Disney World, imma let you finish.. but Thailand is the happiest place on Earth.
They don’t call it the “Land of Smiles” for nothing! Thailand’s beautiful landscapes, thrilling adventures, generous people and laid back lifestyle have this surreal, magical way of brightening your soul. I feel especially lucky to get to experience life as a local here, away from many of the tourists and Western influences.
I have honestly never been happier in my life. Here are a few reasons why:
I am welcomed with open arms wherever I go.
Upon arriving and meeting my co-teachers, I immediately felt at home. They each have such unique personalities, but have picked up on our sarcastic humor and love to joke around with us in the office. We have grown very close with them and know they’re there for us when we need help. However, it is mostly strangers who surprise me with their kindness and generosity.
Last weekend, we visited some of our American friends in Ngao, a small town outside of Lampang, and all nine of us were treated to a full day of excursions by some of the teachers at their school. At the end of the day, just before dusk, we stopped in a tiny mountain village, where members of the small hill tribe had been anxiously awaiting our arrival. To our surprise, the children in the village had prepared a show for us! We played with them, taught them about high fives, and watched while they sang and danced in their traditional Northern Thai garb. It was one of the cutest things I have ever seen.
We were also invited to lunch on Sunday at the school coordinator’s house, where she fed us homemade somtam (papaya salad) and green curry with rice and noodles. She welcomed us into her home as if she had known us our whole lives; as if we were her own children. We all sat around on the floor, talking, laughing, eating and forming new bonds, with her and with each other. These small moments are the ones I will cherish most when it’s all over.
Every day brings a new adventure.
Sometimes I have this kind of out of body experience where I look around and wonder if all this is really happening. How can it be that I’ve been living in Thailand for two months and have already become so accustomed to life here? I have to step back and remind myself that I’m standing in front of a waterfall in rural Northern Thailand, more than 8,000 miles from home with people I practically just met. It doesn’t feel that way at all. My friends here, both Thai and American, have quickly become my family, and from camping trips to waterfall hikes to drunken debauchery, we’ve already had some incredible adventures.
I have the perfect work-life balance.
I have a full-time job teaching English to high school students. I come to school five days a week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and teach three to five 50-minute classes per day. In total, I have more than 1,000 students and my job is to help them practice their speaking and listening skills. The nice thing is that I’m able to get a lot of grading and planning done during my free periods, so I don’t have to bring my work with me when I go home.
That means that when I get home at 4:30 p.m., I have plenty of time to read, exercise, explore the city, take a nap or meet up with friends. For me, this time is essential to my happiness. It keeps me sane. I think back to my college days, when I was constantly running from classes to meetings and dance rehearsals, then coming home and churning out a seven-page paper I had put off until the last minute, and I don’t know how I survived. Life in Thailand is much more laid back. I run or do strength training almost every day, I go to the park and read or journal, I buy fresh fruit at the local street markets, and scope out new restaurants to try for dinner. I am healthier, both physically and mentally, than I have ever been before.
I feel appreciated.
When we first arrived, we loved feeling like the Thai teachers were happy to have us here. For the first time, they had a group of all women–their “four little angels.” Recently, bit by bit, we’ve pieced together some horror stories about American teachers they’ve had before and realized exactly why they’re so happy to have us.
One of the past teachers threw markers at his students when they wouldn’t listen to him; another pretended to be sick and took an entire week off work. One girl accused everyone in the office of stealing her things; and the last group just sort of kept to themselves.
One of our Thai teachers was chatting with me last week and commented on how “cheerful” we were when we came in that morning. The night before, we had made an “Elf Yourself” video and put our teachers’ faces on the bodies of elves dancing to Spanish Christmas music, so we were all watching it again in the morning and laughing about how goofy it was. “We are always happy here,” I told her. “Not like the last group,” she replied.
It’s great to feel like we’re making a positive impact here and building close relationships with the people we’ve met. It’s also great to be able to explore all the beauty Thailand has to offer and see places that are off the beaten path. I literally feel like I’ve reached Nirvana. I’m so grateful for everything that’s gotten me to this point, and while spending the holidays away from home has been difficult, I’m also grateful to have such a strong support system here. (It doesn’t hurt that my wonderful boyfriend Michael will be here to celebrate Christmas with me too!)
Wishing everyone at home a very happy holiday season! Thinking of you all a little extra this week.