One year and two days ago I left US soil. One year ago today, I landed in Vietnam.

I did a preposterous, crazy thing. Irresponsible, even. Certainly audacious and full of risk. Setting off for a foreign land with an inkling (and that was it) of what I’d do when I got there was the craziest, outside-of-the-boxiest, obliterate-your-comfort-zoneiest thing I’d ever even considered doing. I could barely even go to bars where strangers might talk to me, much less expect to functionally operate in what amounted to an alien world. But, as my roommates and I talked about today (as I was going to the post office to figure out how to send a package, in itself an adventure), when you only have one option, deciding and acting become accordingly easier.

Even as I was landing in the plane, worrying about money and contacts and language and the tropical weather, there was a tiny part of me that was gearing up to faceplant in an epic, epic manner. How would I explain my “inevitable” failure to cope with a foreign reality? I didn’t even have enough money for a return ticket at the time. Trying, and failing, had been known and familiar to me. What I hadn’t counted on was that every single day here was filled with mini-epic failures – whole strings of them in a row, more often than not – and that each of them would help me become stronger. Today, I recognize these experiences for what they were – as Calvin’s dad would have said, they build character.

I’ve made new friends and I’ve grown closer to some old ones. I’ve seen incredible, amazing things, and met wonderful, generous people. I didn’t always like my job (SO HOT) but it was always interesting and challenging. Looking back on the first day, when I distinctly remember wondering how bad it would be if I just quit right then, as there was utter chaos surrounding me, I marvel at how my perspective has changed and how I have developed in response to external and internal stimuli.

I wasn’t always healthy, but I’ve learned a lot about my body and mind during my trip. As I reach further into Vietnam, exploring all the amazing history, nature, and food it has to offer, I only expect to fall harder for this spectacular, varied country.

Of course, it took some getting used to. Months were spent slowly learning how to not become enraged by the simplest things, learning to calm the voice inside me that exclaimed absurd things like “SIDEWALKS ARE NOT ROADS, ASSHAT” and “YOU ARE NOT A MOTORBIKE YOU ARE A MOVING VAN THE WIDTH OF MY HOUSE PLEASE DO NOT DRIVE LIKE A MOTORBIKE OR WE WILL ALL DIE HERE IN VIETNAM.” Obviously, I see now that sidewalks ARE actually like roads, as well as like cafes and entire full-service restaurants and extra urinals and motorbike parking. (The truck thing still makes me upset.) But overall, I’ve really chilled out.

I still don’t like going to the Co-op, I refuse to drink warm water, and I still can’t really speak any Vietnamese, but I’ve learned that I love the hell out of this country and its people. They’re the worlds most extreme contradictions – the entire country is a contradiction in terms. Nothing makes any sense most of the time, and I couldn’t be happier with it.

I hope it never fades.

Here’s to you, HCMC… Mot, Hai, Ba, YO!!