It was officially one year ago today that I got on a plane at LAX as I embarked on this adventure. One thing I remember being surprised by was how not nervous I was throughout the whole process leading up to getting on the plane. Different people, from friends to family, kept on telling me how brave I was and how proud of me they were. While I appreciated the sentiment, to be honest, I never really felt brave for coming out here. It was more of just getting complacent living in Santa Barbara and I didn’t have a ton of job prospects outside of the hospitality industry. And I wanted to do something different. After unsuccessfully trying to teach in S. Korea, I still had my mind set on going to Asia and wasn’t ready to give up on the idea.
Somebody asked me the other day why I chose Thailand. It was a question that I actually struggled to answer. Thinking back, I don’t really how I decided that Thailand was the place. It wasn’t for the money, that’s for sure. I make more than enough to be comfortable here, but when viewed through the prism of a US salary, it’s pennies. All I could remember was that the phrase “land of a thousand smiles” stuck out in my head, and I had a big poster of a Thai beach on my wall in college. I figured, “Why not?” I had backpacked before, but you don’t get a real sense of the local culture when you just pass through a place. I wanted that, and Thailand just happened to be the idea that stuck. Before I left, I had decided that I would stay for a year. To this point in my life, and I don’t mean to sound arrogant, a lot of things have come fairly easily. So while I figured this experience would have some road bumps, overall, it would be like a long vacation. Man I could not have been more wrong.
As incredible as this experience has been, it has by no means been short on challenges. I’ve had to deal with an intense language barrier, loneliness, homesickness, 2 different jobs, learning how to manage a class of 40 screaming ESL students, getting around using one of the million modes of transportation available in Thailand, and generally how to get by in a culture that could not be more different than ours.
There have been two main things that have helped me get through this experience more than anything. First is the overall friendliness and positivity that permeates Thai culture. Life has a different pace here, and it’s one that suits my personality. People here let the small stuff go and care more about the harmony of the world around them.
Mai bpen rai is one of my favorite Thai phrases that I’ve learned and it’s relevant in so many different scenarios. There’s no direct translation, but it basically means, “don’t worry about it,” “shit happens,” or “it’s all good”. Us Westerners tend to get upset or angry about such trivial things at times. When this happens, instead of getting stressed, it is just as easy to say mai bpen rai and carry on being happy. Problems can be solved. This is one thing that we emphasize every month to people arriving in Thailand to live and teach.
“Make the conscious decision to be happy.” Each time you confront a problem, you can go one of two ways. Stress about it and let it bring you down, or shrug it off and roll with the punches. Life goes on.
The second thing that’s gotten me to this point has been the people that I’ve met. From the people in my original TESOL group, to the teachers and students at my Thai school, to the TESOL students that I’ve taught, to my current group of friends and coworkers at XploreAsia. Even just strangers on the street make daily life worth living. Whether it’s the friendly coffee lady who compliments my Thai, or the random strangers who I catch staring at me on the street. We smile at each other and carry on with our days. I’ve met and made so many friends here who I would have never met under different circumstances.
It’s hard to reflect on things I’ve taken away from this experience because I’m still living it. The one thing I know for sure though is that I love being here. I think that the culture shock that I’ll feel whenever I do eventually go home will be much more intense than anything I’ve felt since coming to Thailand. And I’m definitely going to be a Thai food snob for the rest of my life. I’m gonna need to learn how to cook green curry I guess.
Coming to Thailand was originally going to be a one year adventure. But now that I’ve officially reached that one-year mark, I still don’t feel finished. I’m slowly speaking more of the language, I work for an awesome company that’s getting bigger by the month, and have a great group of friends. I think I’ll make a trip home for a bit sometime early next year, but I’ll be buying a roundtrip ticket.
To all my XA red-group friends, you’re a wild and crazy bunch and we’ll always be bonded by our one month together. To my students and teachers at Sringarinda, you probably can’t read this, but you gave me an unforgettable experience that I’ll think about for the rest of my life (especially the showering out of a trashcan bit). To my past TESOL students, I was nervous at first, but it’s only because I was responsible for preparing each of your for your own unique adventure. I grew from it, and I hope you were able to too. And to you schmucks at XA. We live together, we work together, we laugh together, we suffer together. I love you guys.
I have no idea where I’ll be one year from now. One of the things I’ve definitely learned from this experience is to take life day by day and that you never know what tomorrow is going to hold. I know it’s cliché, but I don’t care. Cheers Thailand, I’m ready for whatever craziness you have in store next, for better or for worse. Mai bpen rai. I look forward to it.