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After a year and a half- I'm going back home

I've lived in Thailand for almost a year now, and it all happened through a gradual move. I first moved to Paris- a city considered popular all around the world- where I worked as an English teacher. There, I met many people who knew more about traveling to Thailand. People in France consider Thailand to be a popular tourist destination. It is after all, not as from Europe as it is from America. I decided to take the jump because I was already far from home anyways, and I was technically already 'half way' there. In essence, my decision to live in Paris helped me transform into a 'new kind' of traveler.

I've not only learned a lot about Thai culture, but also about the concept of traveling. I have gradually transformed into a 'global nomad' who has experienced the process of adaptation in different places. In Thailand for example, I have learned to interpret people's smiles into more depth. What initially only seemed like an expression of happiness, I today realize, can also be a sign of respect and politeness, which are highly valued personality traits in Thailand. In Paris, similarly, it was initially easy to become offended by people's expression of anger or discomfort. In my culture (Mexican and American), it is more common to hold resentment towards other people's expression of anger, since it is not meant to occur often. Showing anger demonstrates a lack of control and respect. In French culture, it is important to show true emotions, since it is after all, a country known for it's 'freedom of natural expression' and 'liberation.' For that same reason, the French find it easier to let go of grudges and resentment. It is natural for anger to arise, and therefore to forgive.

In my culture, a smile can almost reassure that a person is satisfied and content, and an expression of anger, that a person is in complete dislike. Naturally, my instincts are to follow these ideas, even when surrounded by people who follow different ones. This is why it is always a challenge to relate to people from different cultures- because we are initially guided by uniquely our own ideas. It isn't until we expose ourselves frequently to situations handled in a 'different way', that we begin to not only understand that the differences exist, but where it is that they do.

That is not to say that I fully understand some of the reactions and behavior taken by Thai or French people, and as a matter of fact, there are a lot of them that I don't understand at all. But at least, after a year of living in France and another in Thailand, I know where some of the differences exist, such as in the examples I mentioned previously. Meeting people who are different from us, and living with them, encourages us to try to understand them, in order to better relate and harmoniously live with them. It would be hard to successfully exercise my job as a teacher in Thailand, if I didn't understand what my co-teachers considered as important and a priority. In Thailand, the working atmosphere is not meant to be 'rushed' or 'serious', and those are actually seen as negative traits. What is regarded as most important is the ability to be respectful- which lies within different actions, such as remaining positive, smiling, dressing appropriately, and getting involved in social activities outside of the working area. Friendships and bonds are highly valued in the Thai working atmosphere. In Thailand, production is held on a second basis, whereas in the West, production is seen as the main reason behind working or having a job. For Thai people, it is important to have a clear and relaxed mind in one of the most important aspects of our lives- our jobs.

Living in France and in Thailand have been two very different experiences, from which I've extracted completely different lessons. France taught me how to gain a higher level of independence, self-pride and autonomy, whereas Thailand taught me about the necessity we have on others when trying to achieve fulfilling and sensible goals. France showed me my strengths and capacities, while Thailand showed me my weaknesses and frailties. And even though we are commonly taught to seek for our strengths, it is just as important to be aware of our weaknesses, since coping with these are what in essence make us stronger.

I've had the incredible opportunity to travel at an early stage of my life- where nothing was really impeding or making it difficult for me to do so, except myself. These travels will without a doubt have a permanent effect on my long term goals and the formation of my devotion in life. There are many young girls such as myself who have the opportunity to change their lives in the same way, but many of them won't. That is because we cannot initially foresee the impact that 'living somewhere' else can have on our thoughts and beliefs. It is not like gaining a degree from school, where we can have an idea of what the ending result might be- we will either graduate or not. There is no starting or ending point to the travel decisions I've made over the past years. As I mentioned before, it is all 'a gradual move.' For that same reason, it is at times difficult to know where to go next. Life as a 'global nomad' is exciting because many things are surprising and unpredictable, and at the same time, it can also be scary and blurry at times. But facing that fear and accepting the challenge is another aspect that can develop our strength and bravery.

I'm writing this post because I want to write before I make it back home. I haven't been standing in a place where I've felt entirely safe and certain in a long time. For a year and a half, I've lived in places that I've been trying to figure out or settle down in- a similar concept applies towards the relationships I've established during this time as well. I've had rooms that I've slowly turned into my own, by adding pictures, colors, decorations and scents of my preference.  Everything for the past year and a half has been a very conscious build up that has provided me with a particular insight and developed my capacity to keenly observe, interpret and adapt. Going back home means that I can breathe, and in some way 'let my gear down.' I can only think of a quote that I used for my biology students last semester. It read "“Inspiration is an active process involving the contraction of the muscles. Expiration is usually a passive process where only some muscles contract and the diaphragm relaxes." Although inspiration is important, sometimes it's necessary to expire and relax. On the other hand, I don't want my travel experience to 'expire' since it is what I consider will shape my devotion in life.

To be honest, I am somewhat scared to go back home, because I fear that I will be away from the differences for far too long, to the extent where I can forget and find them easy to let go. Maybe I'm mistaken, and I will not know until I'm there. I tell myself that I have my writings, such as this one, to read and remind me. I am sure my friends and family will probably not completely understand why I'd want to leave again (they've always encouraged me to travel, but now they've begun to really miss me), but I would hope they'd find it easier to understand through the description of my own experience. I've always considered that as a Latina, my family has the capacity to strongly influence me, but now I'm thinking that after so much change and fortification, that I will probably have the capacity to strongly influence them as well.

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Comment by Giselle Rosas on May 16, 2013 at 8:57pm

Hello Arleen! I apologize for my late response, but I am sure you have just graduated, so congratulations on that! I will send you a message with specific details on the programs I was a part of when teaching both in France and Thailand!

Comment by Arleen E Lopez on February 28, 2013 at 7:54pm

I really enjoyed reading about your experience abroad! I am thinking about teaching English abroad after I graduate in May. What program did you do to get certified? I'd be very interested in knowing, because I would love a similar experience to yours. Thanks!


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