I'm a 29 year old New Yorker and I just finished my first term teaching English in Thailand. From the beginning of the adventure, and throughout, I noticed obvious changes in myself, differences in lifestyle and mood between living in New York and living abroad. Most of these changes were positive ones, and pretty soon my family and friends back home could even pick up on them. I was happier. I was different, in a good way. Having been abroad for 6 months, I am reflecting on my experiences and will try to put into words the ways I've grown. Here are 3 things I learned about myself since living and working abroad:
PEACE IN FLEXIBILITY - Through working as a teacher, I learned how to be flexible. For most of my life, I was very rigid with planning things, being organized, thorough, and efficient. Throughout my 20s, I learned that life doesn't go to plan and you can't control everything. It was a hard lesson to accept, and caused me to have anxiety and overthink things. I came to Thailand wanting to change my outlook and slow myself down, and I was able to accomplish that. What I didn't expect is how much being a teacher would teach me about myself. I had to practice more patience, resourcefulness, confidence, and poise than ever. I was able to adapt quickly based on the needs of my students and the lessons. I could trust my skills and my instincts. I realized there is no point spending time worrying, planning, thinking so far ahead, once you trust yourself to adapt to each moment. You can plan things, think them through, and expect an outcome, but life doesn't work that way. You have to not only adapt, but also be comfortable accepting the change. My experiences in Thailand have helped me do exactly that.
BEAUTY IN CURIOSITY - Through living as a traveller, I learned to be curious and grateful. I learned to stop and look at each interesting or beautiful thing that caught my eye or peaked my interest. I looked up. I observed people and animals. I saw everything there was to see. And it got me wondering, why don't I do this more at home? I needed to come to a new place, a new environment to be reminded to be in the present moment. Moving at a slower pace, I could take in moments more and realize how lucky I was to be having these experiences. It made me appreciate the things and people that I missed even more. It made me feel content with who I am and where I am in my life, prompting a new sense of self and a new way to look at the world.
STRENGTH IN INDEPENDENCE - As an individual, I learned that it's ok to go out on your own, do something unexpected, and to not feel guilty doing it. In a time when most of my friends are getting married and having babies, I was ready to do something new that was completely for me. I wanted to take a risk and move outside of my comfort zone, and refocus my life on myself. By leaving, I did exactly that. I could put all of my energy into teaching, making new friends, and learning a new culture. I kept in touch with people who wanted to keep in touch, despite technology fails and time differences. It showed me who is important. It showed me that real bonds exist no matter how often you see each other. It showed me that I had a path that could bring me happiness, although it's not the same as everyone else.
Living in a foreign country is not easy, especially when you don't speak the language. But you find ways to communicate, you think creatively and instinctively, and you realize you can rely on yourself and others to get through any situation. You meet people you wouldn't have otherwise met, you try foods you wouldn't have otherwise tried, you embrace a culture you never would've thought you'd experience. There are so many discoveries, big and small, that I am grateful for and have helped me find a joy I didn't know existed. For all of those reasons, I don't feel homesick often, I don't feel guilty that I'm being selfish; the joy softens the blow of missing out on moments and simply not being there.
I learned that leaving is hard, choosing to make a big change is hard, adapting to a foreign culture is hard, but saying yes to the adventure of a lifetime is the best thing you’ll ever do.
Going abroad has taught Stephanie about new things. She also experienced hardships in making decisions while she was abroad but the adventures she experienced was worth it.