Some days my life still doesn’t feel real. I lived abroad before, but this has been a completely new experience for me. First a week in Bangkok, then a month in Chiang Mai, now I’m living in a local city Kamphaeng Phet. Every day is something new, every day still I find myself amazed.
Still, some days I stop and think “Am I really on the other side of the world right now?” “Am I really living on my own, working, teaching English to a class full of Thai students, 9,000 miles away from home?” And it still blows my mind.
When I was little, I dreamed of traveling. I saw these beautiful places and pictures and I wanted to see them. Less than 2 years ago I started planning to study abroad, I found a place that I didn’t even know much about before and it just called out to me. Some months later, I left the US for the first time and I spent a semester in Costa Rica, and I fell in love. I fell in love with not just the country, but I fell in love with the experience. I fell in love with learning, with experiencing a new culture, understanding languages and diversity. Traveling makes me do that – it makes me want to learn. It’s uncertain and unpredictable, but it opens me up to things that I would never imagine, to being a person I never knew I could be, it makes me feel brave.
Four months later, I returned to the US, and I was just getting through my last semester of college, terrified and uncertain about “the real world”, terrified of settling down, terrified of being stuck. I knew the moment I came back home that I wanted to leave again. I don’t mean that in a negative way, but I knew I needed to see more, to experience more. There is a huge world out there, and I just can’t stay within this tiny little piece of it. So I spent a lot of time back and forth in my college career center, questioning my future and being my incredibly indecisive self. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do but one thing that I did know was that I wanted to go abroad again, so I started talking with advisors about my options. I thought about Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. Then, I seriously starting looking into Teaching English as a Second Language. I never thought about teaching during my college career, so I wondered how I could just go to another country and become a teacher. I guess I didn’t really believe that I could do it, and I was a little afraid.
I remember some people that I told about what I was doing. They would start asking me about finding a job at home, and trying to give me suggestions thinking that I was having trouble finding a job at home. I don’t think that they quite understood that I intentionally wasn’t finding a job at home. I was intentionally not looking for a job at home. I wanted this, I needed this more than anything.
Eventually, after heavily researching and considering my options, I made the decision. I decided to go abroad yet again, but this time to start a new journey. Working abroad… teaching English. I was hesitant. I questioned whether I could do this. I knew that I had gone to Costa Rica, I studied abroad. I also knew this would be different. Everything would be different. So much newness. Living on my own. On the other side of the world. A new, extremely foreign language. A new job title… My first real, post-college job. I thought that if I could do this, I could do anything. Traveling on my own for the first time – I even left a week early and booked a hostel in Bangkok. Could I do this? I guess I’ll find out…
Well, here I am 7 weeks later. I can’t believe how much has happened in just seven weeks. Being home feels like a lifetime ago, a world away. I think back to that first day when I arrived in Bangkok, after my 24+ hours travel time with very little sleep, extremely jetlagged, trying to figure out how to get to my hostel. How much has changed since that day, and how much I’ve changed every day since. From being a tourist in Bangkok, to finding a temporary home in Chiang Mai with my group of classmates and teachers during my TESOL course, to starting to settle down into my new town, it has been an incredible experience.
I’m gradually settling into my town here. It’s such a different experience from being a tourist to actually living in a country, and particularly living in a regular city, not a tourist stop, just a regular city with the locals. And every day here, I find myself amazed to experience more and more of the local culture and to find myself becoming a small part of it.
In my minimal time so far, I have experienced so much generosity from Thai people, everyday. Even when I don’t understand 90% of what they are saying, they are always smiling and so I can smile and nod along but I can always see how much they want to help me, with the little things. People will go out of their way to help. And it’s just what they do for each other. Thailand has a very collectivistic culture as compared to the United Staes. People are so close with their families and friends and they see things in a different way, not only for themselves but for the good of others. And that’s started to change my perspective. I’ve started to look at things in that way, especially my job as a teacher. I am here for the students, not for me. Regardless of the challenges and the difficulties I face, I know that I can’t give up. I can’t give up because I am here to help them, to give them an opportunity, to change their lives in some small way.
So, it’s not always easy. And I’m realizing so many of the challenges of teaching, the challenges teachers face every day. I see the things that teachers go out of their way to do, the ways in which teachers work to make a difference for their students. I remember so many of the teachers that I have had, and I’m shifting my perspective. Every day, I am learning to be a teacher, and I am understanding a new culture, so different from my own. I am thinking back to all of the language classes I have had. I am putting myself in the perspective of a student learning a foreign language, except the foreign language is now English for them. I’ve realized in the past few years the enjoyment of learning a new language, and the amazing feeling that it can bring to share this mutual exchange of a language with others. So, I am here, and I’m learning to be a teacher, and trying to be the best that I can be.
I just remember what someone told me along the way during my travels here. We were talking about traveling and future plans, and I said I still wasn’t quite sure and that I had a lot of ideas and a lot of plans but I was still trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to do. They told me that no one can ever really be sure, at some point you just have to jump in to something and take a chance. It’s always those little things that stick with me, things people say along the way, that they may not even realize. But I always think back to that.
So that’s what I’m doing.
I’m jumping in.