Friday, May 22, 2015

Thailand: The Whole Truth

The post below was written a little over 2 years ago, after moving from Michigan down to South Carolina. At the time, I was still searching for employment and I wrote this as a reflection of my experience working/living in Thailand in 2012. I shared it with some of my friends and family back then, but the whole experience was pretty personal and I was still trying to wrap my head around the deeper reality (the story within the story) of our time in Thailand. Here I am--years later--still looking back on Thailand and how that experience shaped me. Having had the opportunity to both live abroad and travel for pleasure, I can differentiate between the two experiences and how I have been impacted by each. Both are absolutely amazing, priceless experiences...but one challenges you in ways the other does not. It changes you. The travel, the adventure, the wild beauty, the exotic flavors, the absurdity which I found amusing--all of that was easy to love. Highlights such as jumping off of rock cliffs into the ocean, venturing through the jungle, elephant-riding, longtail boat rides, exploring ancient temples and jumping fire ropes on the beach to dubstep music. I wouldn't even trade the burn scar on my ankle or the broken tail bone that still bothers me to this day! It was all worth it. However, those experiences directly related to working as English teachers--that was an entirely different side of the coin. Corruption, depravity, immorality. They say Thailand is a land of contrasts and I would have to agree. While there was constant curiosity and amazement--there was also disappointment and disgust. It took a while after returning to the U.S. for me to try and process everything in a way where I knew how to answer everyone's questions. Actually, I don't know if that has changed, entirely. I suppose it has always depended on the audience. As much as I enjoy writing, it's somewhat hard to put all of it into words. What I wrote 2 years ago is still aligned with how I feel now, but almost 3 years later, I can say I have gained additional perspective on the whole picture. Perspective that only time and space could provide...and I'm sure will still continue to do so. Despite all of the ugliness which occurred as far as our work life went, I truly do look back on my experience in Thailand as an unforgettable one. In many ways, due to the difficulties I underwent. I carry it with me and it is permanently rooted at the very core of me. I suppose I am sharing this now because this chapter of my life was so integral to developing who I am and I was forever changed by it. For the better. I am so grateful for all of the disappointments and shortcomings Stephen and I faced after graduating college because I now realize it led us to seek out an out-of-this-world experience we never could have anticipated. It is such an incredibly strange feeling to realize it was 3 years ago and how much has happened since then. We all have to make decisions in life and sometimes we wake up one day and realize where we are and how we got there and just think to ourselves "Life is fleeting and what a ride it is." Almost makes me wanna get lost again... ;)

February 20, 2013

Today has begun like most days: Drowsily kiss Stephen goodbye for work, wake up at 8:00, shower, let Neela out, eat breakfast and hop on to my computer to check for any responses from jobs I've applied to. I've been doing this routine a little over a month, having recently moved from Michigan down to South Carolina. It's still early and I have the whole day ahead of me, so aimlessly I log on to Facebook...
I scroll through my news feed and something from the OEG/CIEE Teach in Thailand May 2012 group catches my attention. "Any advice regarding shipping luggage home?" "Who has been to Laos from Cambodia (Phnom Penh) to Laos (Vientiane)?" or "...if your kids like to 'singasong' like my kids do, I highly recommend you finish off the year with the Vitamin C's 'Graduation'. It's got the perfect mix of Thai pop sentimentality and slow enough lyrics to sing and understand in one class. Hope everyone's having a great few final weeks!" Most of the time, I quickly scroll past these kinds of posts for fear of facing the mixed emotions I experience when I allow myself to read them and the memories of living and working in Thailand begin to flood back in. I feel this pressure pushing down on my chest as though I've forgotten something and it's half way across the world.
Like a wave, I am letting it all rush over me, now. It's pushing from my insides out, begging to be released.
As I write this, gathering my thoughts and emotions, I am not entirely sure of whether it is meant for you or for myself. There is simply so much that I have not tried or been able to express about what happened in Thailand. What is still happening to me, 6 months after finishing teaching at Anuban Khon Kaen School. Just hearing or writing that name sends pangs of panic and a wave of confusion through me. Why?

I don't know where to begin.

Stephen and I left Khon Kaen on a bus at 4:00 in the morning on Saturday September 1, 2012. We were headed to Siem Reap, Cambodia, and we felt like we were pulling off a big heist. With our 2 large pieces of luggage stored safely away in Khon Kaen with our one trusted co-worker, we made off in a taxi in the middle of the night with the least we could get away with, packed in two backpacks. It felt like a major transition, leaving our "coming-to-teach-in-Thailand-for-a-year-luggage" and replacing it with our "carefree adventure packs". To calm our nerves, I remember joking with Stephen about how we were making "The Great Escape". 

We didn't want to leave Anuban this way. We had been feeling for months that our hearts weren't in it, but the dysfunction at Anuban was beyond our experience. We wanted to do the right thing. We wanted to tell them. To warn them. To explain to them that we were unhappy and that we no longer wished to teach. This, in itself, was hard to face because we didn't want to be quitters. We had prepared for this opportunity for so long and desperately wanted to make the most of it and live up to the expectations we had given ourselves. But it wasn't that simple. You may not understand, but it wasn't that we just didn't want to do it because it was hard work. There was so much more behind our decision. I felt like we were supporting a system full of liars, cheats and thieves. The majority of the Thai teachers were in full acceptance with the corruption that was their school system. I say "majority" because it is unfair to generalize and say that every Thai teacher operated this way. But on the whole, this was our experience with the Thai teachers at Anuban: They manipulated the schedule so that foreign teachers (us westerners) taught anywhere from 16 to 20-some classroom hours a week, while they were expected to show up for around 6 classes. Even then, there were teachers who would decide they would rather do something else and put their Thai assistant to the task. Countless "meetings" were going on in one of the two staff rooms (often during their class hours), where Thai teachers would simply chat and gossip about the foreign teachers, devising plans which further separated our kinds. Kids who excitedly joined school competitions didn't know what they were getting into and soon found themselves practiced day in and day out by their Thai teachers and often taken out of their courses, making them fall behind. The trophies they won were kept by their teachers, instead of sitting on their shelves at home in their bedrooms. Money was always changing hands in the back of the classroom among the Thai teachers. They treated their assistants like dogs and made them do all the dirty work which half of the time should fall upon themselves. Thai teachers allowed more students than a small classroom can comfortably hold (or a new western teacher handle, for that matter) all for money. They even took a portion of our salary every month. Students who fail exams or even an entire class are given passing grades, resulting in an unbalanced dynamic in the classroom and stunted educational growth. What bothered me first and foremost, was that it became quite clear that more important than the children learning was the money and perceived fame of the school. To the Thai, all that's gold does, indeed, glitter.

Before leaving for Thailand, when I talked to people who had taught there before, I was told Thai people are so friendly, generous and welcoming. That they will share their culture with you and be your second family. Why couldn't mine and Stephen's experience have been that way?

I got pneumonia which lasted over 2 weeks because I had thought I was just reacting to the extreme dust and pollution of the city and therefore didn't go to the doctor's until about a week in. This sickness caused me to miss about 5 teaching days and instead of my Thai teachers being there for me as second mothers, one of them actually started spreading rumors about me throughout the school that I didn't want to teach and was lazy. The day I came back after being sick, she decided to take the first opportunity she had and inform me of all the things I was doing wrong in the classroom and how every break I am not teaching I had to stay in the classroom with her to grade and observe her teach (which I did not do because concentration grading in a Thai classroom is not possible and no other teacher at Anuban was held to this standard). I found out after leaving Anuban that she actually tried to replace me because my absence had apparently put her in a position where she actually had to show up for class instead of leaving the school to shop and get her hair done to her heart's desire. They even tried to go into my bank account and take money back for days I had missed (mind you, we were allotted 15 sick days). Stephen's teacher far surpassed mine, acting as a tyrant over her class, instilling her students with fear and forcing superiority over her co-workers. On our last day at Anuban, Stephen's teacher scolded Stephen for having monotonous lesson plans, which perfectly prompted Stephen's reply, "Oh, like what you did this past hour?" pointing at the whiteboard  covered from top left corner to bottom right corner in Thai symbols, which the students spent the entire hour copying into their notebooks. Can you sense my bitterness?

Yes, I know I was not working in America and therefore should not expect things to be run the way I am used to. Believe me, there were many things Stephen and I became accustomed to dealing with on a daily basis at Anuban, which in any western culture would be considered unlawful or unjust. It was the sheer disregard or disinterest (I don't know which) for genuine care and friendship which existed between the Thai teachers and the western teachers which ultimately drove us away. You could feel their hate despite their fake smiles and "We are a family" front. Corruption does indeed exist to at least some degree in all of Thailand's school system--but Anuban was an exception. I truly believe that the world in which Stephen and I entered was much unlike that of the journey other western young adults have made when choosing to pick up their lives and take it to Thailand. I know this because I see proof of it every day. On Facebook, there are countless posts of happiness and fulfillment emanating from Teach in Thailand-ers. Right now is about when Stephen and I would have been finishing our school year, had we finished our contract. I can tell, because everyone's posts look like this: "I am so happy here. I miss my family and friends back home, but I am so happy I made the choice to come to Thailand. This has been a whirlwind of a year and I wouldn't trade it for the world!" or even "I am not ready to come back home, I have become so close to my Thai friends here that I feel like they're my second family! I've decided to stay and teach for another year!" and things to that end. Around Thanksgiving time, "My Thai family made a "Thanksgiving meal" for me and it made me feel so at home!" Even our friends, Kyle and Gannett, who suggested the idea of teaching in Thailand in the first place, have been having the time of their lives in the northeast of Thailand right now. The teaching has been their favorite part. {UPDATE: Interestingly enough, not long after I wrote this, they actually left Isaan--the northeast of Thailand--for many of the same reasons Stephen and I left our school.} There are countless examples of these experiences and although at first they make me angry and envious, I am happy for these people. But it leaves me with a sense of loss. I feel like I've lost something but I never had it from the start.

So as for these posts from Thailand popping up on my Facebook daily...I can't seem to detach myself from that world. I contemplated deleting myself from the group and deleting some of the friends I had added on from the May group, as well. But, the reality is, I don't think I want to. Although they are a source of remorse and confusion, they are also a source of nostalgia. I may not have had the experience that these people had--or even the one I came for--but it was still a life-changing, amazing experience. I wish that we could have stayed longer, sometimes, but continuing to teach was just a sacrifice we weren't willing to make. We decided on a quality time instead of a quantity of time. And maybe that's not so bad...we came home 6 months or so earlier than we intended, but now look where we are. Stephen got a job with BMW, which he has been trying to do since college. We are living in a beautiful place we instantly fell in love with. We have each other, new friends, a fun city with plenty to do for people our age, the mountains, the sunshine...and a beautiful puppy we love! Life has really turned out so well. Maybe this was how things were supposed to turn out for Stephen and I, we just didn't know it. Still, the feeling of being young and "lost abroad" has an allure and for the time we experienced it, it was really something.

I see pictures of Khon Kaen and us teaching and my feelings are so conflicted. I feel like it happened a lifetime ago. Or that it never happened at all. It wasn't me that walked across the dirty street on a week night in my billowy chang pants (it's a Thai thing) to pick up 20 baht noodle soup from noodle lady. It wasn't me in front of 2 sets of almost 40-student Thai classrooms, teaching the proper use of "do" and "does", acting as a leader for the first time in my life. It wasn't mine and Stephen's past-time to eat 10 baht ice cream during our lunch period for a pick-me-up to get through the stressful, tiring day. We weren't the couple that spent countless hours after school debating on what to do with our situation, my eyes full of tears and our relationships' strength being tested like never before. But it was. And yet it seems so far away. 
It was the most challenging time in my life and I really, truly tried my best. I believe that we ended when we did because we were unhappy and we didn't believe in our cause anymore. Not because we didn't care. Not because we would rather just travel and have fun over working hard and earning money. After all, we saved enough money teaching to travel Cambodia, Thailand, Germany, Austria and The Czech Republic for a total of almost 2 months! And for that being on a Thai teacher's salary of 33,000 baht a month, or $1,100 (plus we utilized our thriftiness), I feel like we really did make the most of our situation, given the circumstances. The traveling part of our lives abroad was easy to love. Thailand included--even the hard, frustrating parts like getting lost, figuring out transportation or miscommunicating with locals I can still look back upon fondly. Living and working in Khon Kaen was a whole different story. That was incredibly real and was life in full force, but yet it still seems like a dream.

The only western teacher we worked with at Anuban whom we trusted and who wasn't caught up in the game of Anuban's web of lies was an older, British man named {name removed}. He highly suggested we didn't notify the school of our intention to quit. He told us horror stories of past teachers who had done the same and how Anuban had treated them so poorly and had gone into their bank accounts and taken back their money. Thursday August 30, 2012, we packed up our lives which filled a tiny apartment we had lived in for 4 months and on the next day, we left after 5th period (separately) and met at the bank, where we each took out all of our money and closed our bank accounts. We were terrified of being found out and I remember feeling my cheeks pulse red hot and my already sweaty body (that's Thailand) shaking with nerves as I went up to the bank counter. We were about to change everything and we were in a foreign country where the rules we knew back home do not apply. It was scary, but it was also kind of thrilling.

Today I caught up with a friend who lived and worked with her boyfriend just a province away from Khon Kaen and had gone through a very similar experience with her school and decided to cut her contract early, as well. It felt so nice to share our experiences again and empathize with one another. The four of us used to hang out on the weekends and even met up in Cambodia, after Stephen and I quit Anuban. I remember the first thing we did when we arrived in Siem Reap was drinking a beer by the pool with them at our hotel, empathizing with one another on the shitty placements CIEE had given us and relaxing in the wake of our new-found freedom. Sometimes it feels like we are the only people who can understand what it was like over there. Writing about all of this and facing my experience for the reality that it was already makes Thailand and my time there feel real and a part of me again. I find great comfort in this. 

I suppose anyone who has an experience abroad which they look back upon will always feel like they didn't have enough time. They wish they could have stayed longer. Held off on reality and lived in the carefree, amazing in-between of being in another world. Life can sometimes seem so much clearer and in your face when you're experiencing it in such a way. When we live our American daily lives; working a job, saving money, planning, etc., we can sometimes lose sight of the vast and diverse glory that is our world around us. You see, I don't want to forget. I don't want to hold this part of me as some kind of secret or remorseful memory. I want to carry it with me comfortably as a valuable piece of my history, without holding back or telling half-truths. Also, holding on to the way I felt traveling can sometimes make my life here seem lacking. But I know that isn't true. I love my life here in South Carolina and I choose to believe that there are more adventures abroad ahead of us. They will never be able to compare to that place in time when Stephen and I were just out of college. Other responsibilities will prevent our being able to replicate an experience like that. But I think that's what makes it so special. The best thing I can do is to appreciate it for what it was. I can't compare it to other people who taught in Thailand--because they didn't have the same experience we did. I have been thinking for so long how I missed out on the experience they had...but what I haven't been able to see is how they didn't have the experience we did. And ours really was quite unique. To worry about "what if" or "what could have happened" if we were handed an experience mirroring that of the majority of those who have taught or are teaching in Thailand is useless, I now realize. Maybe we are lucky on some other level for being given an experience which was adverse from the norm. Life is full of decisions and they are not all clear-cut, black and white, "right" and "wrong" decisions. Sometimes they are just what you make of them. 

Here's a thought: We could have never went at all...and that would have been the real loss.

Monday, December 15, 2014


So I did that thing many of us do where they start a blog before a huge adventure and then once they find themselves back in a more common life routine...fall out of the habit of writing. Forgetting to look for inspiration. The past 2 years here in South Carolina have been amazing. I may not be journeying through Asia like I was in 2012 when this blog was active...but the adventure still lives on with Stephen and I.

A few things:

1. In May 2013, after deciding to get a puppy, we moved from our townhouse in Greenville to rent a 1941 farmhouse in Greer, closer to the BMW plant, where Stephen works.

2. Here, we delighted in walks to our local downtown haunts, consisting of beer and wings at Wild Ace's on Wednesday nights and live bands (need I say more?) at Rhythm and Brews on Friday nights. We practiced our green thumbs by growing a vegetable garden, cooked over bonfires and enjoyed the peaceful tranquility and privacy provided by living on an acre of land surrounded by mature trees.
3. **EDIT** We got chickens. How could I forget the chickens...?

4. We cruised the Caribbean 2 summers ago.
5. I got a job doing ABA Line Therapy with autistic kids.
6. We got married on a mountain and honeymooned in Europe for 3 weeks this past summer, followed by an amazingly fun reception with our family and friends in Michigan thereafter.
7. I got a second job, working as an Admin. with an engineering company.
8. Now--this Friday--we are closing on our first home. After long deliberation, these two wanderers decided it was time to put down some roots. We also decided to much as we love living in our farmhouse--it's too big for just the two of us. We are moving back to Greenville, where our house and our yard will be smaller, our neighbors will be closer--but we'll be just a little over a mile's walk from the lovely, energetic city. Closer to our friends and people our age, in general. I look forward to making our new house a home. {pictures to come...}
So when you go almost 2 years without updating your blog, a lot can happen...I have multiple unfinished drafts which I wrote within that time just waiting to be thought through and completed...just haven't focused my energy on writing in a while. I'll try not to wait 2 years before the next one. ;)


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Realizations of a Reformed Non-Morning Person

At my worst, the summer of freshman year of High School I was known for not rising out of bed until 2 in the afternoon. Countless times I would stay up into the wee hours of the night (or morning, I shall say--sometimes 5 a.m.). I remember being shaken and woken up once by a friend, saying "Come on! Get out of bed! Let's go to the beach! It's 2:30!" Living in Michigan, where you're lucky to have 3 months of the year in sunshine-y, blue sky weather...this was not the best life choice. Yet...I was a teenager.

I'm told this has always been my way, though. My mom has always teased me for my resistance to being a "Morning Person" with constant reminders to the story of my birth. "You cried for the minute when you came out--and then directly fell right to sleep!" I'm told that I spent most of the first year of my life sleeping, leaving my mom to miss my smiley face for a good portion of the day.

Since that summer in High School, my adherence to a schedule and acceptance of a proper bedtime progressed. I have always put my all into the things I do--whether it be school or work--so I never let the night owl in me keep me from my personal goals and success. However, I do remember one too many nights in my early years of college, staying up till 3 a.m., before an 8:00 a.m. Psychology class. I always figured, "Live now! I can always sleep later." I wouldn't allow the monotony of a strict schedule get in the way of my spontaneity and fun. I skipped breakfast almost every morning to make up for the lack of sleep I was alotting myself. I tipped the scales as far as I could sometimes, to the point where I was a barely-functioning, coffee-without-breakfast, wobbly shell of an Alison. Sitting in class, helping customers at work, doing my homework...some days I was functioning at about 60%.

Nearing the end of my college years, my habits began to mature. Yogurt or a protein shake became my go-to breakfast. I wasn't going to give into this whole 'early riser' lifestyle, but I would utilize a few tricks to improve the art.

Stephen, being the Early Bird that he is, sometimes found fault with my ways. He is most at ease when he has consistency in his daily routine: meals, sleep, errands, etc. In Thailand, when we first experienced living and working together, we learned how to work with one another's routines. There was compromise from both ends (to be honest, mainly mine--but I think the push was necessary) and I think we collaborated well. Having an influence like Stephen to hold myself accountable to really helped me learn the benefits and joys of having a steady routine.

Everyone functions differently and I think that although I've spent most of my years fighting consistency and strict guidelines, I do believe there is room for change and growth. However...I would not say that I am now a member of the Morning People's Club. Still. Thought you could change me, huh?!

I still delight in the spontaneous pleasures of a late-night, unplanned, uninhibited, forget-about-tomorrow-live-now kind of experience. I like lazily laying in bed on a Sunday morning, reading (nowadays, sleeping in is more like 10 a.m.). I like not knowing what I'm going to have for dinner. I sometimes make last-minute decisions. I like getting lost in the moment and losing all sense of time. I like to allow myself to be immature sometimes. I like having options.

But working 8:30-5:30 everyday and going to bed between 10 and 11 each night, I've found myself feeling refreshed and on top of my game. Consistently. After growing accustomed to daily variances for so long, it's actually kind of weird. I'm sure that finally having a work schedule has benefited this, but I really do feel much more clear-headed and content. I like waking up and feeling rested. Breathing in the fresh, misty morning air when walking out to my car. Having a whole day ahead of me, full of opportunities! Having limited time in a day actually makes you make the time for the things you love.

Although my "go with the flow" attitude and tendency to ignore the concept of time can be disorienting for Stephen, I think he still loves me. It's good to have different types of personalities and Stephen and I can learn more from one another, this way. I get back on track and enjoy feeling refreshed, while he learns to loosen up from time to time.

It's funny the things that become important as you grow older. Before, it was video games at 2 a.m., now, it's "How do my partner and I harmoniously blend our schedules to be most rested, productive and happy?" There is still more to perfect in this venture, given our differing work hours, but we're definitely onto something.

{i.e. Purchase reading lamp to assist in bedtime reading so as to not keep Stephen awake. Noted.}

Life has silently slipped into a domestic picture, but we are still the adventurers who traversed the wild, untamed spaces of Thailand, long-tail boating and tuk tuk-ing with a farang's grace. The daily grind has the tendency to wear on both Stephen and I...

Wake up. Go to work. Come home. Do errands. Check bills. Make phone calls to friends/family. Maybe time for one activity. Go to sleep. Rinse. Repeat.

"Why can't there be more time in a day?"

It can feel like a constant momentum is propeling you forward each day (sometimes the mind not catching up with the body entirely), leading you somewhere you aren't exactly sure of, but it all has a purpose. I believe there are some incredible things to come in our future. And there are always opportunities for adventure just around the corner, when we feel we need to cash in. Although I miss the freedom and unexpected occurences of traveling the world, I am grateful to have a place to call home. Bedtimes, working hours, grocery shopping and all.

Don't worry, we haven't forgotten how to have fun.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Search: for a Job...or Contentedness?

It's no mystery that life can be--indeed--a mystery. One minute you think that you have all your ducks in a row and are as happy as a clam (getting all of the clichés out of the way) and the next you feel lost, unfocused and suddenly your life doesn't make so much sense anymore.

The life of an unemployed person goes through cycles of these conflicting emotions. Before graduating, aside from the occasional summers through High School and college where I enjoyed unencumbered, sun-splashed freedom, I have been kept busy by at least some sort of job. It wasn't until I graduated from college that my life has taken a turn into what can sometimes feel like a vague, ambiguous chasm of "the unknown". I spent a few months directly after graduation, floating around...trying to find a destination outside of Michigan where Stephen and I could make our new home. Philly, Charleston, San Diego. Desired locations dotted themselves across a map of the U.S.. But when this out-of-state job search turned us sour, we decided to set our sights on something we knew we could make happen. Now. We traveled to Asia, where we taught English to Thai children. Then, we kept up our world traveler's momentum and continued to travel for about 2 months on a budget. And man...did we make the most of it. When we left for Thailand at the end of April of last year, I looked ahead to the point in time in the future when I would be flying back home to the U.S. I didn't feel quite like I thought I would. I didn't have all the answers. On the flight from Prague to Chicago, Stephen and I still found ourselves at a loss for a clear, concrete answer to the question: "What is our plan now?" We didn't want to return to the same fruitless job search we had left behind. But I was determined to take my newfound confidence from being away and turn it into something amazing. I coaxed Stephen's worries with "We'll figure it out!" "One thing leads to another." and "We deserve a great opportunity." All the while, a small--but still present--part of me needed to be told those words. But karma had finally come around (or as I look at it, God had answered our prayers), only when Stephen and I were feeling all too "at home" (literally, living with our parents) and at our limit, about a month into being back in Michigan...Stephen got a call from a recruiter for an interview with BMW down in Greer, South Carolina. The rest is history. A little over a month from that phone call, I was joining Stephen down in beautiful Greenville, SC.

Before I finished my degree in Psychology, my mindset about life "after" was much simpler and positive: "It's about the journey, not the destination." But now that I've been back in the position of unemployment for about 4 months, since returning to America (2, since rerouting my job search)...that "light at the end of the tunnel" isn't always as easy to see shining in the distance.

I haven't been blessed with this special gene that some of you posess where one day, you say to yourself "I want to be a lawyer." or "I want to be a marine biologist." and you throw yourself into your studies, hell-bent on that dream and when reaching it, feel accomplished and satisfied. This sounds pretty unrealistic, now that I write it down. I can't say I know many people whose lives have panned out like that. So, why am I making myself feel like a failure?

The truth is, I have a lot of passions, but still have yet to figure out how to turn one (or a few) of them into a money-making endeavor. Heard this one before? I'm not the only person who has found themselves in this dilemma. I went into Psychology because I found it interesting to learn about the way the mind works. I like figuring out how to better understand people, communicate effectively and help others. Also, both my mom and my sister majored in Psychology so it kind of runs in the family. However, even through my studies I started to hear negative connotations attached to Psych. majors. How everyone who doesn't know what they want to do, gets a Bachelor's in Psychology. Well, it's not entirely far from the truth. Also, when I pictured some of the key "Psych. jobs", I couldn't really see myself in those positions. All of this started to make me rethink my major. If not Psych., then what?

I have always been overly cautious and pensive in my decision-making. My mom once told me that even as a child, I would carefully walk from one piece of furniture to the next, using my hands for support. While my older sister went straight from crawling to running--skipping the walking process entirely. No wonder it took me 2 months of being here to finally sign up for yoga and volunteer work for the Greenville Humane Society. Just like with everything else in my life (relationships, friendships, a new job, a new place), it takes me some time to warm up to something new before I feel comfortable enough to extend my roots.

I think I'm beginning to realize a few things. First, I need to stop dwelling on the things that I don't have in my life, but instead celebrate those things that I do. Second, I need to stop second-guessing myself. Third, I need to stop being so hard on myself. I have set up standards for myself which are unrealistic to reach and will only leave me feeling as though I fall short. Life is about the journey and not the destination.

Focusing on the things we don't have versus the things we do is an existential crisis which plagues more than just myself. It is obviously such a futile aim and if it weren't so characteristic of our human nature, I would question myself why it is so natural and almost instinctual to do. Regardless of its pestering persistence, I want to learn how to become more content in my life. I truly do appreciate the things I have and know that I am blessed. How about focusing on the fact that I have always had an affinity for the mountains and now, finally, am living near the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains? How about the fact that I tire from the all-too-familiar gray skies and snow of Michigan and now live in sunny South Carolina? How about the fact that I have an amazing boyfriend who loves and supports me in all that I do? How about the new friends I've made? Or the sweetest (and littlest) friend I've made in my beautiful puppy, Neela? Or the new places to explore all around me? But yet it seems all too easy to forget those things when there is that one little (or big) thing we haven't acquired in our lives!

I am not a materialistic person. I don't need a lot of things in my life to be happy. I find pleasure in some of the simplest things, in fact: sunshine on my nose and shoulders, a warm cup of tea on a rainy day, laughter, Stephen's silly dance moves, a good book, the smell of a campfire, children's imagination, being outdoors, the way Neela greets Stephen and I when we come home (whether it be for the day or for 5 minutes). But with this one thing {a job}... I tend to get distracted from my happiness because I feel as though people will not see me as successful without it. I just want my family and friends to be proud of me. I want to reach my potential. And let's be honest...without a consistent schedule, it can be really hard to stay productive. Sometimes I wish I just lived somewhere far from society's grasp so I could much more easily relish those things that really matter.

But right now, as you can see...good things can come from less than "ideal" (hence the theme of "idealism") circumstances. I just started a temp. job yesterday with a marketing company as a receptionist. It's not what I want to do with my life (I'm staring at a computer screen for 8 hours a day), but it's a start. Hey, it's getting me to write. So that's something. :) I also got a call today to come in for an interview with a elderly caregiving company which I'm looking forward to.

I really shouldn't let the fact that I don't have all the answers make me feel less than. I know that I'm smart, capable, passionate and driven. It's just hard to feel that way when you get these kind of questions: "What do you plan on doing with your Psych. major?" "What kind of job are you looking for?" "Have you found any positions you're interested in?" "What do you see yourself doing in the next 5 years?"

Can't it be acceptable to just say "I am eager to see what God has in store for me."?

For me, yes it is. As long as I can block out all of the expectations and worrying about what others may think of me and treasure the life that I have and make the most of it...then yes.

Oh, growing up.

"Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life." - Mark Twain
"We need much less than we think we need." - Maya Angelou
"He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have." - Socrates
"It isn't what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it." - Dale Carnegie

Sunday, November 18, 2012


I haven't even been here for a month and I'm already in a different world.

From the minute we stepped off the plane into Europe, we considered what we would do with our lives when we got "back to reality". No, we talked about that from day one. Before we ever left for Thailand, we wanted to cover our bases on the matter of what we need to do with our "real lives" when we returned back to the United States. There are so many things expected of us: Two college grads. Intelligent. Audacious. Full of potential. We can't just float off onto another side of the world without any regard for what comes after, right? Well, I'm still trying to figure that one out. What does, in fact, come after?

If the purpose of my leaving was to witness all of the challenges, excitement and enlightenment that comes with experiencing a new way of looking at and living within the do I embrace this new life? Where do I find purpose? What drives me? I am more than I was before this. I believe that and know that for certain. I have come more into my own and I know myself better. But now, when I look at my options, I find myself feeling stuck. Isn't that funny? Walking along the streets of any town in a country I do not belong to feels more comforting than lying in my bed in the house I grew up in. That sense of opportunity...of rebirth. Like anything from the past which changed you in a way you can't take back is somehow unimportant and you have the chance to start life as though you've just started living it. How can a person not possibly desire that feeling?

I look back at photos from a time I know to be difficult and foreign from my understanding...and I somehow want some part of it back. I'll clarify: I don't want to teach again. I would never take that time in my life back, but I have gained as much as I needed/wanted from that experience. I don't want to pretend, like so many, that my life was so fabulous that all I had to fucking do was throw on a cartoon (take Mr. Bean) for my kids and day-dream about my next jaunt to my weekend island destination. That was not my reality as a teacher in Thailand. I don't want to live as a nomad, either, roaming from place to place, with no sense of home whatsoever. Why couldn't I just be like the most of you and choose either side: the wandering, adventurer's lifestyle or the house with the kids, dog, and steady job that pays the bills. I don't intend to make it so black and white but where do us stuck in the middle go?

There are so many things I believe I could do well with in this world. Most of all, I just want to lead a life full of happiness and laughter. Anyone can simplify their needs down to this, I'm sure. But coming from the past 6 months...I'm finding myself re-acclimating in a different way than I had originally expected. I thought I would be correcting my hands from using spoon and fork to eat each meal. I thought I would be checking my purse twice before realizing the empty space doesn't need a new refill of toilet paper. I thought I would be caught in thought...deciding whether the word I was looking for was, in fact, English, or some odd configuration of a foreign word I had become so accustomed to. No. This is not it. I am finding that my original way of understanding, responding, reflecting and taking action in my world (before Thailand) to be somehow altered from how I operate now. My goals have changed. I don't want to give into what everybody is telling me. I don't want to beat out all of my "competitors" in the job world. I just want to be myself. Is life supposed to be this ridiculously aggressive and calculated? I don't want to hate on my own country but I'm very frustrated and disappointed with my lack of new-found appreciation for America. When I left, I thought I would be gone for over a year. I thought I would be coming back here with a new-found sense of pride and excitement for my homeland and all that it would hold for me and Stephen. Instead, I left one country (Thailand) where I found myself appreciating America in a new Europe, where I once again found myself disgusted by it.

I held my tongue, for the sake of maintaining my position and sanity within Anuban Khon Kaen School for 4 months, but here...I have nothing to lose. I am not giving into this. If my choices in life look irresponsible or undirected to you, I don't care. Have you ever stopped to think about what lies beyond your parents and friends expectations? Have you ever considered what other peoples of the world value in their lifetime? Don't you want to see how the other side lives? Do they spend any time mourning Twinkies when there are opportunities across the globe to distract them from one temporary facebook feed fad?! There are no perfect countries in this world...but don't be fooled to believe that America is closer than many others. We don't even know what our reason is anymore. We are worked hard until we die. Where does life take place? In a small amount of time, I have met friends from all over the world and their philosophy and zest for life is unmatched by the majority of Americans I have ever known. We forget what's really important when we're distracted by what everybody tells us to pay attention to. Well, I've remembered and I'm not going to forget.

You know what's also off? I have almost finished 2/3 of a Greenbush growler (1/2 gallon) which would be considered unheard of for a 110 lb girl like myself, for no good reason. Well, you know what? I don't care. This is the result of 1.) Unemployment, 2.) A restless mind and 3.) Look, if you haven't realized this by now...I love beer. Deal with it.

I share all of this with deliberate honesty. There are a lot of cute little bells and whistles I could decorate my story with but it would only be furthering me from my point. I'm not trying to impress anybody with my experiences traveling. I'm trying to find where I fit, now, that I'm back. So far, Michigan isn't cutting it. It didn't before I left and it isn't now. Sadly, moving on has been the name of the game for a long time, now, and I just hope that there are other people who are out there to inspire and reignite this flame. If you hear this, let me know!


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

On the Way Out: Wien and Praha

After spending almost a month in Germany, Stephen and I decided to conclude our last 10 days traveling abroad in Vienna, Austria and Prague, The Czech Republic.

I feel like in an attempt to keep up this blog and email family and friends back home while still fully participating in my traveling experience, I haven't really been putting forth a lot of my personal feelings and detailing my experiences in my writing. There are so many stories that follow the timeline I've described through my posts: stories of happiness, sadness, frustration, excitement, longing, doubt, guilt, anxiety, worry, elation and what feels like everything in between. I wish I had had the energy to share these stories with you more often throughout my journey. But between the sight-seeing, planning and downtime, transferring some of my deepest core emotions and experiences always seemed a bit exhausting and lower on the priority list. I also think it's near impossible to justifiably share all of the memorable moments through reflection. I've been using pictures to effortlessly evoke the words for me, so I'll do some more of the talking, myself.

We took the train into Vienna on Sunday the 14th from Regensburg and it took approximately 4 hours. Stephen and I chose a hostel located right alongside the Naschmarkt, which is an amazing market selling everything: dried fruit, a plethora of cheeses, cheese-stuffed peppers and tomatoes, Indian spices, fish, meat, tacky clothing (i.e. 3 wolf moon fleece), gelato and a variety of restaurants.

We spent our first day sight-seeing, taking a free walking tour through the lovely city of Vienna. The architecture is stunning and full of life and variety. Being a music history enthusiast, I found it incredibly exciting to imagine famous composers like Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, and Schubert walking the same streets of Vienna as me. Vienna is an aristocratic type of city, with music at its heart. Every night at the State Opera House there is an opera or ballet to attend. We discovered that for only 3 euros, you can purchase standing tickets (in some of the less-desirable locations in the house) for the opera. Simply taking in the beauty of the interior of the opera house made this price worthwhile. We got to experience our first opera--in the city which loves opera--when we attended Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro". We even rented ourselves some opera binoculars for 2 euros. Not bad. Another time, we listened to an organ concert inside the ornate Baroque-style Peterskirche.

Another day we chose to take a walk through the Schönbrunn Palace grounds. We couldn't have chosen a more beautiful day. With the weather coming in around the high 60's, this day may have peaked over 70 and was highlighted by such a clear, blue sky, allowing the sun to shine down on us most of the day. It felt like we were children, making our way through the green-hedge maze and labyrinth, playing around with the various garden games, delighting in the simple pleasure of a sunny day with your best friend. I often experience this feeling of free, uninhibited happiness, being with Stephen. Just one of the many reasons I love him.

 The start of our walking tour, through the Naschmarkt.



 Free climbing right off of the Vienna Aquarium!
 Statue of the famous composer, Joseph Haydn.
 A good way to relax on the platz. Well, aside from it being so cold!
 The Vienna State Opera House.
 Inside the opera house.
 The opera's about to begin...
 Enjoying a sunny day, walking through the Schönbrunn Palace grounds.

 Further exploring the grounds.
 What a perfect day! Schönbrunn Palace in the background.


Kaleidoscope mirrors.
 Mathematical puzzle.
 Inside of Peterskirche. Notice the Baroque architecture.
 "If it's not Baroque--don't fix it!" (had to include this for Stephen who so thoroughly enjoyed it)
 We listened to an organ concert in the church.

 Zwei Wieners.
 The highly-esteemed Sachertorte...not so amazing in our opinion.
 Stephen, about to dig into the famous Wiener Schnitzel.

After 4 nights in Vienna, we decided to take a bus to Prague, on the 19th. However...this did not go exactly as planned. We arrived at the bus stop, toting around our heavy world-travel-filled luggage, for the 10:40 a.m. bus to Prague. However, we soon discovered that you are supposed to purchase your ticket ahead of time. This being a Friday, it was incredibly busy and we spent the next 12 hours at the train station near the bus stop, trying to get on every consecutive bus. It was a day uneventfully filled with train station food, stress and WiFi cafe searching. We finally made it onto the 10:40 P.M. bus and arrived in the foggy, street-lit Gothic city of Prague at 3:30 a.m..

Prague, although highly touristed (like any big European city), was incredibly beautiful, in a dark and mysterious sort of way. Every corner has some kind of elaborately decorated and stylized architecture, all set in a mist/fog-laden eeriness which I found kind of magical. Our time in Prague consisted of your typical sight-seeing (The Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, Astrological Clock), but we had some of the most fun making friends at our hostel and enjoying crazy nights with them, playing card games and dancing the night away. A great way to end our 6-month excursion away from the United States.

 The Charles Bridge.

Metro Station.

Station artwork made out of 2x2 stones.
 Overlook off of the Prague Castle courtyard.


I really loved the door architecture in Prague...

 Smazeny! Czech fried cheese.
Charles Bridge.
There were live pumas at this bar, just roaming around...

 On the Charles Bridge.

 Happy 2 year anniversary!

 Astrological Clock.

 All of the roads were covered in these 2x2 stones.
 St. Vitus Cathedral.

 Like a fairytale.

So the end of our long journey has finally come. It's such a strange feeling coming back after everything that has happened in these past 6 months. I think back to my mindset back in April when I was packing my bags for what was originally going to be at least a year's time living and teaching English in Thailand. So much has changed. Thailand was not what I had expected, but like Stephen has said on multiple occasions--it has also been a lot of things we didn't expect. A lot of really amazing things. I am so grateful for all of the experiences--both positive and negative--that my travels have given me. I started out on this journey with the hopes of growing as an individual, learning new things, challenging myself and seeing the world. And to have some fun. I know that I am the writer of my own history and I have the power to make whatever judgment or opinion I choose--but regardless, I really do feel that with those goals in mind, I succeeded. Unknowns in life still remain. I still have challenges awaiting me when I come home to the U.S.. But this time around, I feel stronger and I have a lot of incredible memories which fuel my passion and motivation for accepting those challenges.

The adventure doesn't end here, for me. I have a lot of things that I want to do with my life and although I'm a bit hesitant to say goodbye to globe-trekking and get back to American life, I'm also excited to see some of those things through. A routine really wouldn't be so bad. I want a job. I want to paint the walls in a new apartment. I want to take a ballroom dance class with Stephen. I want to practice piano. I want to read. I want to make friends. Right now, though, I just want to see my family and friends...and take my sweet, crazy Charlie dog for a walk at Grand Mere. There are so many wonderful things waiting for me...all I have to do is look for them.

<3 Alison