(This is pretty much stream-of-consciousness, so forgive the mess. I just wanted to get everything down before too much time passes.)
Even though I had a hard time in Thailand, I am terribly disappointed that it ended the way that it did. I was finally starting to find my stride there; while it was never easy, it was doable and sometimes even enjoyable during those last weeks. I think that it could have ended up turning into a positive experience, but clearly that was cut short. I feel awful that all I got to experience in Asia was unpleasant because I sincerely believe that there is so much more to the place, even Thailand. I know that one day I'll go back just for fun and finally do the things that I wanted to do all along, and it will be in some small way like going home.
In spite of (or, more likely, because of) my struggles, Thailand gave me a lot. For the first time, I was totally self-sufficient. I can't even describe how huge that is for me. Even if things weren't excellent, it was such a huge relief to be supporting myself, at least up until the emergency flight back to Philly. The road to adulthood has been pretty rocky for me, and I have never had the money to be truly financially independent, but at least in Thailand I had a full time job that could actually support my lifestyle, however humble it may have been. Even better, that job was the one I've wanted my whole life. Teaching in Sadao kicked my ass, but I came away knowing for sure that I want to spend my life teaching, and I can't think of anything better than that.
I keep thinking back to the week in March when, deep in a post-graduation rut, I decided to give myself and break and go back to Charleston for a little while. I was exhausted and working two jobs, one of which I hated and neither of which required the degree I had until recently worked so hard for. I lived in my parents' basement and had no social life. I had sent myself to the edge of a nervous breakdown the previous winter applying for grad schools, and I had already received two rejection letters (including my safety school, so things weren't looking good). If you had asked me on graduation day what my worst-case scenario for the coming year was, I would have pretty much described the reality in which I found myself. Of course, I had a lot to be thankful for even in this situation, but I was so unhappy. I knew I had to do something, and so I went home to Charleston to regroup. I ate and drank, spent much needed time with great friends, went to a couple of lectures, and for the first time in nearly a year, I started to feel like myself again. Not like my college self, either, and I realized that my life was actually moving forward, even if I felt like it had completely stagnated. Then, about halfway through my trip, I got the rejection letter from my first choice school. I was fairly crushed, as most of us are in similar situations, but something kind of broke for me then. I realized that I had in effect been waiting for someone else to make a decision to determine the course of my life, and in doing so, I had pretty much missed out on nearly a year. Later that very day, Bess and Emily came back from class and told me about a TESOL certification course they were planning on taking in Quito...
It didn't all turn out the way that I wanted, clearly. But my job in Thailand brought me to two new continents (I doubt I would have gone to Ecuador without having an ESL position lined up, and frankly, Thailand could have been a lot worse and it would still have been worth it just to have had my experience in South America). I got out of my comfort zone in a huge way, which is pretty impressive considering that my comfort zone already included shady hostels, organ meat, rickety public transport, and no understanding of the local language. It got me out of that rut. There's a part of me that feels like I'm right back where I started last February, back to square one, but I know that's not true. In the past year, in the past six months, my entire life has turned around, largely for the better. I put myself in a situation that would have broken a lot of people down, but I got through it pretty well, and now the world doesn't seem like such an insurmountable obstacle. I did something I am proud of.