A New Beginning
“Fifteen minutes until boarding,” the calm, collected stewardess said over the intercom. I slumped down in the hard airport chair, grinding my knuckles into my 3:00 AM eyelids. Outside the giant windows Seattle rain fell over the dark runway. I stared at the massive plane waiting to take me 13 hours and 9763.6 km around to the other side of the world.
A million thoughts fired in my head all at once:
What if we can’t find jobs? What if something goes wrong with our visas? What if we’re flying to a meticulously-orchestrated scam? What if I quit my comfortable, secure, perfectly-mediocre job to move to a country that has just undergone a military coup, and we end up in an uncharted village being torn apart by savage cannibals!?
Oh come on, I’ve never been to Thailand before…
Fourteen minutes, still plenty of time to run back out through security, hail a taxi to the nearest hotel, and call my boss to beg for my job back.
I squeezed my girlfriend’s hand. She didn’t respond. We had spent the last week packing our entire lives into suitcases, cleaning the most foreign areas of our apartment, and changing every address on every paper trail, all the while waiting for the perfect moment to collapse over into a much needed coma-like sleep.
Lucky woman had gotten the jump on me, I thought with a smirk.
Every taped piece of cardboard and signed address redirect form had led to this big moment of shuffling in and out of relative’s cars, getting stuck in traffic, and then trudging nervously through a quiet airport.
I exhaled a long breathe, thinking—
It really hadn’t been that difficult at all.
In my head, I tried to piece together every factor in my life that had lead me to this terminal, like stitching threads of a disassembled map together.
I had been traveling to other countries before, an experience that had left me with an insatiable craving for new tastes, melodies, perspectives, and cultures.
I had a passion for language, all languages. I even had enough passion for the English language to devote four years of studying to it.
Final Fantasy X—weird I know, but the world in which that game takes place was modeled after Southeast Asia. I can’t help but think that on some subconscious level, the endless of hours I had plugged into playing through the lush tropical environments in that game had influenced me towards a future in Thailand.
Oh, how I would miss that game. Did they play video games in Thailand? Probably not like in America.
There was also the fear of being locked in a vicious nine to five cycle, stuck in the burbs in my early twenties, already signing off on my retirement package.
“Ladies and Gentleman we would like to start the boarding process,” a voice sounded from the intercom again.
I took another deep breath. Maybe trying to define the motivation behind this move wasn’t any less stressful than cataloging every possible crisis that could occur.
My girlfriend awoke, and we boarded the plane together, the first step in our upcoming adventure.
A Teacher in Thailand
So far, the nine months my girlfriend and I have spent in Thailand has been a whirlwind of fun, culture shock, challenge, and responsibility.
Being one of five foreigners in the beautiful rural town of Phukieo, Chaiyaphum, I’ve learned to deal with things like loneliness, prejudice, homesickness, and the constant feeling that someone is staring at me (I always feel like somebodies watching me…). Dealing with these negative experiences however, has been a necessary sacrifice for me to experience the humbling hospitality, gratitude, respect, and endless supply of home-made Thai-food I’ve enjoyed from the same rural town.
I went from not using my English degree at all, dealing with sales quotas, emails, and a boss that never seemed to be impressed no matter how many more sales I put in the books, to dealing with mid-term test submission deadlines, communication failures, behaviorally challenged classes with fifty plus students, and the pressure of trying to fit into a work culture that is vastly different than my own.
I could lie and write that the entire experience has been a rose colored box of new-born puppies wrapped in sunshine. The truth however, is that the road from my life in Seattle, to my life in rural Essan has been a chaotic and challenging one. It has been a timeline of joyous new experiences mixed with moments of inexpressible frustration.
From working with XploreAsia in the city of Hua Hin, bonding with like-minded individuals from all over the world and learning how to be an effective teacher in Thailand, to being the only foreigner at a Thai wedding for which I didn’t know the bride and groom, the experience has been humbling.
Conversing with my students, co-workers, and the local people has allowed me to see the similarities and differences between my culture in America and the culture here in Northeast Thailand. This experience has not only allowed me to better understand the things that are important in my culture, but also the things that are important to people all over the world.
Working in such a different environment has imbued me with the power to harness an inner calmness, or as the Thai’s say, a jai yen (cool heart), even during the most stressful and chaotic situations.
The tasks I manage everyday: making a fool of myself in front of classes of fifty teenagers who only partially understand me, stumbling through awkward communications in a language polar opposite to my own, and navigating the bus system and chaotic roadways of Thailand, has given me a self confidence that I never knew in the past. A self confidence that is reinforced every time one of my students shows progress, or thanks me for explaining a new concept to them. A self confidence that is reinforced every time one of the teachers at my school smiles and invites me to lunch, or drops a coffee at my desk because they respect me for who I am, and the effort that I put into my teaching. A self confidence that is reinforced every time the town fruit vendor drops an extra piece of pineapple in my bag because their child came home from school feeling more confident about their English skills.
Sharing a tiny studio apartment with my girlfriend, there are things I miss though. There’s no hot water, we don’t have a television (no Playstation!), I can’t crank my electric guitar up to 11, I can’t escape off to the city of Seattle to indulge in the nightlife, and our air conditioner is a moody machine continually deciding to take a break every time the weather goes over 88 degrees Fahrenheit. But with the absence of these comforts, I have been able to prioritize my free time to allow myself to focus on the hobbies and goals that I find most important, free of the distractions that had disrupted my concentration in the past.
I have used my free time to continue my musical studies, focus on my writing, and develop new teaching resources. Not only has the absence of the aforementioned comforts allowed me to focus my time and talents, but it has also allowed me to develop a greater appreciation for those past comforts. It has allowed me to see firsthand that the seemingly inherent comforts a large majority of people in America enjoy, can easily be taken for granted.
Living in Thailand has allowed me to experience things, and mature in ways I have always wanted to. I’ve seen opulent temples, and gorgeous beaches. I have walked the streets of a sprawling city with over 12 million people. I’ve even made friends with elephants.
I am a stronger person with increased self-confidence. I am an accomplished educator, and scholar of the English language. Being in Thailand has given me the time and tools to absolve myself of the previous distractions that had kept me from working towards my personal goals. I have almost completed the second draft of my full-length novel. I am a better jazz pianist, classical guitarist, and music theorist. I am multi-lingual, and I have learned to forge relationships and prosper in a culture that is completely foreign to my own.
I know now, that nine months ago, standing in the terminal at Seatac airport, I had nothing to fear. That every challenge I would endure would be paralleled by a rewarding, and irreplaceable experience. That my time in Thailand would be one of immense personal growth greater than any Playstation game, secure 8-5, or 4O1K plan anywhere else.
Justin is currently teaching a second term at a school in Phukieo, Thailand. He graduated from the TESOL course last October with his girlfriend, Krissy. He’s having an incredible experience in Thailand and is a passionate educator.
Justin is one of our featured writers in the field, keep up to date with his progress on his personal blog.