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6 posts categorized "Amy Sininger"

That's a Wrap

Yesterday at sunset, I was going to the store on the back of a motorbike taxi. I was holding on with only one hand on the back and my legs were bumping into other motorbikes and taxis as we weaved our way through traffic and in between car’s side mirrors. As the hot and humid Thailand air swept over me, I looked up. And at that very moment I realized that five months ago I moved to Bangkok.

It was a strange, almost out-of-body feeling, where I didn’t quite believe it. If you had told me three years ago, —or maybe even a year ago— that I would be here today, I would have never believed it. But, there is, in fact, a term for this emotion. And that is this:

Nodus Tollens

And it means:

the realization that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you anymore—that although you thought you were following the arc of the story, you keep finding yourself immersed in passages you don’t understand, that don’t even seem to belong in the same genre—which requires you to go back and reread the chapters you had originally skimmed to get to the good parts, only to learn that all along you were supposed to choose your own adventure.

So as I looked up at the sunset and the tall Bangkok buildings, I had a jolting realization that I really did this… that this was real and that maybe it didn’t make sense but at the same time it made all the sense in the world… That I really was choosing my own adventure and that I didn’t need to live up to any kind of set expectation of what life is supposed to be like.

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There were times in Thailand that it seemed like time was going very slowly, and there were times that I was homesick, and there were times that were challenging; but overall, the past few months here went so fast. And it was an incredible adventure… teaching, traveling, meeting new people, trying new foods, going to completely foreign places and forcing myself to go completely beyond my comfort zone. I learned so much here in Thailand, and I will forever cherish every second of this experience.

Yesterday was my last day of work and it was also surreal. In fact, my entire experience of teaching in Thailand was somewhat surreal, and that too kind of only hit me in the last few weeks. For one of my last days of class, I was watching Simon’s Cat videos on YouTube and I was having my students write sentences in English about the videos. They huddled around the front, and some cozied next to me at the computer. I watched their faces as they gazed up at the screen and I watched them laugh and I immediately felt tears come to my eyes. I completely fell in love with my students. They are all so sweet and kind and funny, and I will remember them forever. I learned so much from them and from this experience. There is no doubt I will miss them and the people I met here in Thailand more than anything.

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So, to keep this blog post short and sweet, I won’t overdo the sappiness. But I will say that this experience really did change my life and my perspective of what life should be about.  

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I love you Thailand… the people, the beaches, the food, the coconuts, the taxis, the hot weather, the peace, and the chaos. Thank you for changing my life in the best ways possible. Thank you for making this part of my “choose your own adventure” story my favorite part yet.

Now, on to the next adventure.

Thailand, Teaching, Traveling, and other T words.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in Thailand, it is this very important lesson:

Never under-appreciate hot water and breakfast foods.

It is a fact that one’s quality of life is directly related to breakfast. I miss breakfast so much that I often find myself day dreaming about french pressed coffee and oatmeal and eggs with avocado and french toast.

Also, cold showers are truly a test of one’s endurance. Fortunately, living on the fifth floor with no elevator helps me to improvise: I run up the stairs as fast as I can to warm up my body and then I jump in the shower like I’m doing the polar plunge. As a result, both my endurance and cold tolerance have improved dramatically, so that’s neat.

So, these are my minor complaints for Thailand. Everything else is pretty great as usual, and I imagine when I return to the US I will eat nothing but breakfast foods (can I request my airport pickup be armed with banana-blueberry-pancakes, please?) and take hot showers for a few days… maybe at the same time… now we’re talking.

On another note, the last month has been a busy one filled with a lot of traveling—Koh Tao, Koh Nang Yuan, Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Surat Thani, Chiang Rai, Laos—all unique and fun and beautiful. My traveling takes place on weekends while I’m not teaching and it’s incredibly easy and cheap (flights are usually about 60 dollars round trip, and hotels range from anywhere to $5-$20 a night. So, it’s silly not to travel everywhere and anywhere). It usually consists of trying to check things off my Must-See-In-Thailand bucket list such as hiking to the top of Koh Nang Yuan, seeing Wat Plai Laem in Koh Samui, seeing the White Temple in Chiang Rai, watching the sunrise in Laos, sending off lanterns on the beach, and eating a lot of coconut ice cream (often times while simultaneously getting a massage with a bottle of wine nearby)… all good things.

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And, as crazy as it seems, I only have three weeks left of teaching. This is difficult for me to comprehend because it has gone so incredibly fast. I am of course looking forward to my adventures after Thailand, but I am truly saddened to leave these kiddos. They are so sweet and funny and it’s going to be very difficult to return back to the US and not have people tell me I’m beautiful everyday and ask me why I’m so tall or why I have so many freckles or say random funny phrases to me that they have heard on TV or in movies.

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I think this is one of my overall favorite things about the Thai culture— their humor. They have a wonderful sense of humor that still manages to translate even if there is a language barrier. I regularly find myself crying with laughter at the things my students say and do. Whether it’s them trying to pronounce my last name (it somehow usually turns into Ah-mee Mess-in-ger…) or them coming up with hilarious answers for Scattergories such as “Rings of the Lord” for Books, or “The French Language” as Something that Scares You. (Side note: teachers, if you need a game, I have found that this one works for every level and it’s my favorite.) For one of my classes, we had the letter J for one of the boards, and the answer “John Cena” worked for each topic: Superhero, Boy’s Name, Something Scary, A Kind of Entertainment, Something Tall, Animal, and A Famous Person. As you can imagine, they loved this and we were laughing hysterically.

Or, another day, I wore my hair down and one of the boys in the back raised his hand in the middle of class and shouted: “Teachaaa! Your hair is beeeeeeautiful today!” So I told him he got 100 extra points out of 30, and they all began to give me compliments.

Or, this conversation happens regularly:
    Me: “[Student’s name], do you have your homework?
    Student: *smiles blankly at me*
    Me: “I am grading you on this assignment.”
    Student: “But teacha, I love you!”
    Me: “I love you too… please bring it tomorrow.”
And it’s an endless cycle of me constantly telling them to turn it in the next day because I’m weak.

I think it’s safe to say teaching has changed me in many ways: I am much more patient and empathetic, and I have never felt taller. It is so fun and rewarding. In fact, I think this is one of the only jobs I’ve had where I don’t wake up thinking “I don’t want to go to work today.” I wake up and I look forward to going to work (despite the absence of breakfast). If I were to give advice to anyone considering teaching in Thailand, I say that you should do it. The worst that can happen is that you don’t like it so you go back home… easy as that. But, I rarely find anyone who doesn’t like it here.

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That’s not to say there aren’t challenges, or homesickness or culture shock—there is all of the above. I get truly homesick when I miss my nephews’ birthday parties, or not being able to hug my best friend of 22 years after she got engaged, or missing holidays with my family. I feel culture shock when I try to give directions and the taxi driver cannot understand anything I am saying, or when there is still a fish head attached to my dinner. But, I find the best way to overcome this is to just laugh.

The positive side of being homesick or feeling culture shock is that you realize what is truly important to you (such as breakfast and hot water and family). The downside of homesickness is that you miss where you are right now. So my advice for this (even though you didn’t ask for it), is to make a life where you are, with who you are right now. Because at some point, you’ll likely be homesick for where you are right now. I know in a few months I am going to miss this desk, and my students, and the lady I buy fruit from, and being able to fly across the country for 30 dollars, and the coconut ice cream on every corner, and the people I have met here, and my tiny apartment, and maybe even the cold showers.

So, in summary, my advice is to always do something and go somewhere you can be homesick for someday. And, eat as much breakfast as you can.

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Elephants and Eardrums

My brother often says: “It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.”

Now, personally, I prefer my adventures to go smoothly. But, perhaps it actually is “things going wrong” that make something an adventure. It certainly does make a better story.

Especially if that story happens to be your ear drum rupturing while living abroad.

Now, I think this sounds a lot cooler than it actually was. It was, in fact, not one of my finer moments in life to call my father in Hawaii in the middle of the night, crying about my head bleeding (Fathers love those kinds of calls, right? — shout out to my dad) after I woke up to some of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced.

Thus, he calmly instructed me to get to the hospital because it was likely that my eardrum had burst. So, do yourself a humorous favor and picture me venturing to a Bangkok hospital by myself in the wee hours of the morning holding a towel to my ear.

— The bright side of this is I am now fairly confident in my ability to do basically anything.

I arrived at the hospital and a nurse took my temperature, stating, “Wow, you have a fever” (note, still holding towel to my bleeding head). Fortunately, this was not a foreshadowing of the rest of my hospital time and the staff was all very kind and professional and helpful — even after I fainted due to the pain. (Told you this was a good story!)

In hindsight, I should probably send them a thank you/apology card.

To make a long story short, a mean sinus infection caused this episode (but I think I’ll probably start telling people it was from scuba diving or sky diving because that sounds way cooler). So, I lost my hearing in my right ear for a few weeks and continued to teach in Thailand.

I’m going to put that on my resume.

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So, this was a minor set back. But, four weeks later, I am happy to report my hearing has almost completely returned, Thailand is still fun and adventurous as always, and I have continued my traveling and teaching adventures as planned.

My students took their midterms the week of Christmas (it is crazy to think I am more than half way done with my teaching — how did that happen?) and they are still as sweet and silly as ever. In December I had the honor of being a judge for a Christmas singing competition (spoiler alert: every class except one sang Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’) and a Christmas speech competition where they had to report on the history of Christmas. It is safe to say my heart melted. Last week I also had my students tell me some of their New Year’s resolutions, and three of my favorites were: “Get back to the body I used to have” (undoubtedly heard on a television commercial), “Go on a plane even if it doesn’t go anywhere,” and “Play video games while sleeping.”

May these important resolutions be some New Year motivation for us all.

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To my surprise, the holidays were unexpectedly absent of homesickness (with the exception to the eardrum rupture. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little homesick during that) — most likely due to the fact that it is 93 degrees and I still don’t believe it is January right now, and also because my brother came to visit (also, I do miss my family everyday, so don’t think I don’t miss you dodo birds). It was so nice to see a familiar face and show him around Thailand. We had an adventurous week in the south of Thailand, Bangkok and Chiang Mai. We spent Christmas on the beach eating pizza and drinking Singhas, and we spent New Year’s sending lanterns into the sky in Chiang Mai. To say that our week was fun would be an understatement… and in summary, it consisted of the beach, $3 mojito buckets and the inevitable headache that follows, exploring, zip lining, playing with elephants, sending off lanterns, and traveling around. I am so grateful he came to visit. Thanks Bri guy!

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So, as always, Thailand is excellent and I am continuously humbled and amazed by daily life here. Whether it be my students bringing me gifts such as aloe vera, cookies, or a surge protector, or hiking 1300 steps up to a beautiful Buddha statue in Krabi, or paddle boarding in Koh Phi Phi, or having monkeys jump on you while hiking, or feeding elephants breakfast in Chiang Mai… it’s often hard to believe that this is real life sometimes.

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If there is anything I learned in 2015, it’s that life should regularly consist of those “wow-this-is-real-life-moments.” So, that is my New Year’s resolution for 2016. To never stop being amazed and humbled by my surroundings (and also to not make any more trips to the hospital).

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Happy New Year!

Thai Brows

Recently, while searching the internet for a lesson plan to explain “superstitions” to my 14 year olds, I stumbled upon a quote:

“The best journeys in life are the ones that answer questions that in the beginning you never thought to ask.”

I like this quote.

And I like to think that this journey to Thailand has indeed taught me many things — some of which I did think to ask, and some that I did not.

For example, one significant thing I recently learned is this: I have “sad eyebrows.”

Now, you might ask, “What are ‘sad eyebrows’?” And my answer to this is: You must ask Boo.

Boo, the eyebrow expert, is an eccentric Thai woman who happens to also wear a headband with cat ears on it everyday (yes really, everyday.) I ventured to see Boo with my friends who wanted to have their eyebrows threaded, and I decided that since I had never had mine done, that it was time. Thailand is full adventures like these. What kind of life would I be living if I were too scared to have my eyebrows done, but I could so easily jump out of a plane for fun?

So, I took the plunge.

She had me slide down in my chair because I was too tall, and she studied my eyebrows carefully. She stepped back and disapprovingly shook her head, “Ohhhh. Ohhhh no,” she gathered her thread, and handed me a headband to hold back my hair (unfortunately my headband did not have cat ears on it). “You have sad eyebrows,” she began to thread, “I fix for you and make them happy. Then, when you go back to America, I will be famous for making you beautiful.”

So, that is what she did. She reshaped my eyebrows, and they supposedly make me look happier now.

I think this experience is definitely what that quote is referring to.

Sometimes, you move to a foreign country, and you never think to ask: “Are my eyebrows sad?”

But, now I know.

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I also like to think that perhaps my face looks happy not only because of my new brows, but because I feel very happy. Everyday is a learning experience, and everyday is an adventure. In fact, it is difficult to keep track of everything — teaching, weekend trips to the islands, Chiang Mai for Yi Peng, Phuket, Krabi, exploring temples, trying new food, rooftop bars on the 45th floor, going out to Kao San Road or Soi 11, or the adventure of taking every mode of transportation to get to these locations. For example, on my birthday my friends and I went to Chiang Mai, which ultimately consisted of a bus, a motorbike taxi (to pause, please take a moment to picture me bear-hugging a Thai man on a motorbike as we zig zag through Bangkok traffic. Yes really, I bear hugged him. I have no regrets about it.), an overnight bus to Chiang Mai, a taxi, a tuk-tuk, the back of truck, an airplane back to Bangkok, to a taxi. All in about 48 hours. Needless to say, I am getting very good at using public transportation. Bear hugs included.

Although being busy and adventurous makes me happy, I do have to say that the cherry on top is this: the people. Everyday I have experiences that completely restore my faith in humanity.

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The woman I get fruit from every morning has memorized my order (coconut water and papaya), or the girl I get coffee from asks if I want “Americano yen?” (iced Americano) or “Americano rawn?” (hot), and she has memorized how I like it. If someone else makes it, she tells them in a harsh voice not to put sugar or condensed milk in it (yes, they use condensed milk in their coffee, and it is actually delicious. However, I try to save my sugar intake for coconut ice cream. One must make sacrifices). Or, on days I feel tired or under the weather, my students tell me I am beautiful, or they hug me when I come into class. They often touch my hair and ask why it is so long, or ask why I have so many freckles and ear piercings. When I say “Hello” to one of my classes, we then continue to break into song and sing Adele: “Hello, it’s me….” Or sometimes, as I am walking to school or walking home, children I don’t know will yell and wave from the back of a motorbike “Hello Teachaaa!” or run up to me to say hello. The people on my street wave and say hello as we walk past, or my favorite is the motorbike taxi man who is in love with my friend Brittany. He drives past us in the morning carrying passengers and lets out a shriek “Gooooood morning Teachaaaaa!” and waves as he drives by. It is both comical and the highlight of my day.

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On the night before my birthday, I took a taxi home (see, I told you I’m getting pretty good at this) from my friend’s place. The driver began speaking to me in English, and we chatted about how difficult Thai and English are. We tried to teach each other new words and phrases, and he taught me more directions and a better way to say how to get to my apartment if other cab drivers don’t understand me (side note: the tones of Thai are very difficult and I often think that I am saying it exactly correct, but it is in fact almost never correct.) I taught him how to say a few things in English, and when our conversation died down he turned on the English music channel for me and continued to look back in his rear view mirror to ensure I was happy. I believe I had a perma-grin across my face — my friends had surprised me and taken me to an early birthday dinner and I then met up with my swanky friend who works at the embassy afterward.

While we were at a stoplight, I was quiet and stared out the window, but I must have been smiling. He turned down the music and said, “I can see you have a beautiful soul. I see your soul right through your face. Your smile.”

As tears welled up in my eyes, I told him that Thailand does that to people.

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Sure, the mountains and the tropical weather and the beaches and the food and the drinks make Thailand nice. But the people are what makes Thailand incredible. Especially at a time in the world where so many people are currently living in fear, in pain, or in sadness; or I hear about people complaining about irrelevant things such as Starbucks cups, or whether or not they got what they wanted on Black Friday.

It is humbling to see just how little many of the people have here; and even more humbling to see just how much happiness they have.

It is nice to be reminded, everyday, that there will always be more good in the world than bad.

So, sometimes, you move to another country… and you learn things you never thought you would.

What you seek is seeking you (and I'm seeking papaya)

I have good news about moving to Thailand, and I have bad news about moving to Thailand.

I’ll give you the bad news first.

The bad news is that germs are real.  Can confirm: Germs. Are. Real.

I say this with certainty because I have been here for three weeks (…already? How did that happen?) and I have already been on antibiotics and sent home from work for having a cold and a fever.  True story.

My first lesson: do not scratch bug bites.  They will, in fact, get infected, swell up to give you a legitimate cankle, and you will then daydream about what life will be like after losing your leg to a bug bite.

Now, the irony of this is that I did not get the bite in Thailand, I got the bite in Arizona before I left.  So I was not worried about malaria or Japanese Encephalitis or all of those other scary-horror-story-bug-bite diseases.  I was mainly concerned about losing my leg because my mind likes to resort to the worst possible scenario at all times.  I will spare you from the photos of this bite, but to provide you with some kind of explanation/visual, I would describe it as what I think Jabba the Hutt’s ankles might look like: red, purple, concerning.  When I went to the pharmacy the poor pharmacist let out a loud gasp and asked how I was walking (I don’t know).  Thus, I took a week of strong antibiotics and wore a really cool purple ankle wrap.  I am now happy to report I will be keeping my leg and my ankle is back to normal proportions.

My friend at home replied that “taking antibiotics immediately after moving to a foreign country is definitely ‘laminating your adult card.’”  So, I’m happy to say that this is what adulthood is.  Let me know when you join.

My second lesson is that kids are in fact, germy.  You should wash your hands a lot and invest in hand sanitizer and those miracle vitamin shots they sell at 7/11 (which I should mention are on every corner in Bangkok).  I do currently have a pretty mean cold, but I have a theory that the children did not give me this cold, but that I caught this on my flight over to Thailand.  I sat next to a jittery guy with a runny nose—who also managed to spill a glass of water on my lap and a bowl of ice cream while I was sleeping (in hindsight, this is hilarious. But during a fifteen hour flight, I was not so amused).  Thus, I’ll blame him for this.  Or, maybe I’ll just blame flying in general because it is a fact that any airplane is just a cesspool of germs.  Planes are essentially just giant metal germ tubes soaring through the sky.

And that is the bad news.

The good news is this:

EVERYTHING.

 

Literally everything else in Bangkok and Thailand is good news (except maybe the humidity, but it’s not really bad news either).  The people are incredibly kind and welcoming, the food is delicious, my students are hilarious, I have met some of the best friends I have ever had, and I am happy —  happier than I have been in a very long time.

My move started with CIEE’s orientation and it was a great way to prepare for teaching as well as meet people and explore some of Bangkok.  I moved into my apartment in Chatuchak a few days later (at first into a room with no air conditioning, and I quickly learned how much I appreciate AC.  But, they happened to move me into an air conditioned room a few days later).  My living arrangements have all the necessities… bed, closet, bathroom, desk, a balcony… no hot water and no elevator, but I get a great workout up to the fifth floor everyday and I never have to do the stairclimber at the gym.  The people in my building are so kind and helpful — when I was first doing my laundry, I simply walked downstairs and the older woman who owns my building rushed over and threw my laundry and the soap into the machine and she pushed all of the buttons for me with the biggest smile on her face.  I tried to say she didn’t have to, but she insisted (my theory is because I was limping from my T-rex leg bite), so she and her cute little dog who wears minnie mouse sweater-vests and I tried to communicate over laundry and speaking Thai. (Sidenote: my Thai is absolutely horrific.)

I began teaching last week, and I am teaching grades 7-12 (Matteums 2, 3, 5 and 6) and it is a definite adjustment to the school system in the U.S.  I consider myself lucky because most of my students are very motivated to learn English since I am teaching in a program designed for students who excel at English.  I know many other teachers who are teaching students who speak no English at all (I salute you and am happy to get a drink with you any time).  One of the biggest adjustments is that it is very normal for students to be talking all the time; it is never completely quiet.  But, my students are hilarious and kind and they laugh at me when I pronounce their names (did I mention how bad I am at the tones of the Thai language?) and I laugh at them when they pronounce my name.  When I first arrived, all of my classes immediately asked where I was from and how old I was and if I had a boyfriend.  So in return, I ask them to teach me a Thai word or phrase everyday, such as “papaya” since I eat it every morning (because why wouldn’t you?).  Or I asked one student how to say “I like spicy food,” in which he told me to say “I am a fat old man,” in Thai, and he immediately became my favorite student because that is hilarious.  I know you’re not supposed to have favorites, but I don’t care, I’m breaking the rules.

The teachers I work with are great, and I’m happy to say that my two best friends here also teach at my school.  We do our lesson plans and plan weekend getaways and daydream of moving to Bali while eating somtom and pineapple slices.

So, in summary, this is the very condensed version of my last three weeks.  It has been very busy and wildly entertaining, but also incredibly fun and overwhelmingly humbling.  To get real sappy on you, I have never believed more than now that “What you seek is seeking you.”  I think it is absolutely true that you attract and seek people who are seeking exactly what you are.  It is so comforting to meet people with similar goals, or a similar drive to travel or help others or have fun or teach or be completely immersed in a new environment.  It is comforting to know I have found that in only three weeks.

It is now my professional opinion that living abroad is the best thing anyone can ever do.  Seeing how other people live and work and laugh and learn and love and pray and party is the best thing you can do for yourself.  Gaining a larger perspective on the problems in the world make my problems seem like nothing.  I have never been more grateful for the life I live, and the people in my life.  And more so, I have never been more motivated and inspired.

So, that’s the good news— that Thailand has changed my life in only three weeks. Cheers!

Pre-departure relaxed anxiety

Hello, readers. Welcome to my portion of the Teach in Thailand blog!  I am very excited to be a contributor amongst the rest of these very talented/intelligent/hilarious/adventurous writers, and I pledge to try and live up to the high expectations.  However, there are no guarantees and I imagine my contributions will primarily consist of what the rest of my life possesses: humor, learning, uncertainty and all of the delightful [and often eccentric] experiences that tend to follow. 

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Nevertheless, my departure date is quickly approaching, and I keep wondering when this is all going to hit me.  I do get little bursts of the realization that I am soon moving to Thailand… acquiring my visa in the mail, getting those [not so fantastic] shots, receiving that illustrious email stating that I completed my TEFL certification, or simply witnessing other people’s reactions when I tell them about this upcoming endeavor.  I find that their reactions usually fall along the lines of elation, or pure terror. 

And my theory for these reactions is this: If you are scaring other people with your life and your goals, you are absolutely doing something correctly (**the exception here is if you are a serial killer). And, if you find people who don’t think you are insane for moving to a foreign, unknown, mysterious place by yourself, it’s probably a very good idea to keep them around.  I am so looking forward to being surrounded by others who have similar goals and aspirations. 

And more importantly, I promise to try and terrify you all for the rest of my life.

Now, that’s not to say I am not nervous or anxious about this upcoming move to mold young minds abroad.  I am indeed nervous, and similar to my sudden bursts of moving-to-Thailand-realizations, I simultaneously have bursts of anxiety that arise.  They often pop up while I am driving or running or smack dab in the middle of the night — Should I bring two suitcases? What if I break my ankle while hiking a mountain?  Will I be a good teacher to these students?  Is my voice too quiet for me to pursue teaching?  Should I maybe consider miming?  Will I still be able to consume inconceivable amounts of coffee? Will the pad thai be as delicious as I dream it will be?  — And then I return back to Earth and remind myself to breathe and calm down, and I continue to daydream about pad thai (and more often than not, I’ll just email Ally and she’ll remind me that it is not a big deal. [But no really, big shout out to Ally for being awesome]).

Although there is anxiety, it is absolutely overshadowed by my excitement and how humbled I feel to have this opportunity at all.  My excitement and anticipation overshadows any significant fear, and as strange as it may sound, I am kind of scared of the fact that I am not scared of this. 

Not being scared is kinda scary.  

So, thank you for this opportunity.  Thank you for reading my sarcastic [and what I expect could be a wildly entertaining and adventurous] blog.  And thank you to my students, past and future, for motivating me to do this in the first place.

See you in Bangkok! – Probably with two suitcases and an extra ankle brace just in case.

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