Even though I have only lived in Thailand for a short time, I have noticed particular aspects of an expat life that are definitely unique* in comparison to those who live within their home culture. This isn’t all that profound of a realization, but I’ve been thinking more about one of these unique aspects as of late.
The good-byes. The hellos are part of it as well, but at the moment, I’m especially noticing the good-byes. Many expats who live here work for nonprofits doing work in either Thailand or the surrounding countries. New people move here all the time – I’ve witnessed this even in just 11 months. People also seem to be leaving all the time. This is sometimes due to a job change that leads them back to their home country, because they’re returning home for a furlough in order to fundraise or catch a breather from the cultural stresses, or a move to a different country within their organization. Other people travel extensively for their jobs and are gone for weeks at a time. And then there are the good-byes on the other end; when they leave their home culture to return here for their jobs. The goodbyes at the end of yet another skype call, another trans-ocean phone call, another email to their loved one who lives thousands of miles away.
As a result, expats are forced to decide whether or not they’ll take the risk of opening up their hearts and lives to other expats, not knowing who will leave and who will stay, or for how long. I’ve seen both choices being made. Some seem unwilling to open up because everyone ends up leaving anyway, and then there are others who willingly let you in even though they know the leaving could happen at some point. Thankfully, I’ve met multiple other women who took the risk of letting me into their lives, even though they didn’t know how long we’d be here. After being here for a bit and seeing this part of expat life, I am very cognizant of the sheer courage it took for these women to do what they’ve done. I’m impacted deeply by it that because I realize they didn’t have to take that risk.
They didn’t have to drive me around different areas of town to help familiarize me with them. They didn’t have to arrange getting some papaya leaf juice made in order to help treat what we thought at the time was dengue fever in my husband. They didn’t have to care for our son when our daughter fell off a wall onto her face and had to stay in a local hospital overnight to observe her neurological status. They didn’t have to ask how I was doing, nod empathetically when I cried about how hard life felt, or tell me to call them in the middle of the night if I needed anything while my husband was traveling. They didn’t have to.
But they did.
I could cry (oh, and believe me – I have) thinking about it as I write this. What an incredible gift these women have offered me and my family! I am humbled and challenged by them in numerous ways. And you know what makes it even more profound to me at the moment?
We’re leaving Thailand.
Yes. Now I’m the one saying good-bye, and this is much to our surprise, because we had already planned to stay beyond our initial one-year commitment. Over the past 1.5 months, we’ve seen that God actually has different plans, ones that require returning to America. I’ll share more about that in another post, but I’d rather get back to my friends and their courage. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that I’m the best thing that has happened to these women; that they’ll be devastated when I leave. They won’t. What I am saying is that they took the chance on me and within a year later, that risk means they’ll have to say good-bye again. They invested in me and my family and while I hope part of the return for them was that I was a good friend to them as well, but do you know what another part of their return is? Loss. Yet another good-bye.
Before we finalized our decision to move back to the US, I cried a lot. The tears were cried for multiple reasons, but the biggest one was over the relationships I would leave behind if we made the decision to leave. I have met some incredibly brave and beautiful women here and it’s my loss that I will no longer get to live life with them or learn from them.
Chiang Mai friends (you know who you are), I respect and admire the courageous things you and your families are doing here. I am humbled that you took the risk to open up to me and invest in my life. Thank you for taking that risk – because of it, I’ve been changed. Being the recipient of your decision to open your hearts to me has been one of the very best parts of living here …
and I’m beyond grateful.
* I imagine military families, or those with jobs that require moving at multiple points during their career would probably have similar experiences, but I cannot speak for those groups.