My Daily Roadtrip

Archive for the tag “expat lessons”

What I’m realizing about “home”


I’ve heard the word, the discussions on what “home” means to different people, and have read numerous blog posts about the concept in the last year. And as you might expect, it’s a fairly big topic for those living outside of their passport country. If I’m honest, I have to admit that I’m even a bit tired of the conversation; not because it’s a bad one, but because I’ve been, in a sense, forced to consider the topic a lot these last 10 months.

I wasn’t looking to explore the topic of home, but moving away from the country you’ve grown up and known, and in which you are known to a degree you can’t be outside of it, somewhat forces you into considering it whether you want to or not. With that being said, I thought I’d explore what I’ve learned about the idea of home by writing about it. I’m comfortable – well, as much as someone who would, if left to my own preference and devices, put all of life into neat little boxes – knowing that my thoughts about home will shift and change the longer I live and the more I experience.

Before we moved to Thailand, I would have probably said, with about 95% confidence, that home is wherever I am with my husband and children. I’ve seen some pretty cool-looking wall decor that says, “Home is wherever I am with you” (denoting being with that special someone) and I like the thought. I really do. However, I could not hang such a sign in my house after learning what I have in the past year. My sign would have to say something like, “Home is largely … but not completely … wherever I am with you.” As much as I think such decor would bring about some interesting conversation with dinner guests, I think I’ll probably pass on having such a sign made for our walls at this time.

That idea that home is wherever I am with my husband and kids? It’s true, but I now would add some additional factors to a place being home. In the past year, I’ve discovered that, for me at least, the concept is a much more complex one than I had originally thought.

As I get older, I understand more and more that to be truly home is to be fully in the presence of God, the one who created me, knows me perfectly, and who made a way (Jesus) that I could be in perfect relationship with Him. The One in whose presence all that is broken and wrong with this world will fade away. I’ve now personally experienced or witnessed enough pain and consequences of both my own brokenness, as well as that of others, to be convinced deep down in my soul that this world is not as it should be. Because of this, I long for that eternal home more than I ever have, in varying degrees based on the day and my current circumstances.

But since my residence is currently set up on this earth, I now wrestle through what this concept of home currently means for me. As already established, it does, among other things, currently include being in the same place as my husband and two children. But beyond that, I now believe it includes being in a place where I am, in large part, understood by the culture and where I also understand – at least somewhat – the culture.

a few different aspects of "home" to me

a few different aspects of my current “home”

I remember the day months ago when I realize that I would never be very understood within Thai culture. This doesn’t sound like a profound realization; after all, why would I? I’m a guest in Thailand and I get that. We speak different languages, have very different histories (both as people and as the countries we’re from), and are very different culturally. But to feel in my gut that I live in a country where the majority of those around me will never culturally understand me? (Knowing that I’ll never completely understand them is also something I’ve considered, but that’s something to explore later.) That I’ll always be different? That, even if I could understand the language well (which I can’t beyond a very basic level), there will always be cultural nuances that I would have to explain because the way I think as a foreigner, and as an American, is very different? It brings about emotions hard to process. Such a realization can lend itself to a general feeling of lostness – how can I actually find my place here in Thailand if I’ll never “fit in?” It can also bring about a sense of loneliness, a general gut and heart “ache” at times.

Both things made me realize that America – or maybe more accurately, American culture (or at least parts of it) – is part of home for me. If I remained in Thailand for the rest of my life, I’m sure it would come to feel more like home. But knowing that I belong, in a sense that I never will here, in America, makes my passport nation – and its culture – part of home to me. That realization came as a surprise to me, although maybe it shouldn’t have. I just thought that home would be only wrapped up in the living of life with particular people, not with being part of a particular culture.

Maybe my thoughts on what home is will shift, maybe even in the near future. I’m guessing it will. Ah yes, yet another concept that refuses to be put away neatly in its own little box. As a result, I guess I’ll keep on living, considering, and understanding more about just what home means to me.


My husband has an ongoing personal project that explores the concept of home through interview, still photography, and video footage of various people of different ages, race, and geographical location within the United States (hopefully to be expanded soon!). Check it out here – look for “the home project.”


Making new friends (or not)

The process of moving to a new location and making new friends is always interesting. When moving here to Chiang Mai, we had multiple contacts; a few of whom helped us extensively via email prior to us coming. But friends who chose to be our friends because they really knew us and not just because they knew someone else we knew? We had none.


photo credit: central @ Stock Xchng

I have moved multiple times as an adult and know about that initial period after each move that can feel a bit lonely. I realize that period can last for just a few months or sometimes a much longer time. And even if you happen to know a few people in your new location, there could very well be no one who knows your “back-story;” no one who knows the brokenness that story includes but who still chooses to love you. I knew all this coming to Thailand, but had no idea what it would be like starting over with local friendships in a culture that was not my own.

Before arriving in Chiang Mai, I was aware that there is a fairly large expatriate community here. Many humanitarian organizations that work in the SE Asia region base their headquarters, or at least a regional office, here. Because of this, seeing other westerners is not all that uncommon of an experience, especially if you live in certain areas of the city. However, I am coming to find out that living in an area with this many western expats also brings with it some interesting dynamics I didn’t anticipate. The one that most relates to this post is the fact that many westerners here, for one reason or another, are not necessarily looking for more friends. Whatever the reasons for this, whether they seem “good,” or “bad,” it’s just a reality.

I remember the first day we were here … one of our contacts had picked us up and took us to a local mall to withdraw money in the Thai currency. I remember seeing a white woman and smiling broadly at her, thinking, “She’s western, I’m western, we can at least connect with a smile!” (Hey, I’m from the midwest – that’s how we do things!) Nope. I don’t even think she acknowledged me because, as I would soon find out, seeing another white person is not uncommon here. I also remember those first weeks where I would meet other women at a playgroup or at church and feel this almost desperate, “We’re both western and speak the same language – shouldn’t we be friends?!” kind of attitude, to which interest would often not be reciprocated or other circumstances would prevent further meetings. Just to clarify – it’s not that I don’t want to develop relationships with the Thai people I come into more regular contact with. I do, but the language barrier currently (until I learn more Thai) is a large deterrent to these relationships developing. As a result, as well as for other reasons, meeting others who speak the same language I do is something I’m really thankful for.

I also remember that period of time when I came to accept the reality that many others here were not looking for more friends or community. It was then that I stopped internally striving for friends (I doubt anyone I met would have sensed this striving, but I did). It was then I decided that I was going to reach out to encourage or make that first contact with the other women I met, no matter what I got back in return. It was then I decided to trust the Lord with the friends He has for me here, as well as the timing of them. And because of this decision, I have hung out with different women in the last months while holding loosely to whether or not those times will lead to deep friendships. I have tried to be a good friend, but try not to strive to make friendships happen that God does not have for me here. I feel a deep peace about it all, which is definitely a result of God’s grace, because the desire to have close friends in the same hemisphere (well, I do have a dear friend several countries away, but having close friends in-country could be nice) has not diminished.

I still don’t know how the whole friends “thing” will turn out here. But I have met several women (who I really enjoy) who have already gone out of their way to encourage, help, and show kindness to me, for which I’m really grateful. Yesterday my son became pretty sick, something that was unnerving for me in this unfamiliar place. While experiencing some fear that he may have dengue fever, I texted 2 friends here to ask them to pray, to which they both responded in encouraging ways. Throughout the day, other women here offered information regarding the doctors they take their kids to and several offered to help in any way they could. I believe their offers to be sincere and am acutely aware that it can be rare to know a few others who are willing to care for me and my family so early into living in a new location.

I know this is just the beginning of the process of having friends and being a friend here in Chiang Mai. I don’t know what that whole scene will look like 3 or 6 months down the road. But God is at work. And I am at rest.

A first time for everything …

There have definitely been many interesting, fun, and nerve-wracking “firsts” for me as of late. Some have been interesting and fun, but some were neither of those and only nerve-wracking. :/ When you’re in your home culture, it is fairly easy at times to control how many “firsts” you attempt and at what pace you attempt them. Here, it’s a bit different. Well, I could try to keep a tight control on such things here, but it would really keep me from things that are only going to make our time in Thailand richer, as well as “easier,” in some senses. Because of this, I find myself saying, “Oh, why not?” or thinking to myself, “C’mon, Dawn, you need to ‘put yourself out there’ on this one!” way more than I probably ever have. The process is tiring, exhilarating at times, and …. tiring. However, I’ve already done things I wasn’t sure I could do and my confidence is growing; more slowly in some areas than others, but nonetheless, growing.

Recently, for the first time, I have …

… driven a manual vehicle on the left side of the street while sitting on the right side of the car and shifting with my left hand. I think I got tired merely just typing that all out – wow. Driving here makes me feel like I am 16 years old again, except for the fact that my husband is in the passenger seat coaching me instead of my dad … and my 2 small children are in the backseat literally cheering me on. That is just plain weird.

… gotten a Thai massage. I know, I know, I lead a rough life. But you must know this about me; I don’t particularly like massages. I am ticklish and the amount of mental energy I have to put into not wiggling during the entire massage generally makes getting them a total waste of money and is antithetical to relaxation. But here? I decided to go for it and actually enjoyed it! For a variety of factors, the massage was done much better than any massage (um, all 2 or 3 of them) I’ve ever had done in the U.S.

… made my first batch of homemade spaghetti sauce and french toast – in one week. If you don’t think this is a big deal, ask my family. They’ll tell you they are very, very grateful for a bit of variety in our menu. 😉 Making meals I would have back in the States has come slowly as I find out which ones I can make with cost-effective ingredients here. Because of that and because I am just beginning to learn how to cook Thai food, that sauce and french toast is a big deal.


See, Mom? I wear a helmet – no need to worry!

… driven a motorbike out in traffic! The previous few times I had ridden our motorbike was just around our neighborhood, so getting out into traffic was one of the nerve-wracking firsts for me. I literally had to give myself a verbal rear-end kicking to make this happen (anyone else out there have to do the same sometimes?) – I’m not joking. I just drove down the road a bit to a coffee shop and back, but it was a start. I was possibly the slowest one on the road at the time (not a problem, other vehicles just drive around you – road rage is not an issue here) and one time I gave it gas instead of using the brakes, but all was well.

… gone out for a “moms only” night with a few new friends. This was huge because it meant that a) I have met some other women who are willing to spend their Friday evening with me, b) there were no children present which = coherent, adult conversation, and c) I had the best chocolate I have had in the last 3 months in the cafe we went to. Need I say more?

eaten fried insects! Ok, ok, I didn’t do this one, but I did have the opportunity to buy some at a market last week. I passed, deciding not to “put myself out there” on this one quite yet. However, I did try durian, which could be a close 2nd. Regarding durian, people either love or hate this particular fruit and it’s actually banned from some public places because of its smell.

… gone to Burma/Myanmar.  Granted, it was just to renew our visa and we spent most of our time in the immigration office, but we did it. It represents the opportunity we have to go places in the surrounding areas that I never dreamed I would go. These opportunities are one of the amazing perks of living here.

All these “firsts” are definitely stretching for me, but I’m forging ahead!

How about you? What “firsts” have you attempted lately? What things are you needing to try for the first time that you are putting off? C’mon … get out there and do them!

And, if you need someone to lovingly give you a “verbal rear-end kicking,” just let me know. 😉

10 lessons from our first month

First month in Thailand, that is.

Yes! Today (May 6th) is the one-month mark from when we first arrived in Chiang Mai. There have been difficult times, somewhat brutal heat, and tears, but there have also been moments of laughter and joy along with sweet family times. When Shun-Luoi thought it would be fun to blog separately on the top 10 lessons we have learned this first month, I was mostly in. Except for the “top 10” part of it. It’s a bit too much pressure to wade through all of life’s current lessons and pick the top 10, so I instead give you simply …

Ten lessons I’ve learned in our first month of living in Thailand (in no particular order):

1. Having lizards and cockroaches in my house is not the end of the world. I still hate cockroaches but have finally killed a few myself. And the other day when a small lizard darted around the wall behind our bed, I didn’t even flinch. Hooray! Baby steps, people, baby steps …

2. Having small children is both one of the greatest things and hardest things right now. Having 2 little dependent ones keeps me from having too much excess time in which to overanalyze every thought and feeling I experience (see #10 below). However, having Elijah and Abigail is also really hard because they’re so dependent on me (yep, the old double-edged sword). There are times I wish I had a bit more space to process life and just “be” in the midst of all we’re adjusting to.

3. Thai food is very tasty. I’ll be honest – when we went out for any kind of Asian food back in the States, I would order the same “safe” dish; stir-fried vegetables with chicken and steamed rice. I know, I know … boring! But hey, I’m not a hugely adventurous eater and I like to order food I know I’ll enjoy when paying for it. I was pleasantly surprised by the use of potatoes in one Thai dish – yes, I’m from the midwest – and have really enjoyed trying multiple different rice and noodle dishes, as well as a delicious mango with sticky rice dessert. Yum!

mango with sticky rice, anyone?

mango with sticky rice, anyone?

4. Being in contact with loved ones in the States is hugely important for me, but I have to be careful to not misuse social media. Doing so could easily keep me from living life fully here. I also have to be aware of not using social media to simply numb myself to any loneliness or other difficult emotions I may be currently experiencing.

5. The familiar can be incredibly therapeutic. Things like spending time with other Americans/westerners, eating familiar foods from home, and listening to American music (from the 80s, 90s, or whenever; it doesn’t matter!) are really good things for my soul. Seriously.

6. Figuring out “life-giving” ways to care for myself is imperative. Things I have found so far that accomplish this? Listening to worship music, iced lattes, writing, sweeping our driveway (!), resting in our air-conditioned bedroom during the hottest time of the day, and morning walks.

7. Flexibility is highly valued by the Thai people. As a result, living here is some sort of cruel joke on me. 😉 Actually, I think it’s going to be a huge gift because even though I have grown in the ability to roll with the punches and let things go, I still have much to learn in this area. I’ll have no choice but to do so in this laid-back culture.

8. My capacity here is very different than in America. I don’t even know the nuances of how that all works at this point (nor may I ever), but I do know that simply living day-to-day life is much harder. Accomplishing even small things takes much more effort. I’m not sure how much is due to the heat, language differences, being car/motorcycle-less at the moment, or other things, but it’s just harder. When I’ve talked with other expats living here, many have mentioned that what I’m experiencing in this area is pretty typical.

9. My tendency toward introspection is both a great gift and great curse. I am wired to always want to get at the heart of why I’m feeling or thinking certain things. My training as a counselor adds an additional dimension to that. BUT – sometimes you just don’t need to analyze your thoughts and feelings. In our current life circumstances, introspection helps me have a better sense of what I’m struggling with or … causes me to freak out. [insert pulling of hair]

10. I need to allow Jesus to meet me where I’m at these days. Whatever I am going through or struggling with is not beyond who He is or His reach. This song, passed on as a reminder to me from my brother, speaks to that truth beautifully.

And believe me, those ten are among many other lessons I am learning. The learning curve is high these days, folks!

Are you curious what Shun-Luoi chose as his ten lessons? Read about them here.

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