It’s 2016 and I’m looking into the mirror in my Philadelphia apartment. A young man is looking back at me. He’s trying to hype himself up before his 12-hour shift in the ER. He’s feeling lost, unsure, and out of place. He’s not trying to get bitched out by one of the attending physicians at work today. He’s about 6 months from a major life change, but he doesn’t know it yet. He’s about to take that trip…
I was on track to go to PA school, settle into a high-paying job, and start saving to buy a house. Instead I decided to take a chance and enroll In a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) program in Thailand. I told my friends and family I’d be gone for six months. I wasn’t so sure about the path I had chosen for myself anymore and I needed some time to think.
Six months turned into three years abroad. I lived in three different countries teaching English and Science. I fell in and out of love. I set foot on four continents and adopted two dogs. I got to know and love three different schools and communities. I made friends and connections around the world. I went from eating shit surfing 2-foot waves to dropping in on double overheads (Shaka Emoji). I hiked on the hunt for Komodo Dragons, and walked barefoot through bat shit in ancient Buddhist temples. I trekked through the Peruvian Andes descending from glaciated peaks into the cloud forests on the edge of the Amazon. I made it to Mount Everest Base Camp (with food poisoning). I swam with Manta Rays. I almost got involved with the Taxi mafia in Bali. I ate guinea pigs, congealed pork blood, fermented mud crabs, grilled beef hearts, and became close to an expert in pairing light beers with ceviches. I went bowling for white tipped reef sharks. I hiked volcanoes and waterfalls. I saw some of the world’s best coral reefs before it’s too late (sad emoji). I learned how to meditate with my students in Thailand. I learned how to celebrate Andean holidays like a local. I learned a whole new language. I met the most amazing people and heard the most incredible stories. I remembered how to see the magic in the world like a child. I learned how to appreciate even the most basic bench in a town square. I realized everyone is just a friend you haven’t met yet, and even a 22-hour flight is a reason to get psyched if it’s with the right person (winky face emoji).
Oh and all that professional stuff I left behind? I didn’t put that on hold. It just got recalibrated. I learned how to teach, write a curriculum, and be a professional. I learned how to do a job the way I felt was best, and how to back it up. I learned humility. I learned how to listen and really mean it. I learned how to be self-reliant, break down a problem and come up with solutions. I learned what it’s like to be that foreigner waiting in line at the immigration office. I learned how to talk to all types of people and make them feel heard. I learned how to come up with a plan that’s 100% mine and execute it.
I got to know that guy in the mirror about a million times better. I came home and got a job doing something I’m actually behind. Grad school is still happening for me, but this time it feels right. It feels like me.
I’m back in Philly now looking in another mirror. I fucking love that guy looking back at me. He’s been through a lot, and he knows it. When I look at his life I know one thing for sure: it’s 100% his, and it’s just getting started.