Rivers & Roads (but in this case mostly roads)

One month living in Thailand, and the biggest lesson I’ve learned thus far? There is no right way to do any of this stuff. This lesson isn’t specific to living abroad; arguably, it is a principle of life in general. We are all on our own journey, picking the path we are going to take, and hoping the road is beautiful and whatever we find at the end of it is fulfilling.

I am sure that everyone who knew I was moving to Asia had a different vision in their head of what life was going to look like for me. Some probably imagined me spending every weekend on a different beach; other, less optimistic, individuals likely saw me living in a hut with no running water. I’m happy to report that my reality is somewhere in between these two extremes; I have plans to travel some weekends, but many I will spend getting to know my town and myself in the comfort of my 7th floor apartment (complete with both running water and air conditioning).

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting my Thai life to look like, but I do know that I wasn’t expecting to have as much time as I do to simply be. I have time to think, to explore, and to do the things that I never had the time to back when I was constantly worrying about what was next, or what I should be doing. For much of my senior year, even when I was caught up on my workload, my down time was still spent stressing about what my future was going to hold. What was I going to be doing after graduation? What could I be doing now to make finding a job easier? What kind of job did I even want? What resources should I be utilizing to figure out what kind of job I wanted? This anxiety was usually coupled with the worry of what everyone else was doing that night. What was I missing out on? How should I be spending my last months/weeks/days of college?

The thing I didn’t realize then was that the answer to that question is this: I should be doing whatever it is that I want to be doing. Duh. That answer is easy to conclude in theory, and more challenging in practice, when external forces are battling to convince you of what is right. However, this is the reality: to shape the choices you make, to do or not to do, based on what you think others perceive the “right” move to be is, quite frankly, silly. Living here, away from the pressures of a lifestyle that tells you to continually be going and doing more, I am consciously making the choice to do the things I want to do, and refrain from doing the things that I do not. I pick the path that feels right in that moment.

It’s cheesy, and admittedly pretty cliché, but I’ve been thinking about the different paths everyone is on and, quite literally, comparing these paths to the streets of Thailand. Nearly every day, when walking the streets, I choose to take a new road. More often than not, I end up somewhere I wasn’t expecting. At first glance, the roads here give off the illusion of being grid-like; after wandering the streets for a short time you find that the roads are, in fact, not grid-like. Rather, you head down one street you think is parallel to another known street, and you eventually end up at a bend winding elsewhere, on a new road, in an alley, or somewhere that you recognize, but have no idea how you just got there. My freedom and curiosity allow me to pick roads based on nothing more than the fact that I am compelled to do so.

When it comes to life, we each have the choice to pick the road we want to travel down. We can tag along on the paths of our friends, or go where our family tells us to go, or follow the path society has laid for us, but if the paved road that some external force is telling you to follow is not actually the path that you have an inexplicable urge to go down, then why take it? And, if that path isn’t working out, why not turn down a random alley and see where it takes you?

So some days I pick the safe road, the known road; other days I pick the adventurous path. There is no right way to do it. I am really just being guided by what feels right, both literally, when walking the streets, and figuratively, when designing my life. Similar to life, you are never really lost on the streets of Thailand; you can always turn around, backtrack, go back to where you started and take the same old road you know. You just miss out on finding out what lies elsewhere.

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Originally published on November 26, 2017 on CIEE Teach In Thailand. 

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