Mattison Boveri is a junior currently studying abroad in Thailand through a fully funded scholarship from the U.S. State Department. Her weekly observations will be posted in her column in The Forest Scout, “Half the World Away.”
In Thailand there exist few numbers that dictate my life. Time is but a suggestion, weight or height I am blissfully oblivious to, and I can easily lose count of the number of mangoes eaten per day. There is one exception, the number of days in Thailand and the number of days until I go home.
At this point, I am halfway through my exchange year. When writing this sentence, I am filled with a feeling of pride and accomplishment. Just five months ago, I stepped onto a plane and prepared to start my life halfway around the world. Five month from now, I will step onto another plane and return back to the U.S. Since beginning this journey, I have learned more about a different culture and country than I ever could from a classroom. However, maybe more importantly, I have learned about myself.
Most obviously, I have learned to step outside my comfort zone because everything is new to me. In doing so, I have made a lot of mistakes and try not take the criticism too seriously. Discovering the subtleties in another culture comes through trial and error. Being uncomfortable or embarrassed is unavoidable when your ideas of polite manners is the exact opposite in the context of your host culture.
Distance makes the heart grow fonder, which I have realized this year with respect to my family. The most difficult aspect of my exchange is the occasional loneliness. While Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles it is not an affectionate culture. Thai people do not shake hands or hug. The lack of physical contact can add to the feeling of isolation. When I had lived abroad before, I was with my family. I braved all the complexities of a foreign environment with loved ones by my side. Going on exchange alone has opened my eyes to how important family is and how precious the time is that you spend with them. Especially during the holidays, when all my fondest memories are connected to my family, it doesn’t seem right to try and celebrate when they are so far from me, and its 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
The most glaring of self realizations is how much I have taken for granted my entire life. I am living very comfortably in Thailand but I am not blind to the fact that not everyone is. Specifically in school, I now notice what a privilege is it to have air conditioning, heating, diverse food options, school computers, western style toilets, and hand soap.
Lastly, I recognized my deep rooted and everlasting love for hummus and Mexican food, the latter of which I have been without since arriving in Thailand.
The expected feeling of “Oh my gosh! Halfway! What? Time goes by so fast!” is not the most prevalent emotion at the moment. Each day I wake up and face 24 hours full of challenges. These obstacles are specific to my situation, right here, right now. Everyday these change. But they always leave me full of new questions, answers, and exhausted. Each day is earned. The satisfaction of reaching halfway comes from appreciating all the trials and tribulations that have led me here.
Since being an exchange student I have gained so much respect for other exchange students and people who live in and confront a different culture on their own. Roughly 150 days in Thailand with about 150 days to go. So far, no regret has hit. While some students might look back at the halfway point on exchange and think about all they haven’t accomplished, I feel confident and believe that I have experienced a very fulfilling half of my exchange year. I am over the hump, it is all downhill from here. Hoping for another half as adventurous and intriguing as the first.