From a Five Month Expat, With Love

Thailand,

It has come to my attention that I will be leaving your borders for the unforeseeable future quite soon. It’s an ending that’s coming quicker than I anticipated and it’s an ending that will fill me with an equal amount of joy–at the prospect of returning home–and sadness–because, well, Thailand, you’ve become a new home. Feelings aside (because we all know how much I love feelings), it’s an occurrence that will inevitably happen sooner than later. Well, Thailand, before the onset of said occurrence, I have some words to get out there regarding my time here.

— — — —

Oh Thailand, it’s been such a wild ride. One that I will never forget. One that has shaped me in more ways than I ever possibly imagined. Thailand–you are everything: frustrating, beautiful, frustratingly beautiful. You are exciting, an adventure always waiting to happen, a whirlwind of crazy, wonderful, exacerbating, so much life. You are an endless array of oxymorons and you never get old.

and Thailand…oh Thailand…

I love you.

I love you a lot.

Adjusting to you was far from easy. Sometimes, adjusting to you was downright the worst. Chief among the struggles I  encountered during my adjustment period was your food–because although there is so much to love about Thai food, eating it day in and day pretty quickly got pretty exhausting–especially as a pescetarian with fewer options. My body has sort of adjusted  (*cough cough* but not really) to eating as much rice as it does here, but it will never feel as healthy here as it does back home, where I have more access to foods that make me feel good and more control over what I put in my body–which is quite hard in itself, considering the lack of a kitchen in my apartment here. Navigating the language barrier has been a struggle, too, though one that has gotten easier over time as I’ve picked up more Thai and gotten more comfortable with putting myself out there via charades.

Adjusting to you was hard because, at the core of it all, you’re different, Thailand. You’re different than anything I’ve known. You have been my first exposure to life outside the western world and, for all that I love about your differences, it’s incredibly hard sometimes. Of course, I wouldn’t have come here if I had been looking for familiarity–but you can never really anticipate what it’s like to immerse yourself in a different culture until you’re actually there, doing it.

Thailand, living within your borders has been incredibly hard. So incredibly hard.

I feel mentally and physically off most of the time while living here. To add to that struggle, I haven’t been taking care of myself as well as I’m used to because I’ve been so overwhelmed with adjusting to and just living here.

I’m exhausted most of the time from consistently pushing myself and there have been days where I’ve felt consistently sad and anxious because I’m far away from people I love and comforts that are familiar.

Dammit, Thailand, I even escaped the pain in the ass that is head lice until I entered your borders. But I guess when you work with kindergartners, there are some things that are hard to escape.

The bottom line, Thailand, is that living here has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. In fact, it downright sucks a lot of the time.

But…oh, there is that but…

For all that I’ve struggled with here, I can’t help but love you.

For all I’ve struggled here, for all I’ve hurt here, I still adore you for so many reasons.

Thailand, I love you…

I loved you from day two when I left my debit card at an ATM in Chiang Mai, only to return huffing and puffing twenty minutes later to find it placed neatly on top of that very same ATM.

I love you for your markets full of fresh fruit and other goodies. I love that you made me fall in love with pineapple. I eat it almost every day here, when it was easily my least favorite fruit back in the States.

I love your street food. Adjusting to your food has been tough, but dammit, I love that I can walk out my door and find a vendor somewhere close by (A special shout out goes to that occasional vendor down the street from my apartment that blends me up fresh fruit smoothies pretty regularly for 20 baht–you’re the real MVP, smoothie stand, even though you’re a hit or miss for actually being there).

I love you, Thailand, for your mai bpen rai, sabai sabai relaxed nature. It’s infuriating sometimes and it certainly doesn’t lend itself to efficiency…but even I have to say that I got a secret thrill the other day when my overnight bus pulled into the bus station at 11:05 pm–at the very time it was scheduled to depart. Trying to go anywhere within your borders is a task in itself because nothing is ever on time–that, and your lack of traffic laws certainly makes for an interesting adventure on any road–but, hey, I’ve been here a while now and I’ve learned to just kind of go with it. I mean, it just adds to your charm, Thailand.

I love your kitschy little coffee/dessert shops that seem to pop up everywhere. I swear I’ve found a new one in my town every other week.

I love your dreamy sunsets. I don’t know what it is about this specific location on the planet, but even in my quaint little town in central Thailand–far away from the gorgeous beaches of the south and the majestic mountains of the north–the sunsets here are something special, something I can’t possibly put into words.

I love the way that the people here will go out of their way to help each other. I can’t even begin to count how many times a Thai person has done something for me that they didn’t have to do. A month ago, I was at a hospital having just been diagnosed with pneumonia; I was overwhelmed and near tears. When I pulled out my wallet to pay my bill, I realized I hadn’t brought enough baht with me to cover all the expenses; this, as you might imagine, made me all the more distressed.  The nurse right next to me, though? Upon seeing my distress, she offered to cover the difference of a couple hundred baht. I was embarrassed because it wasn’t an issue of not having the money–it was an issue of not bringing it with me and not being prepared…because I knew that nurse probably made less than I did on my Thai salary and she still offered. Yet, despite all that, I was also grateful–because being sick in a foreign country can be terrifying and isolating and, sometimes, it’s such acts of kindness that make all the difference in life. I cannot begin to express how much I love the kindness I’ve experienced again and again within your borders, Thailand. It is truly something magical.

Thailand, I love that you’ve allowed me the opportunity to teach 112 smiley, loving, perfectly adorable, sometimes inquisitive, and oftentimes more than difficult to handle kindergartners everyday. With them, I’ve continued to foster my love for education. More importantly, with them, I’ve learned that a language barrier by no means defines a boundary against love…that love does, in fact, know no boundaries (oh the cliche of it!). My kindergartners have further reinforced within me the desire to be kinder, gentler, and to cherish every moment. When I said that they were the only reason I was going to stay, I meant it. What a joy it has been to watch them grow; how I wish I could watch them grow into next semester.

Oh Thailand, I love that you’ve pushed me so consistently and have forced me to grow up in ways that I never ever expected. Life has been so much harder in these last few months and sometimes I’ve hated you for that but, more often than not, I find myself being so grateful for the ways you continually push me outside my comfort zone and into new life. It is this growth in itself that allowed me to veer from my plan to stay for a year; to accept that sometimes a plan, as well meaning as it might be, is not for the best. It is with this growth that I look forward to a future back in the U.S., a future that I absolutely dreaded a few months ago; to realizing that, in fact, it is actually what I want right now.

Lastly Thailand, I love that you allowed me to meet some of the most inspiring and wonderful human beings on this earth–humans who have fundamentally changed my life in more ways than they will ever know; humans who have been critical beacons in the growing up that I’ve done here. Moreover, these humans have given me some of the absolute best memories of my life…memories that, as cliche as it sounds, I will cherish forever.

Thailand, you have done so much for me in my short five months here. I will walk away from you with the knowledge that never before has a place so critically shaped me. I left my college town last May thinking the exact same thing–that no place has so critically shaped me–and with the thought that no place would shape me so profoundly ever again. Well, I hadn’t met you yet. I had no idea of the growth and understanding and maturity that I would experience here…and in such a short amount of time, too.

In another world, in another life, I would happily stay here another semester–hell, maybe another year…but Thailand, you know as well as I that I am not happy here…and that lack of happiness has nothing to do with you. No, I am not happy here because of me. I have so much I need to work on, so much more that I want to become–and I’ve realized that this is not the place where I can continue to work towards that growth.

After all, I did not come here to find happiness. I came here to find a lot of things–adventure and life and culture and growth–but not happiness. It is with a heightened sense of myself and of my place in this world that I can safely say I have accomplished all that I came here to do; I have no further need to continue my journey here at this time.

Oh Thailand, I am indebted to you for shaping me so profoundly–for helping me realize what I need to do to take as my next steps–but now it is time to say goodbye…

…and I do so with the full knowledge that I will be back.


 

ขอบคุณมากค่ะ

kahp kun maak ka 

(Thank you very much)

****

เจอกันใหม่ค่ะ

jer gan mai ka

(See you again)

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11 Replies to “From a Five Month Expat, With Love”

  1. Beautiful post, Britta. I am great that the experience abroad has been both wonderful and challenging for you. Do you intend to return to teach in Thailand again (rather, does your contract allow you to reapply/renew for the next year)? As a fellow American teaching abroad, albeit in Europe, I am sad that my stay is coming to an end very soon as well. But here’s to returning to the United States, eh? Good luck with your adventures, wherever you go!

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    1. Thanks so much. I don’t intent to return to Thailand anytime soon, other than to travel more around the country and others in Southeast Asia–but who knows what the future will bring. I could easily get another teaching job here if I wanted to given that I’m TESOL certified, but it’s not something I really desire to do anymore.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a beautiful post, Britta. Your words perfectly capture how your time in Thailand has shaped you and the bittersweetness of leaving. (I hope I can find such words at the end of my travels!) When we are both in the States again, we’ll have to meet up and share stories. I wish you all the best on your return home!

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    1. Thank you so much, Amelia! Thailand has been so influential to my life overall and it will always hold a very special place in my heart.

      Yes, let’s keep in touch and plan to meet sometime after you return! I would love that. I plan to be in Minneapolis for at least a few months upon my return stateside.

      Enjoy the rest of your time in Europe!

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  3. What a wonderful post Britta. And what wonderful experiences you’ve had. I can’t wait to hear about what you will be doing when you get back home. And what a treat it will be for you to be back home with your family and friends and food. Well done Britta!

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  4. Your maturity is beyond your years. Beautiful emotionally written post Britta. I like the idea that you are saying good bye to Thailand this way, in a letter. Who knows, your paths might cross one day again? Good luck!

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    1. Thank you so much, Belle! I do plan to cross paths again one day. There is so much more of Thailand that I want to see, and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Southeast Asia, too…the time is simply not right now to do all of that, though.

      Liked by 1 person

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