2015 was, more than any other of my years, a year of change. Of course the most glaring shifts in my life were my graduation in May and my move to Thailand in September, but with those things came many other more subtle, but equally as important, changes.
College was a wonderful time for me. It forced me out of my shell, both physically and mentally, and allowed me to open and expand my mind. The world became more unknown to me in college because I learned so much and saw how much I still didn’t know, how much more there was to learn. College taught me a lot, and helped me grow immensely as a person, but a formal education has its limits, and I left with my thirst for knowledge not quite satisfied. With the completion of my time at SIUE, I stepped into a new phase that I planned to fill with more knowledge (and hopefully some wisdom)—the kind that only experience can give. With that plan, a change in thinking had to occur. I had to let go of the responsibility I felt for others’ happiness and had to fully accept the responsibility of creating my own. I had to build the mental strength to know that I could take care of myself and to know that while I wasn’t yet independent, it was something I was capable of becoming. I had to let myself recognize that the life I was leading wasn’t enough, that a life based around consistency and stability never would be. And then I had to face life alone. The day I left my family was one of the hardest days of my life. At that moment, looking out the airport windows—those tall, unbearably thick panes of glass that separated me from what I was and what I would be—watching my family drive away, I knew there was no going back. The goal was settled, the plan in motion, and nothing could stop it. I was about to change in incredible ways, and that intention of transformation had been carved in stone and signed with an unbreakable promise to myself. So I went to Thailand, and change I have. 2015 saw only the first three months of my journey here, but those three months were filled with some of the most significant growth of my life.
Looking at the person I was when I first arrived in Thailand—a timid traveler scared to leave her hotel room—to the person I am now—a confident expat zooming around the streets of Thailand on her motorbike—it’s hard to trace the path that connects those two mindsets. Living abroad forces you to test your boundaries. You have to let yourself get lost in order to find your way, make mistakes, and make them again, until you learn your place in the new country and culture, feel lonely, feel scared, feel impatient, feel insecure, and then feel confident, feel comfortable, and feel genuinely happy. Moving here put a huge dent in my self-confidence. When I first arrived, I was so unsure of myself, so worried about how I would fit into this new place, and so uncertain of my ability to do things on my own. But with each trial and error, solo trip, and new experience, my self-confidence has grown, and I feel that I have truly found a place here. I’ve become more open-minded, more compassionate, more patient, more responsible, more independent, and more aware of who I am and who I want to become. I continue to learn more about myself every day here, and I’m so excited to see what changes will take place in 2016.
I took a vacation this weekend, and when I was getting ready to leave my guesthouse, I noticed for the first time that instead of saying, “I’m going back to Chiang Mai,” I said, “I’m going home.” Chiang Mai has become a home. My friends here have become a chosen family. And I have grown into a person that I’m very proud of. Last year saw the beginning of the greatest adventure I have ever embarked on, and I predict that 2016 will be a beautiful continuation of all the adventure, joy, and change that began in 2015.