This piece for Enchanted Serendipity’s Expat Series was written by Alicia from Blissful Travelher Blog.
I never thought I was going to live abroad. It was not even a consideration actually. It’s funny how the universe works sometimes though, because here I am, living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Back home I had been working full time as a counselor. I was in school. I had been mending broken relationships from my history with drug addiction. I spent the last 3 years rebuilding my life, and in just a couple of months I packed up, quit my job and headed to Thailand.
Why? Well I am still figuring that out.
I was invited by a friend, and my immediate response was “No Way!” I have worked so hard to get where I am, why would I leave it all to travel?
Thank goodness I have some great friends that encouraged me to go. The dynamics changed a bit and it soon became a solo trip to South East Asia. The plan? It was precisely to have no plan at all. I had budgeted for about 4 months of travel through South East Asia; and to tentatively arrive home sometime in November. Well it’s January as I write this, and I am still here.
So you’re asking how? Why?
I didn’t particularly choose Chiang Mai. I like to think it chose me.
A New Life In Thailand: The Expat Life Begins
When I first got here, I attended a NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meeting to make some connections with other recovering addicts first and foremost. My recovery is always number one in my life, because without it I wouldn’t be where I am today.
I met someone in that meeting who very simply changed my future before I knew it. He had suggested I check out a local rehab here for a potential job. I was not interested in working as I had JUST quit to travel. I checked it out anyways because I believe when things are presented in our lives it is for a reason.
I continued on traveling as I came to see and experience this part of the world and that’s what I had my sights set on. But after 2 months of traveling through Thailand and Indonesia, I received an email with the job offer. Without much thinking, I accepted. The idea of living in this country AND making money danced in my head. So I made my way back to Chiang Mai and have been living here since September.
Living abroad has been an enlightening experience thus far. It has taken me a bit of time to adapt. My eyes have been opened to a new and different culture. My views are broadening, my mind is widening.
What I’ve Learned About Myself
I experienced racism and realized it is not intentionally this way. In Asian culture having light/white skin is a sign of wealth. Those who work in the fields and on farms have darkened skin from the sun. A woman once tried to sell me whitening lotion because my tan was so dark she said I looked like a local and that was “no good.” I was baffled. She had good intentions but my Americanized thinking took offense to it.
I have discovered the difference between the culture I was raised in and what my core beliefs actually are.
People said I would appreciate America even more when I returned home after traveling here. I can disagree with that, I appreciate it just the same so far. I do miss regular toilets and having access to toilet paper at EVERY restroom but quickly learned to keep it in my purse.
Routine is no longer a necessity for my sanity and adrenaline has become second nature. Constant new faces, languages, food, modes of transportation, obstacles, dealing with the unexpected.
My patience has increased from experiences like waiting hours for food only to find “I no have today”, crazy traffic, discovering that Thai people are never in a hurry to do anything.
I listen better, and speak slower. I have learned that getting annoyed at someone for not understanding or speaking English is downright righteous.
I have learned to live in the moment, plans never go as planned and its okay, all I have is right now, this moment. Time becomes just a word, I measure my life in moments, in memories.
Impermanence and transition are now accepted in my life, people, places and things often change. You find a balance between attachment and letting go.
I have a greater appreciation for my family and friends, maintaining relationships long distance is difficult. The support they give me when I am struggling has empowered me to push through.
Feelings are feelings, they are not facts, they come and go, just like the tide.
I was away from my family for the holidays, and it was not nearly as hard as I thought it would be. Yet homesickness can hit like a ton of bricks and longing for the comforts of home.
My expectations can hinder my experiences, if I can let go and let the universe take over everything works out how it is supposed to.
No matter how far or long I am away my loved ones are always in my heart. I take a piece of everyone with me and I leave a piece of myself everywhere I go.
When It Isn’t Always Easy
Since traveling, and now living here, I have thought more about drinking than I have in three years of recovery. I sometimes wish I could just “drink normally” whatever that means. But this thought passes, the desire to act on this thought is not present. I sometimes just think it would be easier to meet friends and socialize this way. I write a ton in my journal about this and soon its out of my mind.
Today I feel “apart of” even though on the outside I look “apart from.” I feel connected with my creator, I live by intention, and I stay present in the moment. I feel part of a community when I shop at the market, I smile when I hear someone say “farang” (foreigner in Thai). I feel part of a traveling community. I feel part of recovery, part of my relationships today. I feel part of my soul I have never felt before: peace, serenity – a bliss that is completely unknown.
I have had really tough days here as well. I have laid in bed all day not wanting to leave my room in the heat, getting lost, getting scared on my motorbike. Listening to my negative self talk, thinking this is not for me, I cant do this. I have cried for hours, felt paralyzed and unmotivated to do anything at times. Anxiety ridden, bouts of depression and feeling lonely and scared.
I push through those moments, I allow them to occur, I feel my feelings and ride out the wave of emotions. Eventually finding myself grateful to have this opportunity to live and work abroad. I get to explore all around Northern Thailand. I get to meet all walks of life, hear their stories and share mine.
I have made friends that will forever have an impact on my life.
I get to see picturesque landscapes most dream of seeing. I get to help people struggling with addiction. Share my experience, strength, hope and be a helping hand.
I live one day at a time, and for the first time in 4 years I have no plans. I have no idea where I am going from here or what country I will visit next. This is completely abnormal for me, and incredibly empowering at the same time.
I have learned this world is so much bigger than the eye can see, there is a universal language of love. A smile can go a long way. No matter where you go, there you are.
A little over four years ago I was living in my car, addicted to drugs, praying to die.
Praying to be relieved from this nightmare I was living, I was a hopeless dopefiend. I find strength in sharing my story and hoping to inspire someone some day to chase their dreams. Even across the world recovery is possible.
I never imagined to be living in Thailand. I never planned it. The universe conspired and brought me here. I continue to learn on a daily basis, every day is an adventure when I walk out the door. As long as I let go of control, listen to my heart and remain open-minded this experience will continue to change me.
“I” as I know “me” will never be the same.
If you enjoyed this, make sure you read another Thailand experience by Jenna.