From the moment I graduated I put myself under enormous amounts of pressure to achieve what I describe as the magic five: career, house, friendships, husband and babies. Not because I particularly wanted those things, but because somewhere along the line these had been drummed into me as the pillars of success. By the time my boss asked me if I was interested in moving half way around the world I was desperate for something different. I was 27 and I still didn’t have a clue about what I wanted, but I knew after five years in London as a paper pusher I needed a challenge. When I moved to Bangkok I was confused, a little aimless and full of negative thoughts and emotions.
I had never visited South East Asia before, but for some reason the move (along with the boy I had been dating for four months) looks scarier when looking back than it felt at the time. Two and half years later Thailand has given me more than I could ever imagine, and I am the happiest I have ever been. Here are the five biggest ways Bangkok has changed my outlook and the way I live my life.
I used to feel that life was all about getting things done. Ideally I wanted things done by yesterday, but if that was not possible, then I could just about cope with right now. I was impatient to get places and treated those who messed up my timings with a loud sigh and narrowing eyes, whether it was the stranger blocking the escalators leading up from the underground or a friend who was five minutes late for coffee. The heat here in Asia soon put a stop to any haste, but developing patience took a little longer. When you live in a country where you can barely speak the language, have minimal understanding of the customs and even less of an idea about the government systems then you have to learn to take a deep breath and wait. Sometimes for far longer than you’d like. Keeping your cool is considered a great quality here and whilst I am not quite as chilled as my Thai colleagues, I am surprisingly more easy-going than I used to be.
Leaving behind almost everything you know and getting to grips with another country is never going to be easy, but with every challenge I have faced and overcome my confidence has slowly grown. But for me it was at work that I really flourished. With my closest colleagues and superiors in the UK and Australia I had to learn to make my own decisions and trust my own judgement. Years of being protected by a team and always being able to double-check things had stifled me and made me believe my ideas were worthless. I took the confidence my boss had in me and I ran with it. Sadly for them it was out the door to a more fulfilling career, but I am thankful for the chance they took when they transferred me to Thailand.
3. A Sense of Adventure
Compared to many adventurers out there I probably still look a little tame, but since the move to Bangkok I have been taking bigger and bigger steps outside my comfort zone. As someone who used to stick to the safest thing on the menu, I now get excited by trying some of the weirder things you can find here. As a lifelong hater of crustaceans I have munched on whole soft shell baby crabs and large river prawns. I have also learned that a little spice is a good thing. I have travelled alone to countries I had not previously visited, freaking out in early mornings before my flight left but embracing it once I had arrived. I now have a list of things I want to experience rather than trying to tick off mortgages and white dresses.
4. A love for staying connected Thailand’s love of social media is impressive. In the top ten most instagrammed locations, Bangkok appears twice. I have joined this ecstatic congregation on Twitter, Facebook, Google plus and via my blog. Not only has this been a fantastic way of connecting with people in the region, but it also enables me to keep a toe in my world back in the UK. I probably communicate more with my siblings now than when I lived down the road. For years I was the girl with the second hand brick phone, now I am a techno geek, lusting after fast connection speeds and better apps.
From glass half empty to a whole bottle of bubbly, life suddenly looks shiny again. I think part of this stems from the general hopefulness that still exists in Asia, as things continue to develop and grow here. Back where I came from people talk about recessions and cuts. Here dreaming doesn’t feel like a waste of time. Another thing that really helps is that smiling and laughing is contagious here in Thailand. People don’t eye each other up suspiciously on public transport, if you catch someone’s eye in the street and smile they will return the favour and most awkwardness can be dispelled by a giggle.
I feel far removed from the girl I was when I moved here. I knew that taking on Thailand would be a life-changing experience, but I underestimated how deeply it would affect the inner me. Time away from the world you once thought was everything is terrifying, liberating and life defining. If your hand is hovering over the ‘book this flight’ button then don’t hesitate a second longer. For better or worse living in another country is the best gift you can give yourself.
Read more from Claire Mykura here.