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:
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:
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:
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:
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,