Part 1 of 3
I often think about an Arthur episode I saw when I was younger. For those unfamiliar with the iconic aardvark, there’s an episode where he is on summer vacation and wakes up so excited for the day to begin. He starts listing all these adventures he wants to have until his mom comes in and says, “how about shopping for back to school clothes?”
In his excitement, he can’t believe that summer is almost over. Then he begins lamenting about all the things he wanted to do and never did. But as the episode continues, he remembers all of the books that he read and all the adventures they took him on and he realizes that he had a pretty great summer.
I can’t believe how often I compare this children’s show to my life, but it really is very fitting. As I was getting ready to leave Thailand, unsure and unaware of what the future held, I kept having all of these regrets. I should have been more social and made more friends. I should have traveled to more places on the weekends. I should have invested in learning Thai more than I did.
One of the things I was most looking forward to about returning to Ohio was seeing my friends. In my mind, my American friends understood me more and I couldn’t wait to see them again. But then, for about three weeks leading up to my departure, I started to see all of these amazing people that I’ve met throughout the year. Whether my old coworkers, my friends of friends that somehow kept in touch, or my more than amazing students, so many people came out of the woodwork to send me off.
That’s when I had my Arthur moment. I didn’t waste my summer vacation (this is the only situation in which I would compare my experience to a “vacation”). I visited 7 foreign countries, taught close to 70 students, learned a little bit of a new language, developed an entirely new professional skill set, and most importantly built relationships that I will never ever forget.
It’s very hard for me to translate my experience. “How was your trip?” is an extremely difficult question to answer. But while I may have some (sometimes hilarious) cultural misunderstandings with people in Thailand, in a way they get it and they get me. No one asks me about my five year plan or cares about what college I went to. They just want to know me.
It’s very hard to write about living abroad without being cliche. “It changed me.” “It opened my eyes.” “It made me appreciate what I have.” But these are all very, very true statements. I’m trying to picture the look on my own face at 18 years old if you had told me that I’d be living and thriving in Southeast Asia for a year. That person and the person writing this are the same in name only.
It’s easy to come back and think, “nothing’s changed, nothing will ever change.” But it’s not true, because I’ve changed (and all the cliche things that go along with it). And that’s really all that matters. Plus, Cleveland has a freaking championship, so never say that anything’s impossible.
A year is barely enough to skim the surface of a culture, and I have so much more to learn. But when compared to a year ago, I’d say I had one big What Not to Wear style makeover of myself and my character.
Thailand…you beautiful, wonderful place. It’s not goodbye, only see you later. Khop khun mak kha!
What’s next, you ask? Hold onto your seats, Part 2 coming soon.