Long time no see!
Since my last post about my time in quarantine at the end of February, I've been inspired to write about so many things, but have been struggling with the words to say.
There are a lot of topics that I once started to touch on, but are now rotting away in my drafts folder. Money saving tips, traveling around, the kindness of strangers, the last day of school, saying goodbye. I have a lot of thoughts and (somewhat) wisdom that I could share about these things, but their generic nature has prevented me from formulating them into a full blog post. Though they vary slightly from country to country, each of these play a role in a teach abroad experience anywhere you go. I want to use my big comeback post to sum up an experience so specific to me, in a place so special to me, as Thailand.
When I first landed back in America, I found it pretty hard to believe Dorothy when she said, "there's no place like home." I was expecting to strut into JFK, sail through customs with my USA passport, shove a bacon egg and cheese down my throat in the April sunshine, and sleep off my jet lag. (For someone who has traveled as much as I have, you'd think I would have known it's never that simple.) Instead, I was greeted with an hour long wait in line, the choice of paying six whole dollars for a luggage cart, or trying to pull a pile of suitcases bigger than me all by myself (I chose the latter, and was reminded how rude New Yorkers are as they stepped around me while I struggled), a slap in the face by mother nature with cold weather, a rock in my stomach from eating the grease and preservatives I'd been without, and a week full of sleepless nights. It's safe to say that the realization hit me hard and fast- reverse culture shock is real.
Being home didn't come with the anticipated excitement of getting right into the groove of everything I was used to and assimilating back to my normal way of life. Because let's face it- that wasn't my normal way of life anymore. Six months flew by, but it was also a long time. That's half a year learning and living a new culture. The things that I was once so accustomed to now feel like a world away. What am I and who am I without my students and foreign friends? It almost felt like I didn't deserve to be back home. Like I was cheating on my Thailand world. I spent months speaking about how much I loved it there and the people it gave me, but it wasn't enough for me to stay. How could I say those things, and then still be okay leaving it all behind?
Maybe it's because being 'okay' with it doesn't mean dwelling on the acknowledgment that I'm gone, but rather appreciating all I had while I was there. Since being home, people keep asking me what my biggest take away from the experience is, and the answer is so simple. I chose to teach in Thailand because it was a place that I thought I could go to and make a big difference, but little did I know that when I left, it would have made an even bigger difference on me.
People thought I was crazy to choose Thailand, because they perceive it as a place that has so much less than we do. But if that's the case, then how could I come back having gained so much more?
I wish I could share my new view of the world with everyone here at home. You can have an idea of how different the lives of people in other countries are, but until you've lived there and loved people who deal with it, you can't fully understand it. We, as Americans, are so fortunate in ways we don't even realize, and yet we still choose harp on the most minor inconveniences. To travel is to live, but also to learn and recognize and grow. If we travel with only the intention of taking instagrammable photos at tourist traps and phone-eats-first food pics, then have we really been anywhere new at all? Or are we just repeating our same individualistic cycles in a different place? This is something that I absolutely did not think of before teaching in Thailand, but will certainly never forget as I continue to travel throughout my life.
There's a quote I found a few months ago that sums up this experience in the most perfect way. It says, "When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything." Although everything around me is as I remember it once was, I am not quite the same. I can slip back into my job, my social scene, my kitchen, and even my bed, but they'll never quite fit exactly the same. I'll acknowledge the frustrations I have at work, but appreciate that they can at least be dealt with in English. I'll acknowledge the familiarity of the social settings I feel so comfortable in, but appreciate the endless surprises that those in Thailand always held. I'll acknowledge the ability to cook whenever I please in a clean house full of supplies, but appreciate the opportunity for adventurous eating and trying new things. I'll acknowledge the significant decrease in back pain from sleeping on a mattress that isn't comparable to a rock, but appreciate how humbling it was to live in an environment where that just may not be a realistic option. I just can't express enough that gratitude is everything.
So yes, it is the end. The end of my first class as a teacher, the end of spending countless hours with friends that became family so quickly, the end of my biggest adventure yet. But, it's also the beginning. The big, bright, beautiful beginning of a brand new way to see the world. It's the opportunity to take everything that I've known and grown to love, and better me as a person as I continue to my next adventures in life. I may be back home; fighting with some relentless jetlag, struggling to keep my favorite foods down, missing my people, and desperately trying to stop feeling so broke. But, if travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer, then I am in the absolute lap of luxury. What could be worth more than that?