Home is where you don’t want to leave even when you desperately need a vacation.
First term is over. I am now eating toast and thin, doughy pancakes with a cup of steaming instant coffee. Mmmm. I am in Cambodia. I left Nan on Thursday afternoon, the day after school let out. I felt a sort of melancholy as I rode around town doing various errands—exchanging Thai baht for Cambodian currency (they use the US dollar here believe it or not), printing off airline tickets and copies of my passport, and of course packing. It was the same sort of melancholy I felt each year at Puget Sound when it was time for our winter or summer break. A sadness that came not because I didn’t want to go home, but because I didn’t want to leave a place that had become my second home, my second family. On Thursday when I felt this same sadness wash over me I couldn’t help but feel a little satisfied. Although Nan has felt like a home for me in many ways since my first semester here, this certain feeling—a sort of overwhelming sadness to leave for only three weeks—indicated that this place has truly become home.
We flew out of Nan to stay in Bangkok for a night before our flights the next morning.. My housemates, who stayed with me that night, flew to Vietnam so early the next morning that I woke to an empty room. Just myself. Alone. It was a bit jarring to fall asleep with four giggling girls around me, our conversations leading us into our dreams, and wake to an eerie silence, the mattress strangely empty beside me. I explored the small market and shopping center that morning before heading out for my own flight early that afternoon. Being by myself, while a bit unsettling at first, allowed me some space to reflect on how far I’ve come since I moved to Thailand.
I arrived in that giant airport in Bangkok, in seemingly the middle of the night, knowing not a single word of Thai, a year and half ago now. I was a girl who had no idea what I had just gotten myself into. I spent my first day in Nan eating grilled chicken on rice, wondering how in the world this was Thai food when I had never seen it on the menu in the very authentic, very frequented by me and all my friends, Thai Silk restaurant in Tacoma. In my first three hours in town, me and the other teachers from my school rode our bikes to the local spa and changed into large, oversized garments to have our first Thai massage. With a woman’s foot nearly in my crotch, pushing her entire body weight into my inner thigh, I questioned why I ever wanted to come to this country. My first few days in the classroom began the somewhat impossible task of learning every kid’s name despite all their faces blending together and their names a whole new language. My first few months I noticed the clenching of my fists when trying to explain a concept to a confused student, frustrated with how they still couldn’t understand, even after I explained it to them four times.
I have grown so much from that girl, from that young woman who packed her packs directly after college graduation to move halfway across the globe and teach in a foreign country I knew nothing about. That girl who could hardly even say hello in Thai now has a big enough vocabulary and enough confidence to order food in a busy, local market, to ask for simple directions, to even attempt to converse with the man helpful enough to hail me a taxi. While many days I am hard on myself about my lack of Thai language skills, I must remind myself that everything I have obtained has been mostly self taught. That, in and of itself, is an accomplishment.
While my students’ faces still tend to blend together for me at times, this year having 280 students as compared to 108 last year, I am much better at remembering their names, and I can connect with them on a personal level in and out of the classroom, mostly because I can conduct a simple conversation in Thai with them. They bring me laughter and joy each day and I don’t know how my life will be nearly as happy without them for these three weeks, let alone when I will have to return home for good (something I can hardly think about without tears coming to my eyes). I am now (mostly) confident when I walk into the classroom, no longer balling my fists when I talk to confused students but patient beyond any reasonable measure, something that still surprises me considering this patience has not diffused to every aspect of my life quite yet.
And while I still don’t thoroughly enjoy Thai massages like most Western tourists do, I have found other parts of Thai culture that I adore, namely their food. I have increased my spice tolerance and learned the names of so many dishes in Thai that I can almost spell them in my sleep (not an easy task considering the Thai language uses an entirely different script from English).
It’s incredible for me to think of that woman who existed only a year and a half ago. I was mostly still that same woman at the end of last year, only starting to blossom and unfold the person I could really become. I was nervous and scared to start a second year here, almost as nervous and scared as I was to board that first flight to Thailand, sitting in the airport by myself, knowing I wouldn’t see my family or my home for a year. But oh, how happy I am that I decided to stay. I’ve become a better person because of it.