The other day my friend and I had the pleasure of getting “lost” on Doi Suthep. We tried to follow a new hiking book about the trails of CM’s famous mountain. The day before we stumbled upon carnival games at Huey Tung Tao. We’ve been shopping, cooking, watching Firefly and living the kind of life that most folks think we are having here in Thailand.
Of course, we are on Songkran (the Thai New Year) holiday. Normally we work, just like everyone else.
Without the distraction of hating my job, or wishing I was doing something else, I feel like I’ve been able to focus on myself. Back in my passport country I felt like I was struggling to figure out where I belonged and what I wanted to do and how to make a living. As an expat, those struggles are still there, I mean, I think they’re part of life, but because I live in a foreign country, I feel I’m able to focus more on my inner development or process.
This is important to me. I’m not here to float about from place to place like some sort of a ghost, half subsisting on life (or wishing I was human, 555). Ahem. I’m here to throw my arms wide and rejoice because it’s a new day and I get another chance to figure some stuff out. Hopefully experience something new, make someone laugh and do all those sexy things we humans can experience that apparently angels look down and envy us for.
Whenever you are taken out of your element, there is potential to grow or see life differently. I’m thinking of changing schools when you were a kid or moving to a different town or changing jobs. So it makes sense that changing cultures or countries would have a similar effect.
When you change schools, you inevitably compare what you had and what you are having now. The same goes with a job, and you begin to cogitate on what is important to you – a hands-off boss, witty coworkers, great benefits, an office with a view, whatever. Maybe you are nostalgic or maybe you are so blissfully happy about the change, the past feels as old as dust.
I had less to lose or less invested in the US, so I think this helped me successfully transition abroad. I think this is why recent college graduates, retirees and my generation, Generation X do well too. It’s a wild west feeling, a stamping out new territory and staking claim, and while air travel these days is as comfortable as a covered wagon, whenever your eyes rest upon a new place, it notices more.
I think when you are an expat, you watch or observe how things operate and move more often. Even in survival mode, you have to pay attention otherwise you are doomed to do something culturally wrong. Or you are brought to the point where you have to ask for help. And this is not a bad thing, these are moments in humility where you don’t pretend to know everything like you do back home.
Living away from my passport country because I don’t understand it, is certainly a good reason why I don’t live there but I don’t understand Thailand either. I’ve moved enough around the US to see my surroundings with new eyes but after mapping out where to shop, there are little challenges or surprises. Here, I feel like whenever you start to think, I got this Thai language thingy, I can drive like a pro, the Internet hasn’t gone down in days, the cats are behaving, WHAMO!, you’re screwed, driver!
And I’m not talking about just the bad stuff either. When you don’t know what to expect, the unexpected says, Hello! and if you’re in Thailand, and then some.