Back in early 2007, while working at the United Nations covering the world organization for Russian media, I met a group of young, vibrant and incredibly bright interns. We were all in our early 20s -- idealists at heart, vying to change the world for the better. Needless to say, there was a touch of naiveté to our idealism, but even so, we admired each other for this very quality, and immediately connected on many levels.
Before long, aside from attending Noon Briefings hosted by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, asking questions, making notes and generally acting as though we were attending a college lecture, we also managed to have a wonderful time outside of our work and internship hours at the U.N. Headquarters. On daily basis, we bonded and observed the universe through the U.N. lens that offered a somewhat distorted yet at times fascinating view of the world outside of the Big Apple.
As time (and circumstance) would have it, we all ended up pursuing our dreams and goals in various fields on different continents, but somehow succeeded in staying in touch and remaining good friends, partly thanks to Facebook and other social networks.
To this day, similar to a college reunion, every few years (if not every couple of months), we organize our very own U.N. intern reunion in New York. Much like we did yesterday -- after almost five years, four (out of six) of us got together for dinner in our friend Philip's honor, who was in New York on a brief visit from his native Amsterdam.
Following a few "re-introductory" pleasantries, we immediately broke the ice, and within minutes, it felt as though we had never been apart. With minimum effort, the four of us traveled back in time -- back into our early 20s.
"Remember that Ambassador with the crazy hair?"
"Yes, we used to call him 'spikey hair'!"
"And Mr. Bow Tie?"
"Ugh... Is he still at the U.N.?"
Roaring laughter fills the room with warmth and fuzzy memories...
And yet, through all the laughter, silliness and crazy pranks that we still managed to throw into the mix here and there, for a brief moment, as I observed the scene, I realized we are no longer 20 years old. We are, in fact, growing up, though we remain true to our goals, as we follow the dreams we had harbored all those years ago. Let's be realistic; we are not exactly 40 yet, but 30 is not quite the equivalent of 20, is it?
As a quick afterthought, here are my (purely subjective) observations of the 10 signs that we are finally out of our 20s and (perhaps reluctantly) on our way towards adulthood...
1. Even though we had originally picked a noisy but trendy bar in Hell's Kitchen for our reunion, after five tedious minutes of being engaged in a "screaming match" (i.e. "catching up") across the room, we unanimously decided to go someplace more suitable for us, the reluctant grown-ups. Eventually, we settled for an over-priced French restaurant next door.
2. Normally, we would order cocktails that consisted of too many ingredients to name, but this time around, it was red wine and a bottle of still (not tap!) water with slices of lemon on the side.
3. Conversations about "hot girls" and "cute guys" were now replaced by intelligent discussions on marriage vs. career.
4. "Kids before or after marriage?" was a question that would have never crossed our minds one way or another back in 2007. Hmmm... Alas.
5. The question of insurance benefits before and/or after Obamacare became very important. Are we really talking about this, guys? Really? What happened to the cute boys and hot girls?
6. Rent or buy? A 15-minute argument on the obvious pros and cons.
7. As much as we were once keen to live independently and be away from our parents for extended periods, over a nice bottle of Malbec, we agreed that spending quality time with them whenever possible is something we value now more than ever before.
8. We talked about vacation days offered by American companies vs. European ones. A serious discussion, to which we devoted what surely seemed like a quarter of the allocated U.S. vacation time.
9. Time to say farewell to those ridiculously late nights out on the town. There were times when we used to happily stay out till 3 a.m., then be back at work the following morning by 9 a.m. sharp -- refreshed and ready to go. How come, as excited as we were to see each other last night, we started our dinner (Los Angeles style) at 6 p.m. and called it a night by 10 p.m.? Are we really getting so old so quickly?
10. I honestly don't ever recall enthusiastically toasting to our friendship back when we were 20-something the way we did yesterday. It was heartfelt and genuine. We weren't trying to impress anyone, including ourselves. It was a simple recognition of something that we are all grateful for. Maybe at 20 you still take the very notion of a lifelong friendship for granted. A grand statement that is meaningless when you're barely out of your teens. But now, a few years later, we seem to know better. We don't know a whole lot, but we certainly know a little more than we used to, that's for sure.
Those months we spent working under the same roof -- day in, day out -- during the formative years of our young lives will stay with us for good. As we raised our glasses for that one final toast before Philip's return to the Netherlands, it suddenly hit me -- I am so proud to have shared some wonderful moments with these (still) young and talented people that I'm happy to call my friends for life. We may not have the opportunity to meet as often as we would like to, but whenever we do -- it's great fun, especially when we act like those 20-years-olds with more than one hilarious prank left up our sleeves. Some things never change, and hopefully never will.
Here's to many more reunions in decades to come!