I Bought the Cheese: Reflections from the Half-way Point

I am a few days past my half-way point in the program, and I finally caved and bought Western food. Cheddar cheese. A whole block of it. I walked 6 miles for it and it was $5USD (unbelievably expensive for Thai prices) and worth every single penny and step.

First off, I want to make it clear that me missing Western food and going to such drastic lengths to find it does not in any way mean I’m sick of Thai food. I don’t think that’s humanly possibly. Admittedly, I do miss knowing what I’m eating. Not in the “hmm, I wonder what spices are in this dish?” As in, “hmm. Am I eating an animal, vegetable or mineral?”. (I ate what turned out to be charcoal bread a few weeks ago). And within the comforts of the familiar, I miss being able to understand conversations I overhear, and on home stay weeks really miss not having to peer into the buckets of water I use to shower to check for mosquito larva and cockroaches.

But those are the little things.

I’m a little over halfway through the program, and that’s amazing part. My time in Thailand has been such an incredible experience where I have been pushed and prodded very far outside my comfort zone.

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This picture was on the wall in my first-year section at Whitman, and I’m fully grasping it’s significance.

That “magic” circle in the picture? That’s where I find joy. And self-worth. And understanding of myself, both in the context of my immediate program mates, my friends and family back home, and in the larger context of being an American in a globalizing world. These realizations are why I chose Thailand over Europe, and why I embrace the challenges hurled my way, even if it means not knowing where and with what family I’ll be sleeping with at night.

And, half-way through the semester, I am recognizing just how much I’ve learned and experienced.

I have gotten to further dig into recognizing my own privilege, including experiencing first-hand how privileged I am to not fear the tap water at home and realizing just how lucky I am to have a world of choice in my future, from who I can marry to my future occupations. I have been able to have the most incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I have been welcomed into the homes of people who don’t speak anything even close to my language, and I have made strong, lasting connections and friendships with people across cultures, languages and generations.

If my time in Thailand has taught me anything, it is to trust myself and my abilities. Because out of every scrape and awkward and confusing moment, I have pulled myself out of it. This is not without me leaning heavily on the steady, unwavering support of of my friends and family. But I nonetheless have solved issues on my own two feet. And that has been the best thing about being in Thailand. I was comfortable with myself and who I am when I left America, but after navigating uncomfortable situations and having my identity continually critiqued and questioned by others on my program, as well as by myself, I have come to absolutely love and appreciate myself and my abilities.

And that’s not to say I don’t have flaws and room to improve myself. But that’s the thing. I’ve learned about my flaws, and I’m working on them, and I have full faith in my ability to continually work to improve myself. But not out of self-hatred and a desire to change my very self. No, I continue to push myself out of self-love, because I know I deserve to live in that larger circle of “where the magic happens”, and sometimes it is only I alone that can get myself there.

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