in, I find myself being uprooted again.

This year will bring unfamiliar environments, challenging moments, and the problem of once again finding my community. And yet, I am excited to be turning 23 and am eager in anticipation of what the upcoming journey will bring. Every day when I open my eyes, I turn around and see posted on my wall a highlighted printout of this year’s themes: travel, be in the moment, stay healthy, develop focus, be confident. And I feel in my bones that this will be a life-changing year: I will finally have my chance to spend months abroad working on grassroots women’s rights and access to justice projects. I will finally be in the moment – doing something I truly believe in. After years of preparation /questioning /anticipation, I will finally be starting law school, imbued by a newfound confidence. I will have the chance to build the beginnings of a new career, and delve headfirst into learning and reading and writing – moments I sorely miss from being in school. I will take my first steps towards becoming a human rights lawyer – a dream that will suddenly begin transforming into reality. There are so many brilliant opportunities on the horizon ahead and I have never felt so optimistic in a time of change, uncertainty – and yet, incredible potential.

Here’s to 23!

And to my dear D.C: I will be back someday.

Cherry Blossoms in DC – a beautiful sight in a city I have come to love

The Washington Monument, peeking out from behind cherry blossoms on the national mall

Though it was a gloomy day outside, I still got nostalgic walking alongside the Tidal Basin

A view of the Jefferson Memorial