Apologies!!

Most of you may think I got lost somewhere in the jungle in Laos (where I went zip-lining with the Gibbon experience, more on that later).  Some of you may think I assimilated into a hilltribe in Chiang Rai.  And maybe some of you think I decided to become a rice farmer in Vietnam.  Whether you’re thoroughly convinced of the former or the latter, I know that ALL of you are wondering where the heck I’ve been!

Well, let me give you a brief rundown before you get inundated by posts of the specifics.  Last you heard from me I was climbing a volcano in Bali.  Well…. that was almost five months ago.

In a nut shell, I braved the protests in Bangkok, participated in the biggest water fight in the world during Songkran in Chiang Mai, went trekking and rode an elephant in Pai, zip-lined through the jungle in Northern Laos, took the slowboat to Luang Prabang, took the 28 hour bus ride to Hanoi, relaxed on a boat trip through Halong Bay, climbed Mount Fansipan in Sapa, visited the tailors in Hoi An, soaked up the sun in Nah Trang, surfed the sand dunes in Mui Ne, and crawled through the tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City.

So I’ve been pretty busy…. and you had no idea!!

I apologize.

But now I’m home.  And I want to write again!  I have so much I want to tell you.  And of course, pictures I want to share.  So stay tuned.  Much more is in store!

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Rolling the Dice: A traveler’s fears

I have been in Thailand since October now and I am just starting to discover my fears.  Fears of the traveling horizon ahead of me.  I have  traveled a lot since I have been teaching in Lang Suan, but it was easier.  I traveled for a few days and then always came back to my job as a teacher.  I always came back to my little house.  I always came back to my bed (albeit an extremely uncomfortable one and most of the time the beds were more comfortable while I was traveling).  I always came back to a sense of home. 

And now I won’t have any of that.  This was my last weekend in Lang Suan.  Next weekend, I am embarking on a weeklong excursion to Malaysia and Singapore.  I will be back in Lang Suan for a few days and then I am heading off to explore the rest of Southeast Asia.  And this thought daunts me to no end.

Coming to Thailand was a huge step for me.  It took me a short time to adjust and now I have to learn to adjust again.  I am going to get to see historical monuments, breathtaking vistas, and learn about foreign cultures that others dream about.  I’m going to live out of my suitcase and “couchsurf” with people I have never met.  And it won’t end in Southeast Asia.  If I can raise the funds, I am going to travel to Europe or South America in August for a year or so.  With all these thoughts in my mind, I wanted to write about my fears of traveling.

My main fear is not having a home.  I’m going to be bouncing around, not having a sense of place, not having a set group of friends, and never being comfortable.  Home is one of the staples of our being.  We need a place to call our own.  We need people to call our own.  We even need “stuff” to call our own.   We trade all of that for a chance to witness places we only read about in books and on the internet.

I’m also scared of missing out on everything happening back in California and the rest of the US.  That includes new music, new movies, sporting events (mainly the Olympics), my friend’s relationships and jobs and pretty much their lives, my family and my dogs.  Yes, I can use the internet to stay in tune with all of these things, but its not the same.  There’s nothing like hearing a new song on the radio or viewing a preview for a much anticipated movie or being there when your best friend meets her future boyfriend.  I heard about the Super Bowl and now I’m hearing about the Olympics.  I don’t want to watch the Olympics on the internet.  I don’t want to choose which events I want to stream online.  I want to tune in for those six hours they are on at night and I want to see them all!  Its just not the same and its hard to only see my loved ones on the computer (but thank God for Skype, right?!). 

My fear is that I’m putting my life on hold.  I graduated college and got a job right away.  I started building my life, my future and my savings.  Traveling puts all that on hold.  I feel like I’m not doing what I’m “supposed” to be doing.  I should be working and building a career, but I am far from that.  I want a family one day and we all know I’m not close to that either.  I know I’m young and I have my whole life ahead of me, but its just scary!

I have so many people writing me and telling me how jealous they are of what I’m doing.  They wish that they had done this before they started their family, or law school, or working.  But the truth is, every once in awhile, I’m jealous of them.  I’m jealous that they know where their life is headed and what they will be doing in five years.  At this point all I know is that I want to travel.   I don’t know where I will be in five years let alone tomorrow!!

I know I’m on the right path, but sometimes its hard getting that reality check!

Teaching in Lang Suan, Thailand

Teaching is what brought me here to Thailand and I realized that I haven’t written much about it!  I definitely lucked out with my placement in Lang Suan (although I cried for two days straight when I got here).  I only work four days a week (well, actually 3 1/2, but those days are pretty jam packed and exhausting), the school isn’t strict and the classes are small, the teachers are cool, I have good friends, and I get to live in the South.

 I have heard horror stories from other AYC teachers that their students tried to light their butts on fire,  the kids try to pull on their skirts or get naked themselves, the class is jam-packed sometimes with class sizes over 70, or the children are just completely unruly and unmanageable. 

Well, then I really lucked out. 

My M5 girls

My students can sometimes be a little loud and obnoxious, some tend to prefer standing and walking around the class to sitting and learning, and some sit there chanting, “Mr. Bean, Mr. Bean,” the entire class time, but they are all really great kids. 

(One of the first class periods we had them watch Toy Story over the week and one of my M1 classes never got to finish the movie.  Alan had borrowed the movie from Bangkok and had promptly returned it and thus I was stranded with no Toy Story to show them.  They still to this day have not seen the rest of Toy Story and yes, they still remind me about it.)

Of course I have my favorites.  I have students that love to speak English to me (some even try to speak Spanish to me because I made the mistake of telling them that Ispeak it), ones that are actually interested in my life and ask me what America is like and how my family is, students that love to learn and sometimes get upset when we’re playing a game instead of studying, and students that love to push my buttons.  I love all those students, even the troublemakers.  I will get mad at them, steal their chairs (I had a student keep making excruciatingly loud sounds with his chair and I told him I would take it if he did it again.  Of course, he did it again and I took the chair.  He awkwardly stood there for a second and then did a half squat.  It was really hilarious, and yes I ended up giving him his chair back soon afterwards), threaten to punish them or throw them out or try to ignore them, but they are still the students that smile and wave at me outside of class.  They go out of their way to come up to me in the cafeteria and ask me what I’m eating and how I am.

Some of my favorite M1s

So, I love my good students and sometimes I even like my troublemakers more, despite the headaches they give me.  But all in all, I have loved teaching.  But I don’t think it’s the actual teaching that I’ve loved.  The kids are definitely what have made my experience here so great.  I love being able to ride my bike through town and be greeted by a 14 year-old jumping up and down yelling, “Hello Sandra!!   

Their smiles are to die for and their laughs are even better.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My life is like a Corona Commercial

Or a Beer Chang commercial, since I’m in Thailand and all.

I get to go to tropical islands on the weekend.  What do you get to do?!?

Ko Tao

Living in the South of Thailand most definitely has its perks.  Having a four day work week makes those perks much more attainable.  There’s nothing like spending your weekend spread out on a lounge chair with a good book as the soft ocean breeze tousles your hair and the warm sand sifts through your toes.  There’s nothing better than the feeling of being under that clear, blue water and resurfacing to a beautiful rock formation surrounded by colorful coral and tropical fish.  Or hiking through a slender mountainous path where giant lizards and quick moving snakes stand in between you and your destination.    

And I’m only describing the daytime!

Nighttime is when the island comes alive.  Echos of animals or insects that sound like they could eat you and that give a rhythmic soundtrack to the tropical surroundings.  The sky peppered with millions of stars and galaxies that force you to ponder other worlds and the meaning of life.  The slow wading of the ocean’s miniscule waves and a darkness that only allows you to barely see your hand.   

It’s at times like these, when I’m taking it all in, that I feel completely engrossed in nature.  As cliché as this sounds, I feel one with the island.

Sometimes I still can’t believe I’m sitting in Thailand that sometimes the language is the only thing that brings me down to earth.  This far-off dream used to only be a blip on the horizon and now here I am, traveling to islands on my weekends, when before the idea of an exciting weekend was standing in long lines at Hollywood clubs and paying $20 for a watered-down drink. 

I think I prefer the islands.

My Inspiration

“Each day is a new canvas to paint upon. Make sure your picture is full of life and happiness, and at the end of the day you don’t look at it and wish you had painted something different.”

As many of my readers already know, I have been bit by the travel bug.  And that bug was most definitely a mosquito, because I know this bite isn’t going to go away for a long time.  I have absolutely loved traveling through Thailand and being immersed in the culture.  I have met interesting travelers, I’ve seen breathtaking beaches and historical monuments, and I’ve pushed myself farther than I ever thought I could.  I’ve learned who I used to be, who I am now, and who I have the potential of being and this is all a result of blurring the lines of my limits and taking chances.

Well, I know it won’t stop here.  My passion for photography has grown exponentially and my mind keeps racing through all the places I want to go and all the places I want to capture and share with the world.

I thank the National Geographic Website for this growing inspiration.  I have spent all my waking time these days furiously writing, photographing, reading moving articles, and gazing at unimaginable photographs.  I’ve surrounded myself with creativity so that I can stir my own and in the last couple days I have been glued to the Nat Geo website.

Reading about writer’s encounters in far off cultures and seeing pictures from places that don’t even look like they belong on this planet, have made me yearn to be there myself.  I’ve read articles about the lost nomads in India and the perils of Patagonia in southern Chile.   I’ve seen pictures of Carnival in Brazil and the unbelievable islands of Dubai.  I want to be there.  I want to capture those moments.  I want people to be looking at my photographs one day with that wandering spirit.

So, thank you National Geographic for being my muse.  For pushing me to be better and for giving me something to aspire to.

Future Travel Plans

In early March, I will be traveling to Malaysia and Singapore.  In mid-March, I will be venturing up to Northern Thailand and in April through May, I will be exploring Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.  Hopefully, heading to Europe with a good friend in July or August for an adventure of a lifetime!

Wanderlust – How I became a Teacher in Thailand

I’m a 23 year old Californian who decided to step a little outside my comfort zone.  Ok, a lot outside my comfort zone.  Now I know I’m not blazing any trails here.  Teaching English in Thailand wasn’t just developed and I know people leave home and travel all the time.  But for me, this was a huge leap of faith. 

I graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Psychology.  I played softball for four years and was the centerfielder for the 2005 National Championship team.  This is what has defined me for so long.  Or in other words, this is how I have defined myself.  When I left Michigan, I felt lost.  I was no longer a college athlete or even a college student.  I went from seeing my best friends every waking minute of the day, to never seeing them and barely speaking to them.  I joined the workforce at a small money management firm in my hometown of Pasadena.  But I still felt lost.  I didn’t feel like what I was doing was important or that it was helping me figure out who I really am.  I always yearned for more.  I was constantly thinking of the next big thing I was do or where I was going to go.  But those were just words.  I didn’t have the courage to make them my reality.

Until now.

I realized that I needed to get out.  I needed to see the world and experience another culture, another country.  I needed to push myself and discover that I could depend on myself.  My entire life I have been depending on others.  Not just wanting them in my life, but needing them.  I wanted to change that. 

I chose Thailand.  Everyone asks me why Thailand.  I just felt like that’s where I wanted to go.  Where I needed to go.  I just felt it. 

I started researching what I needed to do to get there.  Teaching is one of the easiest ways to travel and see the world, so I decided to get my TEFL Certification online from International TEFL Teacher Training (ITTT) .  It was a 100-hour course and I felt that it would give me ample time to figure out if this was what I really wanted to do.  Once finished, I received a list of contacts and schools from ITTT and I started rattling off email after email, just hoping to find an opening or get a reply.  No luck.  Most of the openings I found were immediate and I was in no way ready to leave quite yet.  I then found AYC Intercultural Programs Thailand.  They are a company that hires teachers and places them in schools within their network.  It was a guaranteed job.  In Thailand.  Exactly what I wanted.  I took it.   

So here I am.

Being in Thailand has opened my eyes to the amazement of being in another country.  Of living and learning another culture every day.  It has taught me to be on my own, think for myself and rely solely on ME.  It has taught me to relax and go with the flow.  It has taught me that life can be what I want it to be.   It has made me want more.  It has lit that fire in my heart to discover other places, people, history, everything.  It has taught me to feel my dreams, to connect with them and make them a reality. 

Thailand has shown me that I am on the right path.

And It won’t stop at Thailand. You can bet on seeing me somewhere else in the very near future.  Hope you join me on my Wanderlust…from here on…

Transitions

Coming to Thailand was the most overwhelming experience I have ever had.   I had never really been out of my comfort zone.  I had always been surrounded by friends, family and those that I love.  I had never travelled to a foreign country.  I had never been on my own and alone.  Put all of these things together and I found myself completely out of my element.

 It took me a long time to get accustomed to Bangkok and its quick, crowded and crazy lifestyle.  Once I was used to that, I was thrown into the little town of Lang Suan, a town where only 5-6 people are fluent in English, my bathroom was sans sink and flushing toilet, and the sounds of the train tracks 20 meters away and crowing roosters kept me awake all night. 

Two months later, I was comfortable.  I loved my life in my little town.  I was used to the trains passing all through the night.  The roosters were now comforting and were a sign that I was at home.   My transition to my life in Thailand had taken a few months, but I had done it.  I had battled through heartache, solitude, and fear and I had come out on top. 

Then I went home…

I slept in my bed.  I took a hot shower for the first time in months.  I ate food I had been dreaming about. I was able to use my iPhone features again.  I called.  I texted.   I drove my car.  I listened to the radio.  I watched TV.  I hugged my dogs. I saw my most amazing friends.   And most importantly I spent a lot of time with my parents. 

I became so comfortable at home, that even though I had just left “home” in Thailand, I was once again apprehensive to go back.  I definitely hadn’t foreseen that this would be so difficult.  That it would be hard to go back to a place where I was already acclimated and happy.  Where I had friends.  A paradise.  A vacation spot.  A place where I could travel to tropical islands on the weekends and attempt to speak a foreign language. 

I found myself wanting these next few months to go by quickly just so I could be back home again.

Then I went home…Thailand home.  And it fits too.  I know this is where I need to be for the next few months.  Home rejuvenated me.  It helped me close the book on certain aspects of my life and I am so glad that I had the opportunity to go.  It inspired me to go out and do more.  Learn more.  Experience more.      

Life is full of these transitions.  Once one chapter is over, another one starts right up and we have to adjust.  We have to start anew.  We have to believe that we are on the right path and we will be stronger because of it.