By Haley Elizabeth
So you say you’re not brave enough
People tend to stereotype ex-pats. I mean, I definitely did. Especially at the beginning. I hated them. I despised listening to the pretentious conversations about who had been to the most of obscure places and done the most obscure things. Who had the craziest stories, who had taken the biggest risks. Seriously, are any of us impressed anymore? (No, we aren’t). Mostly I guess I just felt out of place around them. Like I was some imposter in their midst. I realized later that sometimes it’s not even about taking risks; that sometimes you just acquire these outrageous stories organically (and that’s another blog for another day). However, I would like to dispel a myth. A myth that as Peter Griffin would say “really grind my gears.” This myth that you have to throw all caution to the wind and live your life completely carefree as an aimless wanderer in order to survive in a foreign country. I’m here to tell you that you do not have to live your life like Jessa Johanssen in order to be a successful traveler (if you don’t watch Girls then you won’t get that reference, and shame on you). In fact, I have lived abroad on two separate occasions and I would never describe myself as carefree, free spirited, or as a risk taker. I have discovered that traveling has taught me more to weigh the risks rather than to completely rule them out.
My mom always described me as a cautious child; the complete opposite of my little sister. Emily would run down the beach and plunge into the water head first, regardless of temperature, threat, or the absence of a vigilant adult. All the while, I was more apt to tip toe to the waters edge and stick my toes in first. Then I would evaluate what could possibly be in there swimming with me. Then, if I deemed it safe, I would slowly wade in up to waist. These habits were a precursor to much of my teen- adult life. I have never been a rule breaker at school or at work. Not because I’m a goody-goody with some innate need to obey authority, but because I have a fierce conscience and I’m a terrible liar. To put this craziness into perspective, I honestly believed that if I got a detention in high school, and it went on my PERMANANT RECORD, that it would prevent me from getting into college. I may or may not have drunk the administrative Kool-Aid on that one.
So what do these painfully awkward pieces of my life have to do with you traveling abroad? It’s supposed to show you that all kinds of people can be travelers. Need more examples? Sure you do.
Travel in my experience has never been stress free. In fact it’s one of the worst parts of living abroad. Not only do I get motion sickness on every transportation medium, I am also plagued by bouts of extreme paranoia. I can’t tell you how many times that I have almost had a full fledged panic attack in an airport terminal. I check my purse for my passport, wallet, and phone every 5-10 minutes to maintain some semblance of sanity. Every time I cannot immediately clutch the soft leathery outer casing of my passport my heart seems to fall directly through my ass. It’s all I can do to not dump out my entire bag to rummage through the contents (It probably doesn’t help that I am usually highly caffeinated during these adventures. Hindsight is 20/20, huh?)
And now, even after 7 months in Thailand I still have tiny freak outs when I’m in the back of a tuk tuk alone.
“Why did he take this road? I don’t know this road. Oh my god, this is it. The start of my very own Taken ordeal. BUT LIAM NEASSON ISN’T MY DAD! MY DAD GETS SICK ON LONG PLANE RIDES! SHIT. SHIT. SHIT. Oh… We’re here…”
These thoughts are irrational, horrible, and downright ridiculous. However, I think it is irrational, horrible, and ridiculous to pretend that everyone who moves abroad is gallivanting around completely fearless. You should be scared but that fear shouldn’t rule your life. And although travel sometimes agitates my already worry laden mind, I think it is all the more important and helpful. I mean I was never a risk taker but now I am forced to take small risks everyday. I’ve just learned to weigh the pros and cons in a rational and effective way.
I risk death and dismemberment every time I get on my motorbike. However, it is the most convenient way to get to work and to get around Surat. I risk getting a parasite every time I eat food from the market or a shady street vendor, but sometimes after work the last thing I want to do is make dinner. I risk being misunderstood pretty much every time I open my mouth and attempt to speak Thai. But you can’t improve if you don’t try and mama has business to attend to. I risk embarrassing myself at pretty much every turn whether it is language related, a cultural faux pas, or screaming at the ridiculously huge spider that was hiding under the bunch of bananas I picked up at the fruit stand. But, I believe that these experiences teach me more each day and that I’m a better world citizen for it. They have also taught me to laugh at myself more and not to worry too much about what other people are thinking of you (except seriously though, screw that spider). Most terrifyingly, I risk alienating myself from my friends and family every day that I am away from them. But, I have confidence in the people that I love and in myself. I have assured myself that I will do my best to nurture these relationships from afar, and that my loved ones will continue to support and love me regardless of the miles and the time difference.
And why do I, a scared shitless worry-wart, risk all of this? Definitely not for the pretentious stories or to escape the uncertainty of my adult career path. But because it makes a noticeable difference in the way I view the world and the way I view myself. Because it allows me to experience parts of life and culture that I could never experience on a vacation. And because it allows me to build relationships with people that I would otherwise never have met.
So the next time you decide that you couldn’t possibly move abroad because you aren’t brave enough, bite your tongue. You don’t have to be a drug hazed love child, or just downright crazy to live abroad. You don’t even have to be brave. You just have to be willing. You have to weigh the risks of leaving and decide if it’s really worth it. Personally, I think it is.
Haley’s first love is and will always be Italy. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2013 and is currently working in Thailand as an ESL teacher. When she is not teaching/ entertaining/wrangling 30 eight year olds she enjoys reading, investigating the coffee shop scene in Suratthani, Facebook creeping, and swapping classroom horror stories with her coworkers. You can follow her sporadic blog activity on her personal blog http://tonguethaidtravelers.wordpress.com/.