One year ago I was disembarking in Chiang Mai with heavy eyes and swollen feet. Looking back at my first blog post from Thailand, it’s hard to mentally reconstruct the bridge that connects the person I am now to the person I was on September 25, 2015. That bridge is so convoluted, has so many twists, turns, ups, and downs, that it would be impossible not to get lost while trying to cross it. And, despite how unbelievable it may seem to me, it was built in only twelve months. On that first day in Thailand, I was afraid to leave my hotel room. Thailand was new to me, and I feared the unknown. But of course nothing remains new forever. I adjusted, I became independent, and I settled in. I made a life for myself here. I got a job, made some amazing friends, shifted the relationships with my family to fit my new situation, and explored all that was new to me. The life I had always known changed, and my mind had to change with it. So it did. It’s nearly impossible to put into words what this experience has been like for me. One of the most frustrating questions someone can ask me is ‘How’s Thailand?’ Ummm…it’s great? There’s just nothing I can say that will do my life here justice. There are no words to describe the many ways that I love my life here. There is simply no way to make someone understand the path I’ve been walking and the things I’ve seen along the way. That understanding belongs to me alone. It’s a difficult thing to recognize that no one will ever be able to grasp your journey in the same way you do, that they simply can’t understand the depth of every story you tell them, but it’s something that every traveler has to accept (and every person, in many ways). Despite that, I will try to try to scratch the surface of the ways I’ve changed since coming here.
- I’m more comfortable with being uncomfortable. Obviously, when you’re living in a foreign country you find yourself in uncomfortable or awkward positions fairly often. Whether it’s when I’m trying to explain something with the few Thai words I know, when I’m trying to judge what level of wai to offer someone, or when I’m trying to figure out which bus to get on to get to a certain city, I make a lot of mistakes, and I have to be ok with that. Before I came to Thailand, I was much more prone to embarrassment or anxiety in those kinds of situations. Now I’m usually able to laugh it off and move on. If I’m lost, I take a deep breath and keep trying to find my way. That’s just how it works when you’re traveling. You have to be ok with being uncomfortable. You have to take it as a sign that you’re learning something, that you’re in the middle of a new, difficult experience. You have to recognize that it’s all part of the journey and that you’ll come out on the other side one way or another.
- Life feels a little lighter. I’m a pretty serious person. I always took school seriously, work seriously, friendships seriously. And on a certain level, that’s a good thing. Life is complicated and should be taken seriously in many situations. Laughing everything off simply isn’t a good way to go about your daily life in my opinion. But there is a line where it becomes too serious, and I was entirely over that line before coming to Thailand. I took it seriously enough that I almost had to go on anxiety medications because the weight of everything I wasn’t letting go was weighing on me so heavily. But in Thailand, it’s impossible not to slow your life down, not to appreciate little things a little more, not to feel a little lighter with all the things you don’t let bother you anymore. I’ve had to replace my phone twice here in Thailand. In the US, that would’ve caused me anxiety for weeks. Here, it was a temporary inconvenience that got sorted out within hours, and I moved on. The money I had to spend didn’t linger in my thoughts, the time it took to go buy the phone didn’t bother me in the least, and the pictures and phone numbers I lost didn’t send me into a panic. It’s Thailand. Everything works out as it needs to. And I know that things will work out as they need to wherever I go in the world from this point forward. Life is complicated and messy and sometimes disheartening, but there are so many positive moments that we’re given in a day to help counter the wonderful mess that our lives are. And I’ve gotten better at grabbing those moments and letting those things take center stage in my mind.
- I appreciate people more. Of course living away from your family and friends for a year makes you value those people in ways you didn’t before. But what I’m really referring to is the positive impact that personal connections have on your life. Thailand is great in and of itself. It’s beautiful and offers so many wonderful experiences. But it wouldn’t have been the same if I didn’t have friends here to share the experience with (big shout out to Li, Toni, Tong, Sarah, and Molly!). Thailand hasn’t always been easy for me, and having people to go to that will sympathize with me over a glass of wine and some Mexican food has been invaluable to me. People back in the US often don’t understand the roller coaster of emotions that I feel on a weekly basis, but my friends here usually get it. They know the struggles that come with living abroad, and they also understand how important it is to simply have someone there to listen. Living abroad makes you recognize just how interconnected humans are, how much we thrive when we allow ourselves to build meaningful connections with people, and how empty an experience can feel without someone to share it with.
- Emotions aren’t so bad. Coming from a family that struggles with depression and anxiety, and struggling with those same things myself, emotions were always viewed in a pretty negative light. Emotions were dangerous, and they needed to be controlled or gotten rid of. But since I got to Thailand, I’ve adjusted more to the idea that emotions, while often difficult to cope with, are indicators of experience. Feeling depressed? That means you cared enough to get hurt. Feeling heartbroken? That means you allowed yourself to experience the joy of love, if only for a moment. Feeling happy? That means you’ve been lucky enough to experience one of the many bright spots in the world. Feeling lonely? That means you have a chance to be with yourself for a bit–cherish it. Feeling excited? That means something wonderful will happen soon. Every emotion is worthwhile. Yeah, sometimes they hurt us, and sometimes they make us feel like there’s no reason to get out of bed in the morning, but there always is, because that day might offer us something better than the day before. You’ll never know if you don’t allow yourself to get out there and feel, to open yourself up to what the world wants to give you that day, to let everything in and know that the emotions are separate from you, that they can’t control you, that they’re simply there to guide you.
- I’ve settled into myself a little more. I’m not one of those people who walks around with an air of complete confidence. I’m not at the point in my life yet where I feel that I completely understand and accept every facet of my personality. But while I may still sometimes feel insecure or anxious or uncertain, I can say with no hesitation that I’m comfortable with the person I am and the person I’m becoming. Since coming to Thailand and jumping into the unknown, I’ve become more aware of who I am as a person and how my habits and ideas are shifting at this point in my life. I’ve had to spend a lot of time with my psyche here, and I feel that it has opened itself up to me and let me in on some of its secrets. Ultimately, I know myself better now; I know what I am and am not capable of, my beliefs, opinions, and priorities have become more clear to me, and I’m more aware of the kinds of people I want in my life. I’m proud of who I am, and I’m excited when I recognize new pieces of my personality that Thailand has helped cultivate. I think of those pieces as little stems poking through cracks in concrete, the cracks made by Thailand and all of my adventures here.
- I understand that actions often speak louder than words. I used to love to debate. I used to stick my two cents in every time I had an opportunity. I used to be convinced that my opinions needed to be shared in order to make people aware of viewpoints that contrasted their own. Perhaps I saw my thoughts as more important than they really were. And that’s not to say that my ideas aren’t important. They are. But so are everyone else’s. Since being in Thailand, I’ve developed a greater appreciation for the plethora of ideas, lifestyles, and beliefs that are scattered around our world. And I’ve become comfortable with the fact that my ideas are often no better or more correct than the person’s next to me. I have a greater awareness of how much our culture contributes to the way we think and perceive the world, and because of that I’m now much less willing to put forward my ideas with the intention of trying to ‘enlighten’ someone. I have always believed (and still believe) that sharing ideas is crucial in our society. That’s how we create connections with people, and ultimately how we learn. But in the end, when it comes to beliefs and opinions, we’re all right and we’re all wrong because we’re all seeing the world in different lights, with different minds. I will always seek to make the world a better place, but I now believe that is done more effectively through actions than through words, and I think people learn more through their experiences than through what anyone tells them. Being in a country where I have trouble communicating with the locals on a daily basis, I’ve found that I can often communicate my intentions fairly effectively with actions and body language. And I’ve seen how much my day can turn around when a Thai actively tries to make eye contact with me just so they can give me a smile. They don’t say a word, but I feel better because they put in the effort to perform that completely selfless act. In a similar way, I’d rather spend my time performing actions that will help people in some way than sharing ideas that may or may not impact the way someone thinks or acts.
Thailand has been everything I needed it to be. And then more. It has made me a better, more independent person. It has opened my eyes to so many things, as traveling tends to do. It has forced me to challenge myself and to challenge my thinking. It has forced me to move past my comfort zone and fears and into a space where I can genuinely engage with life. I’m a happier person after coming to Thailand, partly because I simply have a greater understanding of what will ultimately make me happy in life. I feel that I’ve become a more genuine version of myself, and that’s one of the greatest gifts Thailand has given me.