It’s over. I’ve been back in America for less than 48 hours. I’m writing this post at 4am because jet lag won in my fight for sleep.
I’m experiencing a mixed range of emotions because my time in Thailand has just come to a bittersweet end. Bitter because I had to leave new friends and beautiful, WARM places knowing that this time of adventure in my life is over. Sweet because my heart is full of memories of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, I am reunited with my family, and I FINALLY GET TO START CELEBRATING THE JOYS OF CHRISTMAS TIME (Thailand is predominantly Buddhist, so the closest thing they have to Christmas cheer are some massive trees in the touristy areas of Bangkok).
Since my last post, I’ve traveled even more of Thailand, I took a trip to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat- one of the wonders of the world, and I spent 9 days in Vietnam- my favorite trip of all! The great thing about studying abroad is that most of the learning happens outside of the classroom. In my time abroad, I’ve learned a few important things. Love is a universal language. You can connect with people, even of other cultures, by stopping to take the time to get to know then, to care for them, and to make them feel loved. I can now say I have friends that are natives of each of these 3 countries because I was open and willing to interact with them as opposed to solely indulging in the pleasures of travel and tourism. Paired with love, I also feel I have learned how to communicate with people I do not know and people who are very different than me. Especially when working through language barriers, it takes patience and understanding, two characteristics I previously lacked because I would label such communication as unnecessary when it is that difficult. With cross-cultural communication as one method, I also learned how to be resourceful, making the most of the situations I am placed in and the opportunities I have. With Bangkok being such a central point, doors were opened to travel all over Southeast Asia. Normally I would only dream of such trips, but during these 3 months, I actually took them. Figuring out transportation, lodging, and activities each step of the way, I learned how to make the most cost-effective plans and how to research my options in the process. Lastly, the biggest thing I learned through all my travels in my time abroad is how to be brave. Most of my time abroad was spent as a solo female traveler, so it is quite easy to let fear take root. This is crippling. I learned to be cautious, yet bold in my undertakings. I learned by observation and experience where to place my trust and who might help me along in my travels. I learned how to seize adventures and to not let fear win. I had no idea going into this semester that I would take so many trips alone, but I am so glad I did, because by doing so, I had the opportunity to grow up, to learn by being outside of my comfort zone, to meet people from all over the world, and to experience the beauty and wonder this earth has to offer. I don’t think I would have had many of my favorite experiences had I remained in a little bubble of study abroad friends during my whole trip. So, I come back to America a changed person, full of new knowledge and many memories.
As much as I have changed, the familiarity of America is oh so sweet. The first thing I did when I got back to America was eat a Chik-fil-a meal while sitting next to a Christmas tree as it was snowing outside- it couldn’t have been more perfect! Even though Thailand is known for having incredible food (which it does!), the familiarity of chicken sandwich made me happy because it reminds me of home. As I left the airport and started driving through familiar territory, it felt weird because it felt too normal. Did I ever even leave the country? I have experienced a bit of reverse culture shock since I’ve been back. I find myself almost saying thank you in Thai to cashiers, I am on sensory overload because everyone is speaking English so I can understand it all, and I’ve been comparing everything I’ve missed from America with what I had in Thailand. I’ve had a mixed range of emotions, and I’m expecting to continue experiencing more of this shock. Overall, I’m so glad to be home from my trip, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Studying abroad was one the best decisions I could have made for my life during college.