The night before my flight to Thailand, I remember thinking that as soon as I boarded that plane, nothing would ever be the same. A more accurate understanding may have been that I would never be the same.
In many ways my experience teaching English in Thailand has been transformative. Returning home to fall leaves and crisp air, almost a year after I left, it seems almost as if nothing and everything have changed all at once.
During my time away, I overcame challenges that I could not have predicted and grew beyond what I knew. By choosing to move abroad, and in doing so, upend my life as I knew it, I was investing in the person I was to become. On the other side of this journey, I am more confident, adaptable, and grounded. I embraced discomfort. I indulged curiosity. I learned a lot about myself.
For the rest of my life, I will cherish the memories of this past year: the sight of morning fog settling over the mountains of Phrae, bouncing in the back of a pickup truck through the jungle, balancing on a giant lily pad, biking through temple ruins. These priceless souvenirs are the reward of all the effort and risk it took to realize my teach abroad dream.
Everything reminds me of my students. I think of them when I wave back to kids in the grocery store, when I hear the “Baby Shark” song. It saddens me that I will not see them continue to progress in English as they age through the education system. I can only hope that my teaching this year made a difference for them, and most of all, I hope that our classes sparked a love of language in them that will continue throughout their schooling.
They taught me too.
I now always take my shoes off when I go into someone’s home. I have a few favorite Thai phrases like "mai pen rai" and "mai chai" that are sprinkled throughout my speech, and I feel like something is missing when rice is not served with a meal.
The world expanded and my tether to home strengthened simultaneously. I interacted with an assortment of cultures and gained perspective on my own. As a “farang,” a foreigner, my nationality became a more prominent aspect of my identity, and I gained a new appreciation for the privileges and freedoms in my country.
The first few days after my return to the United States, the amount of English spoken around me was mildly overwhelming, but I have readjusted and have found that tasks seem incredibly easy when they can be done in my native language. Everything is familiar but refracted through a different lens.
When I passed through the final customs check at the Denver airport, the officer’s “welcome home” felt like stepping onto solid ground after a year at sea. Teaching in Thailand was one of the most challenging and meaningful experiences of my life. Wherever I go next, I will carry the lessons learned and walk with the confidence that comes from succeeding at something brave.