Bah, Humbug: How to Cope with Holidays Abroad

This is the part they don’t talk about. Quit your job, travel the world, you will have the best adventures, change your life and find yourself. But what about the hard stuff? Moving across the world can’t always be easy… Missing weddings, holidays, birthdays, and all of the silly days in between is not easy. Sure, you are the one who chose to leave but that doesn’t mean you don’t miss the people who you left behind. It doesn’t mean that half the stories out of your mouth aren’t about your family, this one time in college or the adorable photos you just got of your niece in the Nutcracker. The travel blogs and instagrams you idolize may not show photos of them tearing up in the middle of the street because they just want to go home. Or the feeling when all of your family is together and you are sick in bed. As usual, I am committed to being raw and sharing all parts of my adventures with you, so here is the truth behind never being home for the holidays.

Moving abroad to Thailand and Australia and being able to teach and adventure in both places have been the most rewarding experiences of my life but that is not to say they haven’t had their fair share of lonely moments as well. Yes, you will feel homesick. Yes, you will get sick of being the face on the Facetime screen, so close and yet so far from being involved in all the memories happening at home without you. The holidays make it especially difficult so I wanted to send some encouragement to my fellow expats, travelers, or anyone who can’t make it where they consider “home” this holiday season. This is the most wonderful time of the year, but like all good things, that puts a hell of a lot of pressure on you to feel merry and bright. Here is how I survive the holidays:

Bring traditions with you– If you are far away from home, find a way to decorate and spread a little Christmas or Hanukkah cheer. Watch your favorite Christmas movies, bake your Grandma’s famous recipe and make sure to share it with the people you’ve met or love abroad. Sharing our traditions with others makes them special for a whole new set of people. Luckily, I am a teacher so I always get free reign to teach my students all about American culture and holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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My Thai Thankstory

I wanted to begin this post “ The root of travel and adventure is…” and then I typed about 50 different phrases and furiously deleted them. I am a very fluid style writer and I often do not change one thing until I reach the end. I couldn’t pin point the root or the heart of travel or adventure while simultaneously representing my infatuation with it. I ask you my fellow writers, readers, friends, family… what is the root of travel and adventure for you? Why do vastly different people love to travel so much? How do we seek new horizons but still value and nurture the people who helped us create our past?  

If you asked me today, about adventure  I would immediately think of my latest adventure to the tropical island of Ko Samet in the Gulf of Thailand. I would immediately feel thankful for adventure. My students went to “Scout Camp” last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday so I didn’t have any classes to teach. Our boss told us we still needed to report to school normally and use those days to plan. Mid-day Wednesday, he told us that we might get a holiday on Friday and possibly even Thursday after a brief staff meeting. Only in Thailand would a holiday from school be so nonchalant. In this instance, I was not complaining.

Next thing I know its Friday afternoon and I am on a bus to Ban Pae, a coastal town about 3 hours east of Bangkok. We booked a hostel there and would take the ferry to Ko Samet in the morning! Wait…what? I shit you not, this is how randomly this adventure came about. It was the best surprise ever. The second we left the dock and the ocean was all around me I began to consciously remind myself how lucky I was to be there. When you consciously remind yourself to be thankful proactively instead of retroactively it heightens your experience 10 fold. The weekend was full of sandy beaches, coconuts, whiskey, beer, snorkeling, boat rides, swimming in the ocean, hookah, wasabi pea eating contests, and relaxing on the beach. I was finishing up my latest read The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. I love reading on the beach but finishing this emotional account of fictitious Vietnam stories made me feel guilty for how good I felt…young, free, and careless on the beach.  But O’Brien’s words resonated with me,

“Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.” 

I should not feel guilty for enjoying myself. I am honoring the stories from the past and making them a part of my present and future.  I am writing stories of my own so that I can be a part of the future. That gives me an overwhelming sense of power and a duty to represent my generation, my family and myself in a positive and genuine manner. Hopefully this blog is my first step in doing just that!

We couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather all day Friday and all day Saturday on the island. But Sunday morning we woke up feeling fragile and facing a 40 minute monsoon…right at check out.  No umbrellas, a few injuries from the weekend shenanigans made traveling 8 hours home seem like a punishment for how amazing our trip was.  But nothing could take away the afterglow of island bliss. Thailand is simply amazing and Ko Samet reminded me how lucky I am to be a part of it. 

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This week at school has flown by and I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching my students about Thanksgiving. Jackie and I had them create hand turkeys and write five things they are thankful for. Of course we had to first teach them what turkeys were, Thanksgiving, and what thankful meant. Almost every single student wrote they were thankful for their teachers. The best part is that I actually believe them. One child’s hand turkey stands out to me, it was very typical at first but the last one through me for a loop, “my bed”. So simple, yet so heartbreaking, especially because I walk by shacks, apartments, store fronts every single day and see little children sleeping on the ground on paper-thin mats or wooden benches. I often create stories for them in my head, and carry them along with me as a travel. All apart of the things we carry. When you have very little, you are reminded what is truly important. You are reminded the abundance of people, luxuries, and experiences each and every one of us have to be thankful for. 

 Today is Thanksgiving Day in Thailand, I am at school and it feels like any typical day. My American friends and I made makeshift turkey treats to pass out to our office. We will watch Charlie Brown Thanksgiving with our ninth graders and will be teaching our 7th graders the “Five Little Turkeys” song. We decided to have our own “Thanksgiving Dinner” tonight at one of our favorite local restaurants. We invited all of the American teachers that live in our apartment complex so it will make 12 of us. We will all bring wine and definitely will eat well (although we won’t have turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy or anything remotely close). I already informed the crew that we must go around and say what we are thankful for (Momma Sus comes out where ever I am). I set up Skype dates with my family at their Thanksgiving celebration and also my boyfriend’s family. Not only is it Thanksgiving but it is also my boyfriends birthday today (November 28). I want more than anything to squeeze him and take him out for celebrations but I have a surprise planned I hope he loves. I would do anything to make him feel how special he is to me and how thankful I am he is mine. 

Being so far away at a time that is all about family, friends and togetherness is in no way easy but it truly is teaching me what the holiday is about. When I try to explain Thanksgiving to my students or my coworkers from Australia, Thailand and China I picture my Aunt Shelly’s house and everyone running around the kitchen drinking homemade beer and wine, laughing, dancing, and Aunt Shirl cooking up a storm. I hear my Noni’s Norwegian prayer swaying softly in my ears(even if we botch up the words). I can’t even think about how damn good the food tastes or I will slobber on my keyboard.  

But most of all I tell them, it is a day to truly celebrate and appreciate everything you have, no matter if it is 10 feet in front of you, across a few continents or no longer in the physical world. My friends and family at home, I encourage you to be extra thankful this year for being able to celebrate with people you love… Don’t take for granted those precious moments with your siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, lovers and friends. Those moments are what Thanksgiving is about. Those moments are what life is about. Don’t let the hangover from TGE or the football distract from the essence of the celebration. Today (and everyday) I feel gratitude, I feel nostalgia, I feel love and I feel thankful.

I could travel the whole world 10 times over, but nothing can replace the bonds of love, support, laughter, and the feeling of home that the people I care about the most embody. For now I will take O’Brien’s advice, cling to the stories to link my heart and mind to the past and the future and I will take my own advice for the present and be thankful proactively instead of retroactively. It’s a good day to be an American, a Mountaineer, a Bell, a Donovan, a girlfriend, a friend, a traveler and a teacher, wherever you may be. Happy Birthday to “That Guy” I love the most & Happy Thanksgiving. I am thankful you are a part of my story.