One of the things I have always prided myself on is my independence.
I have never felt the need to go along with the most recent trends (as teenage Britta proclaimed more than once with much disdain, “Ugg boots are so appropriately named…because they’re soo ugly”) or to go along with societal ideals that make little sense or seem soul-sucking (there seriously has to be a more productive and effective method of working than the 9-5 job construct). I am a firm believer that we have built a society around ourselves that is much too complex, and the idea of having to participate in it is, really, somewhat maddening.
I listen to my heart and do what feels right, regardless of what other people think.
I mean, this is how I ended up in Thailand in the first place. That independent spirit, that desire for adventure and, quite frankly, the desire to avoid our ever-complicated society for as long as possible.
Seemed simple, right?
In fact, for me, it was almost too simple.
When I tell people about my Thailand experience, I often hear, “Oh, you are so brave. I could never do that.” Meaning, they could never move to a different country with a completely different language and culture.
Well let me tell you, it was hard. Living there was hard. The country and the culture were so exhausting to me and, as much as I wanted to become more comfortable there, to call Thailand a long-term home (because, oh, I did want that), it eventually became quite apparent that that wasn’t going to happen.
So, yes, actually living there didn’t work out for me. But–getting on a plane and actually moving there? Geez, that was almost too easy. Too easy that I barely even thought about it. And you know why? Because once I got there, I didn’t have to do anything for myself. Well, the major things, at least. I got there and was ushered into my TESOL course where we were brought around Chiang Mai for cultural lessons and experiences. Our living situation was taken care of for that first month. I mean, I had to pay for it, but the nitty gritty of finding a place to live while in Chiang Mai wasn’t an issue because it was included in the course package. While taking our course to be TESOL certified, company employees of the organization we were taking our course through were busy making sure all of us were placed in schools upon TESOL graduation. When I finally did arrive in my town, a place to live was provided for me. The act of actually switching towns–I barely even though about it. I didn’t go looking for the opportunity, it just came my way…and I took it. Once again, when I arrived at my new town, I was ushered to a new apartment and was provided with a microwave and refrigerator by my school free of charge (because it is not common for Thai households to come with a full kitchen). When I wanted a motorbike, I just asked my school; they found me one and organized everything with the seller. I pretty much just handed over the money to close the deal.
When a group of us foreign teachers needed to renew our non-immigrant B visas? We did virtually nothing but show up at our local immigration to sign some papers and pay the fee. Our school prepared all the paperwork for us. It was the same with obtaining work permits; our school did everything–which we were quite grateful for, given the language barrier and our general confusion over the whole process. I didn’t even have a space to actually cook for myself–besides the quick meals I discovered I could make in my microwave. Though I probably would have invested in a hot plate or something of the sort had I actually stayed another semester, the abundance and inexpensive nature of the street food in Thailand made eating out more cost effective and much less of a hassle.
So you see, I was encountering all these really hard and life changing experiences by simply living in a foreign country–but at the same time, I was allowing other people to do things for me…partly because it would be nearly impossible for me to do some of those things with the language barrier and partly because I knew that, if I asked my school, they would just do it for me–thereby saving me the difficultly of trying to figure it out on my own in a foreign country.
I worked for residence life all through college. It was a great way to save money given that my room and board were paid for, and I’m grateful for all the experiences I had working as an RA and student Hall Director–but the set up didn’t really allow me to grow in my personal independence and responsibility.
After graduation, I went directly from on campus life at school to living again with my parents–to save money before heading off to Thailand. Once in Thailand, I was fostering my independence in a multitude of different ways–by learning to navigate a new country and live there on my own, etc. etc.–but, at the same time, I still felt incredibly dependent on the English-speaking Thai people around me. There was this knowledge I had that I would never be able to successfully navigate Thai society on my own unless I became reasonably proficient at Thai–which could take years given the difficulty of the language combined with the fact that picking up other languages has always been an incredibly slow process for me (partially, I think, because even though it would be so cool to be multi-lingual in theory, the actual act of sitting down and learning a new language is incredibly uninteresting to me).
In fact, it was this understanding of a need for my own independence that gave me the (ill-thought out) idea to withdraw from my TESOL friends in January and take the month for myself. What I didn’t understand then was that independence isn’t the same as isolation. Independent people still need relationships. They still need human contact. For so much of my life, I’ve believed that reaching out to people was synonymous with neediness. As incredibly silly as it might sound to some, I believed that people would be annoyed if I disturbed them…so, I waited for them to reach out to me…and when they didn’t, I just assumed they weren’t interested in a friendship with me. It really wasn’t even something I gave much thought to until this January when I found myself very isolated in my town–by very much my own doing (I mean, aside from all the Thai people I could have gone out and met, there were five other English speaking foreign teachers in my town whom I saw daily at school)–that I began to realize that relationships don’t begin unless someone reaches out…and sometimes that person has to be me.
The truth of the matter is, a lot of the relationships I could have developed with more of my TESOL friends never succeeded further because I just never thought that maybe I could and should reach out to them.
So, I learned a valuable lesson at the beginning of this year in Thailand–I can still be independent and need human contact…
…and, I also began to realize that the independence and responsibility I am searching for wasn’t something I was going to find in Thailand.
Right now, I want to get that job on my own and live on my own. I want to find that apartment on my own and buy that microwave on my own if I need to. I want to navigate this seemingly complex society that I disdain so much on my own because I never have before. It doesn’t necessarily mean I’m done with living abroad–who knows what the future will bring. It certainly doesn’t mean I’m finished traveling. There are so many places in Southeast Asia alone that I didn’t get a chance to see, not to mention all the places I desire to go elsewhere.
I’ve always been incredibly independent, yes, and right now I want to foster that independence even more by taking on more responsibility than I ever have before to live completely on my own–without the added complexity of a language barrier…or my own long-held and deep-set fears in regards to obtaining that responsibility that have, quite frankly, been holding me back.
It doesn’t mean I’ll isolate myself. It doesn’t mean I’ll refuse help when rightly offered.
It just means I’ll be pushing myself a bit more in the right direction of how I want to live this life of mine.
— — — —
So, when people ask me why I left Thailand I tell them I was unhappy there–and, when I really think about it, this need for more responsibility in my daily life was an extremely important contribution to that unhappiness.
Yes, Thai food was hard on my tummy. Yes, I was was so overwhelmed by living there. Yet, those things–large setbacks in the first few months as I settled into my town–would have, in time, become minor annoyances that I would have learned to handle and cope with if I had actually been content in living there. Though it wasn’t the only reason I ended up leaving Thailand in the end, I’m realizing now that this search for more responsibility and independence in my daily life was a huge factor in me deciding to leave when I did. Perhaps it’s not something I’ll want forever–but it’s certainly something that I know will make me feel more fulfilled now.
The truth of the matter is, I just really want to prove to myself that I can do this and be content for a time.