Fight or Flight?
IN ALL OF US there are two fears that are constantly fighting each other: one, the fear of scary, risky, unfamiliar unknowns; and two, the fear of getting too comfortable in one place and missing out on a life well-spent.
It is the fight between our need for safety, security and familiar things and our want for new, exciting experiences worthy of telling your grandchildren—the nine-to-five desk job in the city versus the nine-to-whatever job in paradise, the shiny new briefcase versus the dirty old backpack, the low buzz of repetitive weekends out at the bars versus the constant, electrifying adrenaline high of adventure in strange new lands.
Three months before I graduated college I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Not many of my friends did either. The fight between fears was playing loud inside my head… Should I move to the city and begin a career, or should I buy a plane ticket, fly to the other end of the world, and see what it’s all about?
I bought the ticket.
It’s been almost three months since I moved to Thailand. I haven’t been this happy since I was just a wide-eyed little kid who got away with eating pillowcases full of candy and pooping his pants at the zoo. In many ways, I have become that kid again… I am completely taken in by the magic of the world; I live in a constant state of surprise, fascination and curiosity; I am learning things about myself that only new experiences and challenges can provide; and I am always excited about what’s happening here, now, and whatever the future might hold (but I swear I don’t poop my pants anymore.)
So, why Thailand? I’m twenty-three years old, fresh out of college with a fancy piece of paper hanging on my bedroom wall that says I’m a Bachelor of Journalism or something… why not put that to good use?
I wanted to become a better person—a more compassionate, patient, responsible, fearless, open-minded, hopeful, happy citizen of the world—and this I would achieve by forcing myself outside my comfort zone and into unfamiliar territory, into a culture totally unlike my own, surrounded by people who think and talk differently than I do.
I wanted to help push the world in the right direction—and this I would achieve by teaching English.
How I Started Teaching English in Thailand
My journey as a Foreign English teacher began with XploreAsia. For one month I lived in Hua Hin with close to a hundred other people from all over the world… my whole life I had been surrounded by mostly midwestern Americans, ate mostly midwestern American food and drank mostly midwestern American beer… I was, mostly, a midwestern American.
By the time I left Hua Hin I was a changed person. I had gained more than just a certification to teach. I gained a new, exhilarating confidence. I gained new perspectives and a deep respect for the awesome glory of the world around me. I gained life-long friends.
And I’m still changing every single day.
For two months I’ve been teaching English to high schoolers in a small southern town called Thung Song. Everything about the town is totally, magnificently authentic. If I wake up early enough in the morning and open my bedroom window, I can hear beautiful Buddhist chants floating down on a cool breeze from a temple silhouetted on the horizon. The rush-hour traffic on the road outside my house consists of smiley teenagers zipping by on motor scooters, curious dogs, fidgety little roosters and giant bulls being herded from one patch of muddy grass to another.
The locals have shattered my once long-held belief that Minnesotans are the friendliest people on the planet.
Several times throughout the school day I am hit with intense bursts of gratitude and peacefulness. My students and co-workers have accepted me as their own. They appreciate me and respect me. They want to be my friend. Walking through the hallways, I smile and laugh and give out so many high-fives it damn-near hurts my face and hands.
Three months ago my family and I said our goodbyes at the airport. I hugged them, threw on my backpack and blew a teary-eyed kiss from behind the row of conveyor belts and body scanners.
I started walking. To where was I walking, and why? A better me, a better life, a better world? Yes—but the paths we walk and the destinations for which we are bound ultimately cannot be seen. I was walking with that mantra humming somewhere in the back of my mind—a better me, a better life, a better world—but there was one thing burning white hot in my heart, driving me faster and further than any pretty-sounding humble idea can do; and that is the desire to go—the desire to get off your ass, throw yourself into the winds of the world, and make some memories—go! All we can do is just go.
And that’s exactly what I did.
Michael is a 23-year-old graduate of Iowa State University. He has served as a reporter for the Iowa State Daily, as a writer for Ethos magazine and as Co-Editor-In-Chief of SIR, a student-run men’s magazine.
His latest project, Eyes of an Expat, is an ongoing collection of stories about his adventures abroad.