A Key Necessity When Traveling Abroad: Grace
A critical quality that any world traveler can benefit from cultivating is having grace with yourself. What I mean by this is that offering yourself some compassion in the midst of change is vital to your emotional well being while traveling. When acquainting yourself with a new environment and culture, it can be a challenge to adjust to an unknown way of being (or driving… or eating), especially if there is a language barrier. Extending yourself the same compassion and patience that you would give to a newbie at the office, on the field, or in your neighborhood can help ease the pressure and lessen the stress that is inevitable during any transition period.
My fiance and I recently uprooted from our fast-paced corporate lives in northern Virginia and relocated to a small, rural town in northern Thailand. For the next 5 months, we will be teaching English to secondary students (middle school and high school) and Thai teachers, many of whom have farming backgrounds. As if this wasn’t a drastic change enough - did I mention that neither of us have any formal teaching experience (aside from teaching one-on-one in our corporate jobs back in the States) or that we don’t speak a lick of Thai?
There are many differences between my Thai life and my life back home. At home, I lived in a townhome with air conditioning, a 50+ inch tv, and a full kitchen with a Starbucks and a grocery store across the street. I could easily hop into my car and visit my friends and family, drive to the mall or the gym, and (mostly) knew my way around town. I could walk into any restaurant, read the menu, order my food, and feel confident that I would receive what I asked for. In my Thai life, none of these things are guaranteed. I am constantly unsure of myself...at the market, in the classroom, and driving around on my motorbike. Many times I am frustrated because everyday tasks are difficult and intimidating. Ordering dinner from a completely Thai menu is tough. Learning how to ride a motorcycle when you’ve never done it before is tough. Doing laundry in a machine that has a separate washer and spinner is tough. Trying to meet your own expectations as an English teacher, when you’ve never taught before and you’re teaching second semester seniors is tough.
But in these situations, I choose to give myself grace. I choose to perceive my challenges as growth opportunities (or eventually talk myself into perceiving them that way). I choose to remember why I signed on for this experience and how I hope to change the lives of the people I meet and how I hope they change mine. I choose to count my blessings and silently name all of the people and things I am grateful for. I choose to be a loving partner and teacher and suck up my pride and ask for help when I need it. I choose to laugh with my coworkers and embrace the Mai Pen Rai style of Thai life. I choose to remember that it is an honor of a lifetime to teach these incredible minds and be embraced so wholeheartedly by a new Thai family. I choose to extend the same tenderness I would extend to you, to myself. And while I am often times uncomfortable, I can’t deny that I am also consistently awestruck by the beauty of Thailand, blown away by the generosity and warmth of the Thai people (who have gone out of their way to make us feel at home), and surprised at my ability to try and try different and try better and try again.