The decision to teach abroad started to take shape two years ago. I’d entered college two years before that with the halfhearted goal of getting a degree in secondary English education and teaching at a local high school after graduation. By the middle of my sophomore year I realized how indifferent I felt toward that career goal. It would be fine if that’s what I ended up doing, but fine has never seemed an end worthy of my effort. It wasn’t the teaching that I was indifferent about. I enjoyed the time I spent in classrooms in front of students. The indifference came when I thought about setting up a life where I’d always lived, staying near the midsize, Midwest town I’d grown up in and teaching in a high school that was a mirror of my own. When I painted that picture in my head the colors were dull, the proportions all wrong.
I changed my major to English with a double minor in creative writing and philosophy before my junior year with no solid career goal in mind. I was in a sort of limbo state without much idea of how to begin building the framework of my future. It was around that time that I met some interesting people, took a few enlightening classes, started meditation and yoga, and realized that I was putting my cerebral effort toward the wrong decision. I was trying to figure out what career I wanted when I should have been trying to figure out what kind of life I wanted. I began to realize I wanted my life to evolve, not just progress; to help me gain wisdom, not just an education; to be an adventure, not just a journey. I wanted to help people, to discover different ways of living, to force myself to adapt and grow, to open my own eyes to the realities of the world, however ugly those things could be.
One evening during the first semester of my junior year, I was sitting in my room doing homework. The voice I’d been connecting to during my meditations pushed at the edge of my thoughts, requesting to be let in–I’d learned not to ignore it. I turned away from my computer, looked around my room, and that voice weaved its way into reality and whispered, gently but decisively, to my consciousness: You can’t stay here.
I know, I wanted to respond. But I wasn’t brave enough yet, didn’t have enough self-confidence maybe, was too concerned with the people that I thought needed me at home. Looking back now, I see that my spirit made the decision to leave that night. But it wasn’t until months later when I started looking into teaching abroad that I would wholeheartedly acknowledge the decision and let it set up camp in my consciousness, at first observing it from a distance with short, wary side-glances and eventually greeting it with a warm hug. Staying in Illinois wouldn’t get me the life I wanted; I let it go, welcomed a new plan, and understood I’d made the right decision when I realized I was finally excited about my future again.
The hardest thing to come to terms with was leaving my family. That’s the thing that caused the biggest delay in my decision and the thing that continued to make me second-guess the decision months after I’d made it. They’re not perfect people in any capacity. They have flaws like everyone else. But that’s one of the beautiful things about families: the members of that family tend to be flawed in similar ways. Being part of my group of similarly flawed humans has brought me the greatest joy of my life up to this point. To think of leaving them was, in the beginning, nearly unbearable. But then my little wisdom-voice reminded me: They’re not enough. It took me a while to admit that it was right, that those people were one of the most valuable parts of my life but that placing the responsibility of my happiness on their existence wasn’t practical or logical, and, more importantly, it wasn’t fair to either of us. I realized that my sense of fulfillment, the meaning of my life, and the happiness that developed from that, needed to be my own. I needed to claim it somehow, to gather it up and remove it from the shoulders of my loved ones. Their love and support will always be invaluable, and even essential in some ways, but now it will help me cope with challenges instead of creating them. It will be a welcome companion on my adventures and not the clinging child it once was.
I’m now less than two weeks away from leaving for Chiang Mai, Thailand. Everyone keeps asking me if I’m nervous, afraid, or anxious. And of course I am. I’m terrified. But that’s one of the best parts. I’m getting ready to start an adventure that will help me define and develop my life, and in the process I’m facing fear and telling it that even it isn’t enough to keep me here, and that it never will be. I’m going to go to Thailand. I’m going to confront the culture shock, the homesickness, and the uncertainty. And I’m going to do it with a smile on my face, or at least on my spirit. I know there will be times when I’m uncomfortable, lonely, or depressed, but I don’t believe those things are signs of failure or a signal to give up. They’re signs that I’m facing a challenge, that I have the opportunity to overcome something. So I greet the fear and the anxiety as it arrives and then gently but firmly put it in its place.
I want to explore Thailand, and I want to explore my psyche while doing so. I want to cast a light on new parts of myself, create beautiful shadows that were never given a chance to move across the walls of my personality. Thailand will stimulate that light, and knowing that it’s waiting for me is what gives me the courage to know that I will claim this adventure for all its worth, that I will change and grow, and that I will come back more than I am now.