December: what a month!
The excitement kicked off with a visitor from home! Joey got to Thailand on a Wednesday, and by Saturday afternoon we were walking down the shop-lined main street of Ko Lanta, an island south of Krabi, caught in an island downpour. Like the true Oregonians we are, we weren’t going to let a little rain stop the fun, and we continued on our walk. 2 kilometers later, drenched, we decided this downpour might actually be better described as a tropical storm that showed no signs of letting up, so we swallowed our pride and hailed a tuktuk.
We arrived, clothes dripping but spirits undampened, at our beach bungalow and waited out the storm on what I have decided is an essential part of any beach hut: a front porch, complete with a hammock and an ocean view. Each day, after swimming in the Andaman Sea and exploring the white sand beaches (some of us getting more sunburnt than others in the process), we would retire to our porch to enjoy the serene calmness of Ko Lanta. Cozy in my hammock, relaxing with my favorite guy, listening to the waves and enjoying the simple happiness that comes with being together in a beautiful place, I truly felt like we were embracing the sabai sabai mindset.
In Thai, sabai literally means “happy,” but it is also used in a variety of other contexts to describe the Thai lifestyle; it means relax, everything is chill, not a care in the world— it is like the Thai hakuna matata (it means no worries..)! When you embrace the sabai culture, your stress levels decrease, you don’t sweat the small things, and you embrace all of the good that surrounds you. Under the sun and, later, under the stars on our porch, I had no complaints.
After the world’s fastest 10 days, Joey left. And my homesickness from saying goodbye combined with the reality of spending my first Christmas away from home, and the last week of December was a rough one. Thai Christmas is a confusing time, at least in Surin. No one outside of our English Program acknowledged Christmas on Christmas Day, which was on Monday—a school day; however, I came to school on Friday, December 29th, to find Christmas on steroids. Just when I was ready to hang up my Santa hat, I was hit with a belated dose of costumes, dancing, Christmas songs, and gift-giving. I guess better late than never.
Despite the surprise Christmas cheer, after a mildly sad week I was looking forward to a spirited New Year’s weekend—and it didn’t disappoint. We left Friday night, and after a bus ride, another much longer bus ride, a songthaew (look it up), a minibus, another minibus, another songthaew, a ferry, and a third songthaew, we landed at our hostel on Ko Chang by mid-morning on Saturday. If you were keeping track, it took a grand total of 8 modes of transportation to get to this island—but man, was it worth it.
I spent New Year’s with Melissa and 6 other English teachers all connected loosely by someone who knew someone who knew someone. Instantly, it felt easy and natural to connect with people who, although strangers at the start of the weekend, were so relatable because of the mindsets we share and the journeys we are all on. We laughed an incredible amount, comparing stories—victories, losses, sources of confusion, sources of frustration, and humorous anecdotes—of our first few months in the classroom, and marveled at just how different each of our experiences in our respective towns and schools have been. Also, a sidenote: this was my first hostel experience. As it turns out, when you put 8 Americans in a 10-person dorm on a Thai island, it feels alarmingly similar to a sleeping porch nestled in the jungle. This taste of familiarity was comforting.
However, we didn’t spend much time in our little hostel-turned-sleeping-porch. Rather, we spent our days on the beach and in the water, one day taking a boat trip out island hopping and snorkeling. The waters in the Gulf of Thailand are so unbelievably clear and blue; it’s impossible to tire of its natural brilliance. Ko Chang is the most beautiful place that I have been in Thailand thus far. We rang in 2018 on a beach, surrounded by good company and an impossible number of fireworks.
As I traveled back to Surin on Tuesday, I reflected on my year. In 2017 I had many lasts—my last college days, and all the lasts that came with them, specifically—and I graduated from college, ending a huge chapter in my life. But I also had quite a few firsts: I worked at a restaurant for the first time, where I developed my work ethic and met some amazing people—including one very special individual who traveled to Thailand to visit me; I broke out of my comfort zone and moved across the world, where I have been able to meet even more awesome and likeminded people; I started experimenting with teaching, developing my own teaching style, and becoming more confident in myself and my abilities; I have continued my quest to discover what my future might hold for me.
Last year at this time, if you would have told me that I would be teaching English in Thailand, I wouldn’t have believed you. I was stressed; I was trying to fit myself into a mold and figure out the proper “next step,” equipped with my Business degree and zero idea of what I wanted to do with it. Moving to Thailand wasn’t my plan, so for me—a huge planner—making this life-altering decision based only on a feeling was terrifying. But now that I’m living it, I am so thankful for my selfish choice to do what felt right for me, rather than what felt right for everybody else. I’m excited, but in no hurry, to see where 2018 will take me.
Originally published on January 8, 2018 on CIEE Teach Abroad Thailand.