My Pursuit of Happiness

A handful of days ago, I was sitting in my friend Mo’s Bangkok apartment in tears. I had come to Bangkok for the weekend to celebrate the birthday of one of my TESOL friends; I had been so excited before leaving Nakhon Pathom for Bangkok–I was convinced the weekend would be fabulous. I recall thinking it might the first weekend in a long time that I’d be excited to go out with friends…

Well. It wasn’t.

Instead?

Instead, I spent the whole weekend feeling incredibly sad. Incredibly homesick. Incredibly lost. While I watched all of my friends have an amazing time, I felt like I was only half there. I wasn’t enjoying myself and all I wanted in the world was to go home…and not home to Nakhon Pathom, mind you–but home to the United States, to Minnesota.

It was only when I broke down at the end of the weekend in Mo’s apartment that the clarity I had needed all weekend came to the surface. “I just want to go home.” I blubbered to my friends. “I don’t know what’s happening to me…but I feel so lost and sad and just want to go home.”

It was in that moment that my friend Sarah looked me right in the eye and said something I knew instinctively to be true: “Britta, you’re not happy here. You’re not even happy with us.”

Her words rang in my head: You’re not happy here. In a matter of moments, the state of mind that had made up my whole semester made sense. Truthfully, in the last few weeks, I had come to realize this. Deep down, I had known that I wasn’t happy in my current situation. I was afraid to admit it to myself, though, because I was so determined to stay in Thailand and live my life as an expat.

Sarah was right, though. She is right. I love teaching and I love my students, but I haven’t experienced a true and lasting feeling of contentedness in Thailand since leaving the emotional high of Chiang Mai. I come home from school at the end of the day and don’t know what to do with myself. I haven’t been successful at meeting Thai people here and more so, I’m finding that I don’t want to. When I do meet up with my TESOL friends, I find myself not wanting to do anything. I wouldn’t consider myself a hardcore partier in the slightest, but I do like to go out on occasion–and I have had absolutely no desire to do that at all here. I feel uninspired and lost and although I’ve learned so much and tested myself in many ways in these past few months in Thailand, my life has felt more lifeless than anything. There have been moments, yes–mostly while traveling with TESOL friends, but also instances at school when I had a really successful class or after I’ve had a great interaction with a local in my town–but they have been far and few and are becoming even less frequent as time goes on.

When I sat down and counted the reasons that were keeping me in Thailand another semester, I realized there was only one–my students. I do love my students and was so excited to watch them grow into next semester. But I’ve recently realized that that is not enough. My students fill me with so much joy and I will always cherish the time I spent teaching them, but they cannot be and will not be the sole reason I stay in this country if the rest of my life does not feel whole here.

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What a privilege it has been to teach these goons.

It is with all this in mind that I have decided to leave Thailand at the close of this semester. Most people know that I was planning on staying a year, if not more. I was so excited to dive into teaching and to watch the progress of my students. However, while I am forever grateful for the time I spent at my school, it is not enough. I will never regret changing towns. I do love my town. It’s been a wonderful place to live in Thailand. It’s proximity to Bangkok, though not the reason I chose to come here, has been simply fantastic…the kindness my school has shown myself and the other foreign teachers is so meaningful. None of it is enough, though.

After my school’s semester finishes up in the first week of March, I will do some traveling. I will be spending my birthday in Bali with some of my TESOL friends and I will take two weeks in mid-March for tramping around Copenhagen and Hamburg with a high school friend who is an Au Pair in Denmark. I plan on making a few solo trips throughout Thailand to see some sights that have been on my list for a while now. When my parents come to visit in April, I will spend just under two weeks exploring the country with them…and then I will fly home with them.

Leaving Thailand is going to be hard. It is going to way harder than leaving the U.S. ever was a handful of months ago. But I know deep down in the darkest recesses of my heart that it’s what I need to do for myself right now. I need to find my spark, again. I need to find myself. I know that happiness is, in itself, fleeting–that it comes and goes–but my over all well being is suffering here. And I need to change that.

I want to live my life differently in the states–I want to invest more in experiences and save money to travel. I want to focus more on my personal happiness and on living each day to the fullest. I believe my time in Thailand has given me the tools to do that successfully…and I will do my best to implement them back home. I’m realizing more than ever that adventure is everywhere; I want to travel more around the United States, because I’ve realized that there is so much more of my home country that I haven’t seen yet.

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An old favorite from Chiang Mai–Thailand has been everything and so much more.

Since being abroad, I’ve developed a new appreciation for my home and my family. I want to spend more time with my family when I go home. I want to explore more of Minneapolis and St. Paul and more of Minnesota and the Midwest in general. I hope to figure some things out in my head–I’ve learned so much about myself and how I want to live my life while here in Thailand and it’s just been information overload in a sense, especially since change is hard for me in general. Being at home in a familiar place will allow me to think and process more comfortably. Then, when I’m ready, I want to plan my next step. The place I miss with the most intensity–the place I keep coming back to as the place I want to be for the time being–is Washington D.C. While I miss Minnesota because my family and friends are there, when I feel homesick in Thailand for a place, it’s always D.C. When I left D.C. at the end of July 2014, I said I’d be back–and, I’m realizing now that, even though senior year of college happened and my dream to move to D.C. right after graduation changed, even though I decided to expand my horizons and move abroad for a time, going back to D.C. is still a very real desire for me. Who knows where life will take me, but I’d love to spend at least part of my twenties there. I’m thinking, though, that when the time is right, I want to pick up my things and move there. I don’t know what the hell I’ll do there. But I’ll figure it out. If this experience in Thailand has taught me anything, it’s that I can and will figure my life out on my own.

My time here in Thailand has been an absolute privilege. I consider myself so lucky to have had this experience abroad at such a young age. I will never regret my time here. I have learned so much. I have made amazing, lifelong friends. There have been moments where I’ve experienced the purest joy I’ve ever known and moments when I’ve been overcome with the most acute sadness. The experiences I’ve had in Thailand with Thai people have been so humbling and rewarding. I don’t love every minute of teaching, but I do love my students. I’m so happy to know I’ve made a positive impact on their lives. I wish I could be that teacher who could add a bit of consistency to their students’ lives by not leaving after one semester. I wanted to be that teacher. I wish I could stay here longer because there is so much more I want to see and do here and not enough time. Because this country is inexplicably beautiful and the people are so kind. But I simply can’t put my own personal well-being at risk anymore. My happiness is my first priority. And for all that I love about Thailand, it is not a place where I believe I can thrive.

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It’s really hard for me to remember what my life was life before I knew my TESOL friends. I’ve only known them for a few months, but I feel like we’ve known each other forever.

I’m realizing now more than ever that, although I came to Thailand to try my hand at teaching, I did not end up here solely as a career move. My time in Thailand has been a far more personal journey than I ever imagined or expected. I have learned so much and I have grown so much; in many ways, I hardly recognize the person I was when I arrived at Chiang Mai International Airport–exhausted, disoriented, and anxious for what I knew would be the adventure of a lifetime–back in late September. I didn’t know what I was hoping to accomplish when I arrived here in late September. I’ve pushed myself more in these last few months than I ever have before; I know now that Thailand has given me what I needed it to give me: the strength and confidence, the kindness and understanding, to continue my life back in the United States.

I know now that it is time to move on.

— — —

The moment I allowed myself to move on from Thailand, I felt more satisfied and more content with myself and my place in this world than I have in months.

It is time.

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18 thoughts on “My Pursuit of Happiness

  1. I’ll say that reading your blog pretty regularly that I’m a little surprised. I know you’ve had some downs, particularly before you moved towns, but I didn’t expect this. Not saying good or bad, that is 100% up to you decide.

    I can see liking Washington. I know some people around your age down there who love it. Summers for me would be a little hot and humid, but nothing compared to Thailand! I’m hoping to make it down there this year – my team works there and I want to meet them and there are other people there and near by who I want to visit. Maybe you can put your museum background and experience together with your education experience and do some kids’ programs at the Smithsonian or something similar.

    Whatever happens, good luck. And yes, you do have to be sure you are happy.

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    1. Honestly, Trent? I didn’t expect this, either. And you’re not the first person to say that. I think everyone, including me, is surprised.

      What I realized, though, is that I was so caught up in living abroad and being an expat and teaching another semester that I failed to stop and consider if this is what I really want…or if it’s more so what I think I want/should want. Everything I’ve talked about and written about up till this point was true because I believed it was true. It was only when I stopped to consider what happiness feels like and what I’m experiencing now–a feeling that certainly isn’t happiness–that I was able to accept that perhaps being here isn’t what’s right for me. Part of me really does want to stay. There’s so much I love about Thailand and so much more of Southeast Asia that I want to see… But I also know that being here just isn’t right for me right now and staying another semester wouldn’t serve me in the way I’d want it to.

      Yes, museum education is actually a path I’m interested in perhaps pursing. My time interning at the Smithsonian is actually what got me interested in education in the first place, through my exposures to the education department at the National Postal Museum while there!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is quite interesting!
    Were you looking for happiness when you went there or for the opportunity to experience another culture and all it brings with it!
    No matter what, it has forced you to make any very adult decisions.
    Good luck in your next endeavor.

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    1. No, I don’t think I was. I was looking to try my hand at teaching and live abroad for a time and have an adventure…when I look at the reasons I came to Thailand, happiness wasn’t on the list. That said, I’ve realized how important my personal happiness is to me and I also believe I accomplished everything I came here to accomplish…and now it’s time to move on.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh Britta, I am sorry you aren’t happy there. Honestly, I am somewhat disappointed and surprised by this sudden turn of events. I was rooting for you to have more Thai adventures! Although in the back of my mind, there were doubts that keep on surfacing because you being an introvert and all that I know sometimes makes it harder to adjust to a new environment. Not to mention you are quite young and maybe that makes it harder, I don’t know. Who am I to second guess? What matters is you know you are not happy there and that you need to go back home. Kudos also for being brave and honest and telling us as it is. Thailand will always be there. You can always come back. 🙂 Good luck!!!!

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    1. I’m sorry you’re disappointed, but I’m not. Leaving Thailand will be really hard, yes, but it’s what’s best for me. I believe I came here for all the right reasons–to try my hand at teaching and live abroad for a time and have an experience of a lifetime–and I believe I accomplished all of that. I believe it’s time to move on. Yes, it is ten times more difficult living abroad as a highly sensitive introvert, but that’s not even half of it–when I really stopped to consider what I want, it was to go back to the states and create a life for myself there…preferably in D.C., but we’ll see. 🙂 I was being held back for so long from the belief that I should be an expat and should stay here for a year or longer that I failed to consider what I really wanted or what was best for me. Really, I was unhappy because I was living with the belief that I had to stay here. Since deciding to leave, my mindset has improved drastically. I’m realizing now that I had decided to stay here for a year at the outset because I was afraid of the unknown future and didn’t know what else to do with my life–but I’m not afraid now. There is so much uncertainty in looking towards the future, but I’m ready to face that uncertainty–which is also quite exciting–and just live.

      Believe me, I’m not done with Thailand or Southeast Asia in general. I will be back. There are so many more places I wanted to see in this part of the world–it’s just not the right time for me to do all of that right now.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I guess I was just living in Thailand through your stories and photos. That’s what I mean. But I agree with you for the most part. Sometimes it just takes us awhile to figure out what we really want. Some people live their whole lives not knowing what they want! While we still can, go ahead and do stuff that makes you happy. No regrets. Good luck and take care Britta!

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      2. Thank you so much, Belle. 🙂 I will surely continue to document my journey back home, as well, through the blog. I’m so grateful for this time period of my life–but I can’t wait for the future.

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  4. Britta, this reminds me of my daughter’s short adventure in Salem, Oregon. She did her school internship there and many family members thought she might stay there and get a job. Her intent was to complete the internship then come back home and get a job here. As much as she loved the experience, it WAS NOT HOME. You have had the experience of a lifetime…no regrets! No matter where you go to teach, you will always have students who love you. You have made the right decision for you and you are now at peace. Bravo!

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    1. Thank you so much, Terri! I love Thailand so much in many ways and part of me does wish I could stay here longer, but when I allowed myself to really consider what I want, I realized that I want to continue my life in the U.S.

      I’m strongly considering a path in museum education…which is something I was considering before moving to Thailand. I’ve rediscovered my interest in that path, though, especially since I have discovered here that I love teaching.

      Who knows where my path will take me, though. Life is such an adventure and I’ll just have to wait and see!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I love museum education because I love being a teacher, but don’t want to work in a traditional classroom setting after Thailand. The unique museum atmosphere offers a lot of possibilities for learning not available in a traditional classroom setting…so, we’ll just see where I end up!

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  5. Sometimes life throws a curve ball and we have to yell plot twist and roll with the punches and sometimes it is the best thing to happen to us. Even though your time in Thailand is being cut shorter than you thought, you were there in just the amount of time that you needed to be to learn and experience what you needed to experience. I have enjoyed reading your adventures and your life lessons over the past few months and I will continue to read even after Thailand. Washington DC sounds like it would be a great fit for you. You speak of DC like I do Los Angeles so I totally get it. Have fun traveling and learning even more things through those adventures and if you ever find yourself in Los Angeles visiting hit me up! 🙂

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    1. Thank you, Katy. Thailand has been such an amazing adventure and just what I needed at this point in my life–but I believe I accomplished what I came here to do and am ready to move on.
      Just because I’m leaving Thailand doesn’t mean the adventure is over. I have plenty more adventures I want to go on back in the states….including moving to D.C. After I spend some time with family and friends back, it’s where I need to be.

      Liked by 1 person

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