On December 6th, my time in Thailand ended. I left the people who had so freely given me their love and support over the past fourteen months. I left the smiles of the Thai people. I left my students, who had taught me so much. I left Mimi the motorbike. I left, and I started the phase that follows the greatest adventure my short life has seen. It’s inevitable that this new phase would be a little lackluster, coming on the heels of something so grand. And I knew it’d be difficult to leave the independent life I’d made for myself, to trade it in for one much less exciting, much more dependent. But certainly, the transition back to the US would be easier than the transition I made to Thailand, right? I grew up in America. I understood the culture. I had family there. I had friends there. I liked the food. But it wasn’t easier. Hardly. When I left for Thailand, I knew that everything would change, and I welcomed that. I knew I’d meet new people, experience incredible things, learn and grow in ways I couldn’t imagine. I was excited, and I was ready. In Thailand I grew used to change. I reveled in it. I expected it when I returned, and I prepared for the move and all the shifts that would come with it. I wasn’t prepared for what I got.
I wasn’t prepared for the fact that nothing had changed, that everything and everyone had, essentially, remained where they had been fourteen months ago. There was nothing to suggest that so many months had gone by since I had left them. I had just spent more than a year of my life traveling, teaching, expanding my personality, learning about other cultures, and becoming, in short, a new version of myself. When I got back to Illinois, I looked around and saw nothing new. All the same buildings were there. All the same people were there. All the same personalities were there. Within a day, it felt like Thailand was years behind me. My memories of riding Mimi down the congested streets, eating Thai food at the little street markets, talking with my friends…all of it seemed so far away. It was as if I was floating on the surface of the ocean and looking at my memories on the ocean floor. I could see them, and, theoretically, I could get to them, but there was something in my way that obscured them. That barrier felt dangerous, impenetrable. I had to focus to keep looking at that ocean floor, reminding myself that I had been there and done all those amazing things, that I was different from the person who left, that it wasn’t all a dream. I had to constantly remind myself of the ways I had changed in Thailand as my personality attempted to shift back to its former state to find comfort in its new setting. When my family and friends wanted to take me out to eat, I had to fight the desire to be alone. They couldn’t relate to my experience, and I couldn’t expect them to.
But then, how much are any of us ever really able to relate to each other? We’ve only seen the world through our own eyes. Compassion and empathy can do great things for human connection and understanding, but they have their limits. I knew I’d be alone in that way, being the only person who could really understand what I was thinking and feeling. Luckily, Thailand taught me how to get along with myself a little better. It taught me how to let my emotions have their place in my heart and mind. It taught me to let myself feel the way I need to feel, to be gentle and kind to myself. It gave me a greater understanding of my spiritual place in the universe and my body’s role in allowing me access to that. It taught me how to sit with my thoughts without judgment, how to feel pain without forcing it away, and how to experience happiness even in the hardest moments. It taught me how to be my own best friend. So, when I got back to the US and could find no one to relate to in the way I needed, I looked inward. I spoke with my own spirit, analyzed my thoughts, and sat with myself, letting us remember what we had just left and acknowledging that this new phase would be challenging, just as the last fourteen months had been.
I miss my friends in Thailand dearly. I miss Li’s strength and open honesty, Sarah’s incredible capacity for love, and Toni’s warmth and positive energy. They were my people. They were the best part of my experience, and I couldn’t have asked for a better support system to love me and be with me through the good and bad times in Thailand. They helped me move closer to the best version of myself, and missing them is the hardest part. I have my people in America, certainly. I have my friends and my family, and they all support me and love me in the best way they know how. But it’s harder when their love is tempered with expectation. They knew me before I left for Thailand, and they expect me to be a certain kind of person because of that (understandably). My family is a unit, and they expect me to conform to certain unspoken standards that the unit has set. This is not true for only my family, and I don’t look at it in a negative way. I believe this is true for all families, and, to some extent, that’s why families are able to act as one entity. So, while I attempt to integrate myself once again into my various groups here, I have to take care to set certain boundaries in order to remain true to my own standards and lifestyle. I became a person I was proud to be in Thailand, and I’m not willing to sacrifice that in order to regain my former status, whatever that may have been, with my friends or family. But as of now, my relationships are moving in the directions they need to move. I have work to do with certain people who don’t yet understand how my personality has changed, but it’s work I’m happy to do. It’s work that I knew would have to take place and is just another facet of the challenge that I am now immersed in.
Being back in the US is hard. I want to see rice fields instead of corn fields, feel heat instead of cold, drive a motorbike instead of a car, spend $1 on food instead of $10. I miss the life I had created in Thailand. I miss seeing new, exotic things. I miss the beauty of the mountains. I miss the positive energy of the people. I miss the simplicity and ease of daily life. But life in Illinois has its sources of light as well, and I’m working to discover and create more of them each day. I started from scratch in Thailand and created something beautiful, and, while I’m starting with different, pre-ordered materials here in the US, I believe I can create something beautiful once again.
I will be here for four months before I start my next adventure. I know some of you may be curious, so I’ll let you in on the secret. I will be traveling to Chile to participate in a volunteer teaching program at the beginning of April. I’ll be there for about eight months, teaching English to secondary school students. As I have said before, Thailand was only the beginning. My adventures are not over. I plan to make my life one long string of adventures, a serious of experiences and experiments that will help me continue to grow, learn, and transform. I will not waste my time with complacency or boredom. Thailand helped me build my wings, and now I will use them to fly. And my next stop will be Chile.
I want to take one last moment to thank all of you out there who supported me throughout my time in Thailand. My gratitude is endless. Sending love and light to you all.