Our next piece for Enchanted Serendipity’s Expat series has been written by Katie.
In 2009, I studied abroad in Italy and I fell in love.
I realized that traveling and being abroad wasn’t just something I enjoyed on vacation, but something that I could –no, should make into a lifestyle.
I graduated in 2010, and was determined to make it back. I waited tables for a year- foregoing my degree in business to pursue a life abroad.
And then I went.
I moved back to Italy, found an apartment and job hunted for three months before eventually moving in with a family to au pair for them. Through it all, I got an Italian family, did some traveling, and eventually went broke.
Moving Back To Chicago: The Non-Expat Life
At the end of a year, it was time to come home. I had lived in the transition period for a little too long and it was time to start my life.
With Italy and living abroad out of my system, I came home; got a big girl job and moved to Chicago and into an apartment on Lake Shore Drive with one of my best friends.
Fast forward three years: still at my same job; a GREAT job with an amazing boss, kick ass perks, and coworkers whom I hope to know for the rest of my life. By now I was now living alone- having moved out of the city to be a little closer to work.
I hadn’t quite found that sitcom lifestyle that made living in the city seem so fresh, exciting, and everything I was looking for. Sex and the City, Friends, and Seinfeld made it look so effortless. The good job, constant stream of dates, and endless adventures turned out to be expensive and unrealistic. While I had (have) amazing friends, a decent job, a few adventures and a date every now and then – there was still something missing.
I was stuck. I didn’t want to go out to the loud bars every weekend, but I also didn’t want to snuggle on the couch and watch Netflix. I was simultaneously at the point where I wanted to both calm down and to be on the move; and expat life is where I find that balance.
As it turns out I didn’t have living abroad out of my system.
Returning to Italy is what I want most in this world, but working visa restrictions make it near impossible so I decided to look elsewhere.
That has brought me to where I am now: here to Thailand. I am currently teaching English to high school students in what I like to call the ‘Nebraska of Thailand’.
Another County, Another Expat Experience
I’m in the middle of nowhere with very few English speakers; and surrounded by farmland not particularly close to anywhere a tourist would even consider going. But at the same time, it’s the heart of the country and it allows me to have a unique experience while I’m here. But, that’s not to say it hasn’t been tough.
The simplest things turn into a task.
From ordering food to finding an item in the store; from figuring out where to get clean water to figuring out how to pay your bills- you begin to not take anything you already know how to do for granted.
I still don’t always look the correct way when I cross the street. I have days where I want to figure out something new and I put in the effort; but I also have many days that I just do it the really hard way because I don’t feel like asking. I am constantly experimenting and looking like an idiot. I get it wrong a lot, and sometimes I don’t even ask the right question. But I am also constantly learning and continually evolving and I think that is beautiful.
On the outside it’s perpetual overload. You’re trying so hard to learn a new culture and trying so hard to not stick out. There are new sights, sounds, tastes and, particularly in Thailand, smells. This steady stream of small challenges- asking whether or not you’re on the right bus or trying to get across that you need to add data to your phone plan– while it makes everything more difficult…it also makes every little thing you do more rewarding.
The Cultural Differences: Learning To Adjust In Thailand
The Thais don’t value efficiency the same way that Americans do. It drives me NUTS!
I have so many thoughts along the lines of, “Why don’t they just do it this way?” or “Well, this is how I would do it.”
To them, cohesion is the most important and they will sacrifice anything they need to in order to “save face”. If they were in America I’m sure they’d be having a mini heart attack about the sacrifices we sometimes make in order to be as efficient as possible.
In recent years I believe modern culture has made leaps and bounds in regards to the acceptance of diversity and change. We’re proud of our progression as we continue to move forward with an open mind. While we claim to understand and accept the concept of differences, it’s funny how when personally affected, just how terrifying those differences can still be. The more we can actually embrace these differences the closer we are to a cohesive and peaceful world.
The biggest thing that you learn living abroad isn’t how to assimilate. It’s not how to fit into the culture and become one of them. It’s not about figuring it out and becoming a pro and it’s not about always knowing what you’re doing. All of that- the fitting in, the adapting, the learning how it’s done- it’s part of something bigger. It’s the idea that there is no right or wrong culture – just different ways of doing things. Being an expat you get to experience it all first hand and with a little patience and perseverance you start to accept and even begin to love those things that sets us all apart; every little distinction that makes us each unique.
My Expat Life Now
Living abroad has found that perfect middle ground for me.
The challenges and the constant adaptation make it not so comfortable where I’m bored; and yet it’s not so on the move where I feel like I can’t call anywhere home.
Besides dinner time, bedtime used to be my favorite part of the day. I did it. I made it to the end of another day.
But here? Here, it is the exact opposite. I only like going to bed because it means tomorrow I get to wake up and do it again. How many people can say that? How many people can genuinely say that they’re excited to get out of bed every day?
Sure, not all days turn out to be the best, but every morning I’m excited to start again.
Every morning I look forward to what the day is going to bring.
And to me- that’s not just the best way to live…it’s the only way.
If you enjoyed Katie’s story, be sure to check out Lauren’s story about making her dreams on Broadway come true!