Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Reflections After a Summer Home

It's been two weeks since we returned to Bangkok after playing tourist in our own country and city for a month. Our time at home went by in a flash. Between visiting family and as many friends as possible, a one-week writing class for my son, a short road trip, shopping for stuff to bring back (apologies for all the empty shelves at Target), and taking care of business, there was hardly any time to really slow down, take it all in, and enjoy it.

But oh, it was pretty fabulous to be back. Aside from the people, the best parts of being back were the beautiful weather that allowed us to spend virtually every waking moment outdoors without breaking out in sweat (and no mosquito bites -- I was in heaven!) and the sense of freedom we felt from being able to just hop in our car and go. Our road trip to Massachusetts and New Jersey especially made me long for the open road again.

The best thing about living in the U.S. is the convenience of everyday life. After living in Thailand, I had forgotten, and was amazed by, how easy life is in the U.S. I didn't even feel the need to be present to go through daily life there; everything could be achieved so easily and quickly without much thought. (Perhaps, though, being able to go through the motions without the presence of mind isn't such a good thing.) One thing is for sure -- I was able to see life in America from a new perspective. I realized how much I took for granted life there and had new-found appreciation for even the ordinary.

Having said all that, however, I also saw more clearly the flaws of our country. The first thing that really jumped out at me was all the excess that surrounded me -- from the grocery store to the portion sizes of meals to the things available to people to the size of vehicles. The more and the bigger, the better, it seemed. There was a lot of stuff, much more than anyone will ever need, everywhere. Americans really have it good; we have everything at our fingertips. How spoiled and entitled we must seem when we complain and whine about the little things when there are so many people here working so hard for so little without any complaint. Seeing all that was around me, it was hard to believe that there are people in the country actually living in poverty and living without basic needs. It really is a shame for a country with such an abundance of everything.

I definitely felt very lucky and grateful after taking a look around me and at my life. But it was a bit shocking to be confronted with so much. It was overwhelming and quite anxiety-inducing. Here in Thailand, I'm not constantly bombarded with a million options for everything; my life is simpler and much less stressful.

And as strange as this may sound, given the size of our country, I felt landlocked. During the short time that I lived in Thailand this past year, I had gotten used to being able get into a different country within just a couple of hours. If I drove for as many hours in Thailand as I did during our road trip in the U.S., I'd probably be two continents over already, but in America, I was still on the east coast, just a few states away!

It also felt strange to realize that the U.S. is not a country where international travel is an everyday occurrence and that traveling is actually a pretty big deal for most people there. Living here in Asia, I truly get the sense that the world is very much interconnected and that its people are truly global citizens. Many people call multiple countries "home," and they don't really consider themselves to be of any one nationality. But in the U.S., I don't really get that sense. America seems very much in its own bubble, both physically and mentally. Part of the reason may be its sheer size -- to get around in, and out of, America takes a good deal of time and money. But it also seems that many Americans are very much concerned only with their own lives and problems, and don't realize how intertwined with the rest of the world they, and many aspects of their lives, really are.

Living abroad also has changed me more than I had expected and more than I had realized while living here in Thailand -- it only became more obvious after I went home. This article pretty accurately discusses some of the ways a person is changed by living abroad. For me, in particular, I found my attitude to be much more relaxed, and things that used to bother me now simply rolled off my back. I also found myself feeling more confident; as the article says, I definitely feel more along the lines of "anything is possible" now that we've done what we've done. I feel that I can handle whatever life throws at me. Something else I had picked up from here was the friendly attitude of the Thai people. While home, I interacted much more with random strangers wherever I went, something that I rarely did before Thailand. I also felt more "tuned in" to my surroundings. And I have no desire to return to the rat race or to our previous existence, which felt just exactly that -- an existence, not living life as it should be lived. I now know that there is so much more to life than I could have ever imagined. 

I've loved living abroad, even if not so much the country that has allowed me to do so. Living abroad has opened up my world (literally and figuratively), taught me so much about myself and life, and given me a new perspective and a better attitude. I also love my current way of life, so relaxed and stress-free. Despite all this, however, we've come to a decision quite contrary to our feelings: we are likely going back home after this coming school year. The reason for our decision? My parents. As we were getting ready to leave for the airport to fly back to Bangkok, I saw the looks on my parents' faces. It was then that I knew I need to be home -- not only for them, but also for myself and my son.

In that moment, when I had this realization, there was a sense of relief and closure. But I'm quite nervous and worried about repatriating. I have no desire to return to my former self or get back onto the hamster wheel that is life in the U.S. I want to remember and hold onto what I've seen, experienced, and learned here. But I know that won't be the case. Over time, I will likely get sucked back into my surroundings and our previous life as it was will again be the norm. Maybe we will be able to live overseas again one day and pick up where we're leaving off. In the meantime, I feel very fortunate to have been able to live out our lifelong dream of living in another country.


  1. My longer comment didn't load :( Shorter version: Great post! I totally relate, and we returned for the same reason. The good news is, 6 years later, much of my attitude readjustment, etc. still informs my life, despite the rat race... and though we do still consider leaving again at times, my kids will have real and deep knowledge and memories of their grandparents, and that has been worth what we gave up to come home.

  2. Thanks, Leah! And thank you for the reassurance. :)