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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.