There are a few tough spots in my life as an American expat in Asia.
Most are pretty trivial – I’ve never been able to find the kind of deodorant I really like. Cheese is way more expensive than I’m used to. The drastic time zone difference between here and home can get really inconvenient.
And I miss certain holidays that just aren’t celebrated here – or are celebrated in smaller or different ways.
Thanksgiving is right around the corner, but I’ve yet to enjoy a pumpkin spice latte this season, it’s way too warm to get cozy in a cardigan, and I don’t even have an oven to prepare my favorite seasonal dishes in (not that I’d really know how to, anyway).
But the most important tradition for this time of year is still completely doable – which is giving thanks. And I think I have more things than ever to be grateful for.
So here’s my list of 5 things I’m thankful for as an expat:
#1 – I am embracing all my passions and interests in a way that seems almost miraculous.
Since I was a kid/teen, I have had a few consistent interests that seemed a bit random and unrelated. It wasn’t until I moved to China to teach ESL that suddenly everything clicked together in a way that is obvious and natural now.
I have been fascinated with words and language since before I can remember – I always loved writing, language arts was my best subject in school, and I was the person everyone went to with grammar or spelling questions.
As a kid, I also loved learning and daydreaming about other countries. I spent hours at the library filling up index cards with random facts about the countries I wanted to explore when I was older, and I made travel a priority as soon as I was old enough to.
Finally, as a high school student, I took a job in an after school program and immediately fell in love with all the kids I was caring for. I had another amazing experience as a camp counselor in college, and it was then that I realized I am happiest when working with kids and teens.
Teaching English abroad blends all these aspects of my personality and when I stop and think about this, I feel so incredibly lucky to have found exactly the right life for me.
#2 – I’m seeing and experiencing new things all the time.
Since moving to Bangkok in July 2016, I’ve traveled somewhere new almost every month. Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I think of this – I can’t believe how many places I’ve been now and cultures I’ve experienced, and I’m not slowing down any time soon! I love living in a part of the world where travel is so easy and affordable.
#3 – I’m much more interested in my own life.
When I lived in America, I would spend an embarrassing amount of time watching television. I could get through an entire series in a matter of days. It was the #1 way I spent my free time.
Sometimes I worried about this habit being unhealthy, but I could never break it – until I arrived in China. Once I was abroad, my TV routine just completely vaporized. I never even thought about the shows I used to obsess over. I don’t think I watched one for an entire year.
Now I’ll occasionally try to get into a series everyone is talking about. But it makes me restless and bored. I don’t enjoy it anymore, and I’d always rather be out experiencing something more real or substantial.
I think this change happened so effortlessly because I am genuinely happy with my actual life now, and I am thankful to be so excited by everything around me. Just going on a simple walk can be a great afternoon that energizes and inspires me. My mind is no longer trying escape a rut that I don’t really belong in.
#4 – I found an amazing partner in the most random place.
I have traveled alone a little, and it is definitely an empowering experience that I’d recommend everyone try at least once. But in the long-term, I am so thankful that I met Simon in the South of China and that we recognized how compatible – and rare – we were. Our dreams for the future are not very common, and finding someone who wants the same things and who we travel and live with so easily is definitely something to be grateful for.
#5 – I have the most amazing friendships.
We’ve mentioned in several blog posts how powerful friendships and bonds made abroad can be. We have so much in common with our friends out here, and we have a ton of stories together.
But living as an expat has also made me thankful for my friends back home. Before I left, I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to stay in touch. Not only am I more active and busy than I used to be, the time zone difference makes communication tricky. Sometimes I wonder if my friends will eventually just write me off as someone who isn’t really important to their lives anymore – but every time I do hear from them or get a chance to catch up, I feel just as close and important as ever.
If you’re an expat living abroad, can you relate to any of these? What would you add to the list. And if you’re an American expat, how are you celebrating Thanksgiving while away from home?