How Does Living Abroad Change You?

In today's blog post, I'm featuring several of the amazing women that I met while teaching abroad this year through Greenheart Travel. We all connected while getting our TESOL certification (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) in the beautiful city of Chiang Mai, Thailand. After three weeks of training and making memories together, our entire class was sent off to teach at different schools all over the country. Some of us were placed in rural towns without even a grocery store, and others were hired to work at schools in the middle of chaotic Bangkok. Everyone ended up having a different experience, but one thing was the same throughout all of our stories... We were all deeply changed by living abroad.

 

In their own words, here are four gutsy women on how they were changed by their adventure in Thailand:

My family has always been loud, late to everything, and messy. As I grew up, I thought they were embarrassing, so I strove to be the opposite—hushing rambunctious friends, always arriving fifteen minutes early, and organizing everything in sight.

I was proud of the person I had become, but, as I would later learn, I was making a huge sacrifice. Besides being quiet, timely, and organized, I was very reserved. I harbored an immense fear of making a fool of myself. I abstained from singing karaoke, I disliked trying new foods, and I avoided speaking in front of large crowds. Basically, I refused to do anything that could potentially make me look like an idiot.

Then I went to Thailand.

For six months, I taught English in a small town in Thailand. A small town where only a handful of people speak very broken English. Forced to learn basic Thai in order to communicate, I encountered instances of awkward miscommunication. (Fun fact: Thai language utilizes five different tones. So sometimes, if you try to say “beautiful,” you may accidentally say “unlucky" because of a tonal error.)

At the beginning, each time I tried to speak Thai, I felt embarrassed. After ordering the wrong meal at a restaurant, after giving a taxi driver incorrect directions, after overpaying at the market, I wanted to give up. But I didn’t. Why? Because I couldn’t. It’s as simple as that. Unless I left Thailand, all the people around me would continue to speak Thai, and if I wanted to communicate with them, I would have to keep at it. For the first time in my life, despite feeling like a fool, I decided to keep trying. This simple decision, the decision to try, began to influence other aspects of my life.

When offered food, it was easier to just pop in my mouth than attempt to refuse politely. Suddenly I was trying everything, and I loved most of it!

When hanging out with Thai friends, I had to act things out and use crazy gestures in order to communicate. Despite the language barrier, I enjoyed some of the best conversations I’ve ever had.

When teaching, I had to improvise entire lessons and come up with games on the spot. Once, I even had to dance and sing on stage in front of six hundred students. Me, the person who had refused to sing karaoke!

These are all things I never would have done in the US, so why could I suddenly do them in Thailand? Because I had been placed in a situation that forced me to change, to evolve.

During those six months, a huge part of my carefully crafted personality disappeared. The desire to meticulously plan everything, the obsession with how others perceived me, the OCD urge to organize things… Poof! Gone.

During those six months, I also gained something—the courage to be myself. Now, I sing and laugh and dance without reservation. I try new things and sometimes I fail. Openly. Without worrying about whether or not I look like a fool. I try, and that’s the most important part.

Thailand taught me how to break down my self-imposed barriers, which is the greatest lesson I’ve learned in my life thus far. My advice? Put yourself in situations that force you to evolve. Don’t limit yourself. Break down your barriers.

 

Connect further with Liz:

Instagram   -   Facebook   -   LinkedIn

 

When I got to Thailand, I wanted to stay a year or more—I was planning on staying a year or more. Well, I left after six months because Thailand was hard for me; it didn’t end up being a place I believed I could thrive. Still, I accomplished so much while there. Thailand was an incredibly valuable learning experience for me. It was meeting all these amazing people and being inspired by them daily. It was immersing myself in a new culture and constantly being on the edge of my comfort zone. It was embracing the “mai bpen rai,” relaxed nature of Thai society and becoming a more all-around patient individual. It was teaching the cutest kindergartners in the whole world (though I’m probably biased given they were my students) and understanding that laughter and joy and love are the same in every language. It was becoming stronger and more confident in my direction in the world and fully recognizing that I am the sole proprietor of my well-being. Thailand was hard for me, yes…but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

 

Connect further with Britta:

Website   -   Instagram

 

Working and living in Thailand took me out of my comfort zone in the most intense and real way I could have asked for.  Sure, I might have moved cities, found a new job or gone to graduate school at home in the US to create change, but I wanted to be thrown into an entirely new situation and place and have even greater discomfort.  Thailand is pretty westernized, which made the transition easier, but it is still Southeast Asia and very different from anywhere I have lived before.  The culture shock I experienced taught me a variety of lessons, including how to have a good cry and then buckle up and deal with the situation at hand, while somehow maintaining my sanity.  I used to think I was a “go with the flow” person, easy-going, the low maintenance type; Thailand taught me what real letting go is.  I learned to accept what I cannot control and to enjoy the weird situations you find yourself in, even when you have no idea what is going on (a common occurrence).

I gained tremendous confidence.  As much as I knew I wanted to move abroad and travel, I was scared – what if I could not hack it?  What if the transition and culture shock were too much?  What if I hated teaching or didn’t make friends?  Sooner than I would have imagined, the fear gave way as I adjusted to living truly independently in this beautiful, foreign place.  I now know that I can not only handle big life transitions, but I usually thrive in them - turns out I can hack it after all.  I learned how kind complete strangers can be; my Thai friends at school accepted me into their lives and community with the most warmth and openness I have ever seen.

I also now know that if you crave something new and different in life, the risk is usually worth taking, if you have the courage.

 

Connect further with Sarah:

Website   -   Instagram   -   Facebook

 

Since arriving in Thailand in September, I have become a completely different person. The biggest way I’ve changed is the level of confidence I have in myself in every aspect of my life. Every day I live in the unknown and am thrown into situations that make me confused and uncomfortable. I am now accustomed to being a little uncomfortable and simply being okay with it, because I am confident in who I am as a person. Now I have no hesitation to go grab a beer by myself and make friends with locals or backpackers. I am confident that I can visit a country with no cell service and no knowledge of the local language, and I will be okay. I don’t even break a sweat when I find out I have to teach a last minute English class to thirty, six-year-olds with low English proficiency. I know that because I am able to live in a country whose culture and language is the complete opposite of my own that once I return home I will be able to overcome any obstacle that is thrown my way.

 

Connect further with Megan:

Instagram

 

___________________

 

I want to thank my amazing blog contributors today who shared such beautiful insights into their time in Thailand.

Please visit their links, because these were just snippets of the stories they have to share. And to you lovely readers I must ask:

 

How has living abroad changed you?

 

Have a great day,

xo Caylee

 

Three Life Lessons I Learned in Thailand

My six months of living and working in Thailand was one of the most fun experiences I've had in my entire life. And if you know me, you know that I go out of my way to have fun experiences. But it wasn't all laughs! Like any good traveler, I also learned many life lessons while on the road.

Some are no-brainers: Don't drink the tap water! Never assume people are driving on the correct side of the road! Don't watch when restaurants cook your food! Always assume that wild dogs are going to try and eat you! Never flush toilet paper! Set up a pigeon netting system! Please try and guess what that last one is about. 

Most other life lessons take time and experience to figure out. Here are three of my favorites that Thailand has taught me:

 

Random Acts of Kindness Go a Long Way

One thing that I appreciate about many of the Thai people I've met is that they don't do nice deeds for recognition or to earn extra friend points. They do it just to do it. They're helpful because it's the right thing to do. Example: the experiences with my figuratively (and literally) crappy motorbike...

At the beginning of our stay, Stefan and I bought a secondhand motorbike in order to have more freedom with getting around. We named it "the dinghy," because it sounded like a rusty boat propeller that was sputtering across town. With a name like that, it's no surprise that we kept having problems with our bike. The engine would shut off in the middle of traffic, the brakes were worn, and the lights flickered on and off while driving at night. We hit a low point after a long day of teaching when we walked up to our bike and found it with a fully deflated back tire. How could we have this much bad luck with it?! We decided to just ride the bus home instead and deal with the problem in the morning.

Miraculously, by the next day at school, without telling anyone about the tire or asking for help with it, we arrive to find our tire perfectly inflated and fixed. It was patched up and looking like brand new! But nobody was taking credit for the work. We actually had to put effort into finding the person at school who put their own time and effort into fixing our motorbike tire. What a sweet thing for that person to do, right?

That's not all. Somehow, we got even more bad luck. This time it rained down from the sky in a liquidy, poop package when a bird splattered its digested goodness all over our motorbike. Gross, I know. Stefan and I drove our tarnished bike to school and left it in the parking lot, waiting to clean it up after work. But then, yet another Thailand miracle! We get out of class to find our motorbike clean and poopless! Someone noticed our soiled bike and took it upon themselves to clean it up for us. Nobody left us a note or mentioned it in passing- we still don't know who this mystery poop cleaner is. Our guardian angel.

Who would do these kind deeds without a pat on the back or recognition of any sort? A Thai person, that's who. Overall, my experiences with the Thai people have shown them to be very kind, and I believe these lessons in selflessness should be brought back to my life in the United States. 

 

Acknowledge Your Fellow Human with Respect

Think of how most of us Millennials greet people in the Western world. I'm talking everyone- strangers, acquaintances, bosses, friends, and family. At most, we'll give a tight handshake and a crisp nod of recognition. At worst, we just ignore people. The more likely, middle ground scenario is a lazy half-wave or a casual, "Sup?"

One of my favorite parts of Thailand is the wai, a greeting where you place your palms together in a prayer-like position and bow in respect. Hand height is based on your position in society. The rule I was told is, "Fingertips at the mouth for teachers, as they gave you speech. Fingertips at the nose for parents and elders, as they gave you breath. Fingertips at the forehead for monks and monarchy, as they gave you wisdom."

Every person you meet in Thailand will wai you. As a teacher, I would walk through the halls and have countless students and their parents wai-ing me throughout my day. People will practically drop all of the bags in their hands, or even a toddler (I witnessed this once!), to wai each other. I don't speak Thai, and most people didn't speak English, but actions meant everything. After all, body language accounts for the majority of human communication.

Though it may not sound significant if you haven't experienced the wai, this cultural practice hits deep in your soul. I believe that everyone wants to feel acknowledged and respected. Seen. To give and receive a wai fills you with all of those feelings. So, I propose that we come up with a more meaningful way of greeting each other in the United States! We need to acknowledge one another more. We're all in this together, and everyone deserves to feel seen.

 

Children Can Be Responsible & Self-Sufficient

One of the most mind-blowing things I learned in Thailand was that children can be responsible for far more things than we in the United States give them credit for. I believe that our kids are babied too much in this strange culture of helicopter parenting. Children aren't allowed to do anything on their own, because parents are afraid they'll get hurt or kidnapped or morph from schoolgirl Britney Spears to python-draped Britney Spears. This is a real fear.

Here are several of the things I witnessed kids under the age of nine years old (!!!) doing, quite capably, all by themselves:

  • Chopping meat and vegetables with sharp knives
  • Frying their own lunch in a giant, sizzling wok
  • Neatly distributing lunch to their hungry classmates
  • Washing all of their own dishes in the sink
  • Sweeping and scrubbing classroom floors
  • Helping their handicapped peers with kindness

It was incredible to watch these kids do all of these activities with ease. When adults show them respect and allow them to take responsibility for the things in their lives, children gain confidence and learn to trust in their own abilities. They are truly capable of so much! Let's give our kids more credit, and let them grow up naturally. Even though I'm sure being an adult baby is a blast, I believe that Americans shouldn't still be learning to be self-sufficient at the ripe old age of thirty.

 

So, tell me: What are the biggest life lessons that you've learned while traveling? Please share in the comments below!

 

Hope you have a beautiful week,

xo Caylee

 

Why I Haven't Written

The last time I published a blog post was five long months ago.

Five months before this steamy December day in Thailand, I still lived in the just as steamy city of Miami. I was in a cozy, two bedroom apartment with a tennis court view. I coached from home every day, and Stefan was still an engineer. We were about to break the news to everyone that we were moving across the world to Southeast Asia in a couple months. We were ready to go on a giant summer tour of Europe. But none of it had happened yet. Five months ago, we were still planning and packing. Excited and terrified.

How can you mentally prepare yourself for changes so drastic? (You can’t.) Can you foresee what it will be like to live abroad? (Nope, it’s impossible.) No matter how hard we tried to imagine it, Thailand was still in the future, just waiting to happen.

However, now, Thailand is in the past, present, and future of my life. Stefan and I have resided in this gorgeous country for over two months now, and we’ll be here for at least four more. That brings me to why I haven’t written in all of these months, even though I’ve had enough to post about to last a lifetime.

I haven’t written because I was packing my life away and stowing it all at my mom’s house for the foreseeable future. I haven’t written because I’m afraid of flying and that fear consumes my thoughts before any traveling happens. I haven’t written because my plane landed back in Germany for the first time in a decade. It was the first time since my German host family and I gave each other tear soaked hugs goodbye and promised to visit one another very soon. Let me tell you, time flies by and then it’s ten years gone.

I haven’t written because I was wholeheartedly, madly consumed by Europe. So consumed, so wanting to be present, that I didn’t open my laptop for the entire five weeks I was there. I haven’t written because I was showing my mom around the country that I love. I haven’t written because my mother and I finally got to see the regions in Germany and France that our ancestors immigrated to America from. There’s a town near Munich that matches her maiden name: Freising.

I haven’t written because I witnessed the stormy blues and purples of the Swiss Alps in summertime with my own two eyes. I haven’t written because I walked alone through the fabled Black Forest of Germany as rain drizzled down between the dark tree branches and fog rolled in around me. I haven’t written because I stood within cavernous cathedrals that left me in awestruck silence. I haven’t written because I jogged up hundreds of cobblestone stairs in order to look out over the Rhine River Valley at sunset.

I haven’t written because I was obsessed by all of the old world history permeating through the walls around me. I haven’t written because I was drinking Riesling every night from the hillside vineyards that we passed through each day. I haven’t written because I saw natural beauty so intense that I cried. I haven’t written because I rode bicycles miles upon miles through each scenic town. Farmland, riversides, downtowns, parks, neighborhoods- I saw it all and felt the wind of each country against my face. How lucky am I to be alive?

I haven’t written because I saw all of Amsterdam by water, on a little boat with red wine and cheese. I haven’t written because Stefan and I were having nightly, deep conversations in cafes across Europe. I haven’t written because I was dragging my luggage from train to train, country to country- the windows a blur of bright green grass and wildflowers. I haven’t written because I was drinking pitchers of beer with Germans while feeling the warm summer sun on my cheeks.

I haven’t written because I was having the most fun I could ever imagine. I haven’t written because it felt like I’d never left Germany. I haven’t written because I was creating the happiest of memories with Stefan and my German host family as they met for the first time. I haven’t written because I felt whole again. Home again.

I haven’t written because I had to come back to America and pack for my next big trip. I haven’t written because I was saying goodbye to my Mom and Dad who I wouldn’t see again for at least half a year. I haven’t written because the time finally came to fly to Thailand. Who ever thought that this day would arrive after so many months of dreaming?

I haven’t written because the vibrancy of Thailand is mesmerizing. I haven’t written because I was washing elephants in a river and feeding them fresh watermelon. I haven’t written because I was visiting giant, golden temples and bowing to monks in their orange robes. I haven’t written because I was motorbiking through winding mountain roads and looking out over lush rice paddies. I haven’t written because I was meeting people who love the world outside of America just as much as I do.

I haven’t written because I finally started teaching English classes. I haven’t written because my kids are both adorable and exhausting. I haven’t written because I’ve been making Thai friends and exploring my little, riverside town called Nakhon Chai Si. I haven’t written because I enjoy going to Bangkok on weekends to experience the modern comforts of city life. I haven’t written because I love the Thai culture and don’t want to miss out on anything.

I haven’t written because I’m so in the moment. I haven’t written because I’m truly living.

 

So tell me- what would you love to see me write about in the upcoming months? Please let me know in the comments below, and I'll be sure to create a post on your topic of interest. :)

 

With love, Caylee


We Are Moving to Thailand! (+ How We Decided Where to Live)

After months of discussion and planning, Stefan quit his engineering job yesterday. I am so proud of him for taking a gigantic step towards this new lifestyle he wants to experience. What this means is the entire plan we've been conjuring up for months is actually happening. We're moving to Thailand! If you told us both two years ago that we'd be headed to Southeast Asia together, I'm pretty we would have laughed our butts off. Stefan?! Quit his comfortable job and move abroad? Hilarious.

But, amazingly, that is the place we're at today. Ready to explore the world, meet new people, and try our hand at a fresh life path. For the first six months in Thailand, we've committed to being English teachers, but we've left the time after that open to whatever feels right. I'm going to continue my marketing coaching on the side, and we're both going to explore more location-independent career options- work that we can do from anywhere in the world with just a computer and an internet connection. The exciting possibilities are endless. My mind is blown right now.

It all started this past winter when Stefan and I were discussing where we should move this summer. Our lease would be up, and we were both sick of the Miami hustle. Thinking that Stefan would want to stay in the United States, I made an entire PowerPoint to help us solve this dilemma of where our next home should be. I did extensive research on job opportunities, rent costs, and the general lifestyle of different cities. I spent hours creating a presentation for him that featured information on several places I thought he would enjoy most. The list included areas like Oregon, Colorado, DC, and Massachusetts. But at the end of it, he turned to me and said, "We're young and have no responsibilities holding us down. This is the perfect time to travel. Let's do something a little crazy."

I was never expecting an answer as surprising as this, but it's exactly what makes life with Stefan so interesting. Since it's no secret that I'm completely obsessed with traveling, this idea was music to my ears. It was settled. We were going to live abroad. Now we just had to get the ball rolling...

Originally, Stefan and I thought we were going to teach in South Korea. We got super pumped about that idea (delicious kimchi everyday!) until we found out that we'd have to be married to be guaranteed a teaching placement in the same city. That threw a wrench in our plans, so we had to consider other options. Though Stefan and I are engaged, we didn't want to rush a wedding this summer just so that we could teach in Korea together. So that's how we came across Thailand instead, since they don't have that rule.

As soon as I started researching Thailand, I knew I wanted to move there. Long-term, short-term, whatever... I just had to experience it. The natural beauty is breathtaking, the culture is fascinating, and the overwhelming response from Americans who live there is that the Thai people are incredibly kind and welcoming. Plus, everything is crazy cheap there. I'm sold. 

At the end of September, Stefan and I are moving to Chiang Mai (Google image search it!), a cultural hub in the beautiful, mountainous area of Northern Thailand. The first week that we're there, we'll be doing a cultural orientation with about fifty other English teachers. We'll also get to go on a few excursions such as to an elephant sanctuary and to one of the city's stunning Buddhist temples. Then, for three weeks, we'll take part in a full-time TEFL course (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) where we'll learn the fundamentals of being a great language teacher. After completion, we will be placed at a school where we'll teach for about 25 hours per week until March. Our school placement could be on one of Thailand's gorgeous tropical islands, in a rural mountain town, or in bustling Bangkok. We have no clue where the employment openings will be yet, but the unknown is part of the fun!

I don't know if we'll succeed or fail. I don't know if we'll love traveling long-term or hate it. I don't know if we'll enjoy teaching or not. I just don't know, and I'm not afraid to admit that. What I do know is that we're going on a grand adventure.together- one that we'll remember for the rest of our lives. One that we'll be proud of when we have dozens of thrilling stories to tell our future children.

During our hardships in Thailand, Stefan and I will have each other for love and support. And we'll make plenty of memories that will bring us joy and laughter. Along the way, we're going to learn many new skills and build friendships with other world travelers. We'll be open to where those opportunities bring us in the future. We purposely have no grand plan or expectations for the next few years. We're going to grow as individuals and as a couple while gaining new abilities as we travel along.

I can't wait to see where this experience takes us, and i hope you'll be here on Gutsy Girl Living to join along on the adventure. If living a travel-based lifestyle is something you're interested in, I hope we can be an inspiration and resource for you to buy that plane ticket and just get going. Let the excuses fall away. See you abroad!

 

If you could build up the courage to move anyplace in the world, where would you want to go? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Have a beautiful week,

Caylee