Coping with severe RCS (reverse culture shock)

I’ve been back home in California for exactly a month and haven’t written a blog post for over two months –my only excuse is the overbearing reverse culture shock I’ve been experiencing. I won’t even call it an excuse because I don’t believe in those —  rather, it’s a result of my choices. But I’ll tell ya, it really does exist and it’s no joke!

After living and traveling abroad for sixteen months (4 times longer than I initially planned); I decided to go home. Reasons being my mothers’ relentless guilt trips about me being away, one class left to complete at uni, to get rid of all the stuff I no longer need nor want and to see some familiar faces again.

I was already experiencing the reverse culture shock a few weeks before heading back– just through observation of the environment which I once called “home.” A reoccurring message I kept being told from my loved ones  back home was that I must be “prepared for reality” — which was a bit discouraging but I was determined to help them understand my new outlook and aspiration to continue seeking truth and meaning in life.

This determination alone was probably the one thing I was excited most about. I couldn’t wait to share with my friends & family how I’ve self-evolved; hoping they’d be excited and inspired to open their minds to the world beyond themselves.

Okay Okay, so my expectations were a bit high.

I came home and the exact opposite happened — With new eyes, a refreshed mind, a light heart and an abundance of gratitude — I was now deemed a looney.

If you’ve traveled or lived away from home long term; you probably understand exactly where I’m coming from. Before I went abroad I was living my life in accordance to those around me, striving to please my family and “fit in” to the whole of society as I understood it.

Being far away from home and out of my comfort zone for 16 months — I felt a pure sense of liberation where I was able to bare my soul and fully be myself. Where I can wander to seek local foods and flavors to feed my mind, my heart and my soul. Where I was able to gain a new perspective and pursue a fresh vision for my life and my passion. Where I was able to find endless sources of inspiration and motivation.Where I was able to thrive at my own speed while expanding my boundaries. Where I would meet amazing new people; some of whom are now lifetime friends that share similar goals and dreams. Where I was able to play and experiment to my heart’s desire. Where I was able to meet and become acquainted with the most important person in my life – myself. All of which contributed to my personal growth but most of all taught me the true meaning of self love –

the kind of love and gratitude which can only be shaped by developing one’s consciousness (the intangible).

Then, I come home and it’s as if time stood still. Everything appears the same and even topics of conversations haven’t changed much (with the exception of Kim Kardashian’s 72 day marriage (Like, OMG)). I was having difficulty adjusting to the culture which I grew up in! I haven’t had a TV my entire time abroad and decided to check out what’s on TV these days…..I’ll tell you what, Pain killers! lot’s of them!! Do you have a headache coming on? Tranquilizers! If you don’t take them, you’re gonna be nervous! Oh gosh, why am I suddenly so nervous? Anti-aging and anti-cellulite creams, oh shit I’m getting older, I should be using them, NOW! Food, more food, the best food, McFood! Insurances! You have to insure everyTHING, from your toilet paper to your home & life, OR ELSE you’re screwed, because what if…?! Inflation, economic crises, currency ups and downs! We must save, invest, multiply, we have to have more, to have…! — Off goes the TV.

Thank goodness I’m too cheap to pay for cable now…… I can sense this paranoia all around me: don’t touch it! don’t trust! watch out! and I can see why….I observe around and I see people running around stressed, unaware, anxious, unkind, impatient and unloving. We run around racing for delusional “achievements,” fancy titles, bigger and better things, striving to maintain and/or alter our external appearance, racing to appear better, powerful, respected?….  and then, we die.

This is the response I want to tell my friends and family when they ask me why I’m not readjusting to my “old” life or why I’ve changed so much. The truth is — I don’t want to “readjust” and regress because that defeats the purpose of progressing. I believe that life is about moving forward, it’s about living truthfully, doing things and living according to your values. It’s about cultivating relationships. It’s about sharing the good and the bad; doing what we can to help those around us realize their purpose. It’s about recognizing that we are all ONE, everyone — seeking a sense of belonging and empowerment while facing the same struggles.

It’s about REALIZING that life is a beautiful gift and we should seek not only to experience it but to LIVE IT.

People create their own questions because they are afraid to look straight. All you have to do is look straight and see the road, and when you see it, don’t sit looking at it – walk.
Ayn Rand

Despite this tiny obstacle I’m facing with reverse culture shock — I have a clearer idea of how I want to live my life, even if it means being a looney.  – until the next destination, I’ll be enjoying good ol’ California!  ;]

Do you have a similar experience with culture shock or reverse culture shock? Please share!

Moving forward

When I set off to study abroad initially I could hardly imagine how I was going to survive 4 months away from home. Well it’s been nearly a year,  two semesters later instead of one and I am now on to the next phase of my life here in Bangkok, Thailand. As expected I’ve been asked many of the same questions repeatedly by family, friends and even acquaintances. Questions that I, myself am still trying to figure out but I will strive to answer some of the most common ones especially for those who are also curious but haven’t managed to ask me. Also in hopes of inspiring some of you to consider a slight change of scenery…as it just may be one of the best experiences you will ever have.

1. One of the most common questions I get is; How have you managed a year abroad, financially?

Well, I must say that my savings is looking rather bare right now :p But it’s all about priorities. In the past few years, I was working two jobs and spending my money frivolously and always had some excuse as to why I would never have enough to fund such an endeavor. Looking beyond all my excuses, I saw that none was legitimate enough to hold me back from my dreams. The next step was a little challenging but I took it one step at a time. Cut back on my spending!! duh 😛 Started saving but towards a specific goal, not saving just to save. Applied for a handful of scholarships, received two (one of which is the Benjamin A. Gilman Intl. Scholarship) and voila! I had a little more than enough to survive very comfortably for half a year here but as I decided to stay longer, I had to stretch my funds a little further. Good thing I’ve adopted a very simple lifestyle which has resulted in being told that I’m beginning to resemble Yoko Ono….oh how suiting!

2. Don’t you miss home?

More than ever I understand the importance of having a place to call “home” especially after being abroad and traveling for a year. But I think home would be a lot more fun when I have a clearer understanding of how I can best situate myself in this place called home. So, yes I miss home and I assume I will know when it’s time for me to book that flight back.

3. and your boyfriend?

I don’t intend to get all philosophical here but this is a quote from one of my favorite philosophers’ that perfectly summarizes my response when someone asks me, “OMG don’t you miss luke? How are you managing to be alone?! You MUST’VE found yourself a nice Thai boy! (hmmm as attractive as that sounds, unfortunately that’s not the case 😛 )

Mature love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality. Love is an active power in man, a power which breaks through the walls which separate man from his fellow men, which unites him with others; love makes him overcome the sense of isolation and sepateness, yet permits him to be himself, to retain his integrity. In love the paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two. – Erich Fromm

Essentially, I am working on loving me. At first it was a little rocky but getting better with time, nourishment, and communication. Yes, I had to confront myself on many occasions to ask myself why I am so absurd sometimes, then reason with myself and carry on. But I reassure you, this relationship is getting stronger 😉

4. What do you like most about Thailand?

Prior to this endeavor, I never did much traveling out of the states and I couldn’t be more pleased with my decision to live in Thailand and travel SE Asia for my first experience. I love that it’s completely different yet felt so familiar at the same time. I say this because though I was born in America, my mother raised me with Asian values and traditions which is also why I never experienced “culture shock” as I imagined I would. Everything on the exterior was pretty outrageous at first but I quickly adapted to the way of living which meant less time spent adjusting and more time spent embracing.

If I must choose one aspect I enjoy most about living here in Thailand, I would have to say that I love the people. Of course I can’t speak for the entire country but for the most part, Thai people are very tolerant, genuinely considerate and less individualistic. I find it difficult to clearly explain what I mean by this but it’s just something that is greatly prevalent and embedded in their culture. This, in itself has been the most refreshing for me and perhaps the reason why I keep sticking around.

5. What are you doing now?

Good question! I am still figuring out what’s in store for me next but at the same time keeping an open mind and enjoying the ride.

The “normal” thing for me to do would have been to go home, get a job, save some money, buy some nice “things” and then get married at some point and you get the picture. Well, fortunately for me and unfortunately for my mother, being “normal” is just no fun 😛

Instead of finding a conventional job for now, I am working as a research fellow at HDFF where I am gaining experience on what it takes to make a change in developing communities and becoming increasingly interested in human security. In conjunction with this, I am pursuing  my entrepreneurial passions by starting my first social venture.

6. What is a social enterprise?

Since this is the topic which I’ve surrounded myself with recently, a lot of people are asking me what it is, why I’ve chosen to do this and how?

Well, my good friend Frida introduced me to this concept and mentioned it is a way to utilize capitalistic strategies to achieve philanthropic goals; I was greatly intrigued!!! So, I buried myself in researching: about social entrepreneurship, how to make an impact, successful social ventures that have helped millions of people, young social entrepreneurs, old social entrepreneurs, resources, videos, seminars…EVERYTHING you can possibly imagine that is related to social entrepreneurship contributed to many sleepless nights and caused me to have many so-called “revelations” at about 4am every morning. (my good pal Jess can vouch for that)

I had all these ideas running through my mind, very little money to get anything started, small network of friends here in Bangkok but oddly felt more empowered than ever.

“A social enterprise is an organization or venture that achieves its primary social or environmental mission using business methods. The social needs addressed by social enterprises and the business models they use are as diverse as human ingenuity. Social enterprises build a more just, sustainable world by applying market-based strategies to today’s social problems.”

7. What is the progress now?

In a nutshell, I have an idea to support rural Thai, textile artisans (and their trade) by bringing their goods to the western market meanwhile supporting peace building projects in developing communities through sales (beginning small scale of course :p). I came up with this through my appreciation for their trade and beautiful textiles which is deeply rooted in their culture and my growing interest in human security. I know it sounds like a whole lot to grasp right now….and it is even for me! haha but of course I am taking one step at a time and the big picture is quickly becoming clearer.

Here are a few photos to share the early stages of my journey which by the way has become “OUR” journey, as I’ve picked up a few pals along the way 😛

Lucky to have met a few people who are just as passionate and have also become very great friends.

Visited Lampoon, Thailand which is a northern province best known for their Brocade Silk. Spent a day learning about the production process, admired the artisans and of course blown away by the intricacy of the trade, historical/cultural stories behind the art and even more inspired to support a beautiful/sustainable trade.


Even had the artisans share their wisdom with me.


Fell in love with the organic cotton textiles ❤


A little video I put together of the Silk making process:

Opportunity to attend a few conferences about anti-terrorism and organized crime helping me gather ideas for peace building projects and mingling with those committed to bringing peace in their communities.

Basically just a huge learning process and learning so much each step of the way. I am also working on gathering some solid material to share in regards to this project and will do so the moment I get the chance! I think the future needs more social entrepreneurs and for this reason I will try my best to share each step of the way. My failures, successes and most importantly…the impact. I am inspired by those who have made the effort to share their experience and through them, I have learned immensely! So, I will strive to do the same 🙂

8. What made you”change” during this journey?

Most recently, the fact that I’ve become a lot more outspoken about things I believe in and my thoughts in general has made many people ask me this question. Truth is that for the most part, I’ve remained the same person just with more courage. Also, I simply asked myself really tough questions like…”What on earth are you doing with your life? and What do you want to see when you look back in 30 years AND be proud to tell your children?”  Okay, so not really tough questions but pertinent questions that I avoided before.

I am also aware that I may not be able to change the world but I can begin with the environment I choose to be in. I wanted to surround myself with kindness, ingenuity, humbleness, open-mindedness and nourishing relationships. Well, how selfish would I be if I just wanted all this but made no effort myself? I tell ya, sometimes it is quite an obstacle allowing yourself to be completely vulnerable but when people reciprocate in the same manner, it’s a beautiful feeling 🙂

If I had to choose something that has contributed to the courage I’ve gained, I must say it’s all the amazing people I’ve met particularly in the rural communities. Beautiful people who are oppressed and without opportunity to choose even a dignified life. It’s these people who had the very least who has helped me the most and it’s these people who deserve the most help.

Bangkok Slums. People who were basically forced to migrate from rural Thailand to Bangkok in efforts to earn a living.


Khmer girl waiting for her mother to finish cleaning the Angkor temples, instead of sitting in class -_-


Laotian woman in her home/storefront. Has no idea how valuable and potential there is for her hand crafted textiles.


I can go on and on with encounters I’ve had which will stay with me forever….all of the kindest, hard working, talented and charismatic people who need our help. The precise reason I couldn’t get myself to apply for any more corporate “jobs.” at this time. After all…the jobs will still be there.

9. What’s your advice to someone wanting to go abroad?

I remember before I left home I was searching frantically for people who wrote any advice at all about going abroad. So, I will share what worked for me. First and foremost especially in Thailand, be ready to adopt their way of living and their culture. Once here I really got this sense of “this is how we do things here, so if you want your experience to be “sabaii sabaii” (easy/relaxed), then do it our way because we aren’t adjusting to you….with a smile.” In Thailand (especially Bangkok), you WILL be late even when you didn’t intend to be, you WILL put your life at risk when taking a taxi of any sort, you WILL experience unbearable air pollution but you WILL get used to it, you WILL witness corruption and you WILL laugh, you WILL see people dwelling in slums with 5 star hotels and bougie malls as the back drop, you WILL have some of the most deliciously fragrant meals and have your face go numb from the chilli’s, you WILL get double the amount of sugar in your coffee even if you requested none at all, you WILL get ripped off from time to time, you WILL see beautiful sparkling temples on your way to a pub at night, you WILL have mysterious juices drip/squirt on you whilst walking along the sidewalks and you WILL have the time of your life if you just adopt their motto: Mai Pen Rai….”never mind” or in other words….”F it”

Basically, adaptability.


10. And one question that I don’t but should get more often is, “Is there anything you want from home?”

OH, why of course. I mean you don’t have to but if you really want to….sour patch kids pleeeeeeease 😉 and if you’re feeling extra generous, Thailand also doesn’t have sour skittles or sour belts. thanks!

ubuntu

The last few weeks of May was rather bitter sweet. It was the end of a year exchange and though I’d like to think it was not the “end” of many beautiful friendships that  blossomed from this journey; it just may be. However, I am confident that for most of us it was just a temporary farewell and we shall meet again in the future.

I was told far too often before I left my home in America that I will undoubtedly meet some of my best, lifetime friends during this experience and it’s so true. Most would also say that it is bound to happen because we are essentially drawn together from our homes all around the world by this experience and almost forced to stick together. Personally, I think it takes people fully opening themselves up and allowing others in, to really experience meaningful friendships/relationships. In this sense, I have been very blessed because in such a short amount of time I managed to build rich, fulfilling friendships with people who seemingly had nothing in common with me.

A handful or maybe even two, of beautiful friendships have developed among individuals from various countries, cultural/religious backgrounds, languages, experiences, perceptions, education and ideas. I wouldn’t even know where to begin sharing all of the things I’ve learned from everyone I have met this year but I am thankful for having you all in my life and the huge contribution you’ve made to my personal growth.

Wishing my friends nothing but the best and look forward to crossing paths again. xo

Some photos of memorable times and faces I adore! Thanks for all the good times!

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Ubuntu philosophy: “I am what I am because of who we all are.”

A very happy 24th birthday

Here are 24 reasons why. Why I’m thankful, excited and inspired to be alive! And some photos from my Birthday festivities.

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1. I turned 24 on a beautiful day in Bangkok.

2. Surprised by my best BKK buds… with a beautifully crafted chocolate cake. Sat in our jammies and devoured it together. Thank you Frida, Fanny, Kathrin, Jess, Toon, italian guy, Matthieu and Susan for your thoughtfulness.

3. “Happy Birthday” sung to me in German, French, italian, Thai, English and Chinese just after midnight. Reminds me that it may be years until I am this lucky again…to be with you all on my birthday.

4. Four thai teenagers from the floor above me singing their hearts out, hands clapping and all. AND having brownies delivered to my door (which I had for breakfast the following morning). By the way I’ve never spoken a word to them! THANK YOU Thailand never letting me down with kindness and sincerity ingrained in your people.

5. Thankful for clear skies. At last! A birthday picnic 🙂

6. Adorable Thai guy approaches me at dinner (not knowing it’s my birthday) with a rose..the cheeeeesiest smile, waving excitedly..and proudly announces ” I LIE YOUUU!!” what a stud.

7. Having the most wonderful companion in my life.. Lulu who has been so supportive, patient, understanding and encouraging throughout this journey. Thank you for your unconditional love.

8. Despite all the air pollution I’ve inhaled from living in Bangkok, over-indulgence in sweets and my diminishing savings; I am healthy and truly happier than I have been in a very long time. It’s quiet difficult being a woman in a society with a warped idea of perfection but for the very first time, I’m able to fully accept every little bit of me. With a light heart and a clear mind, I will gladly have another serving of mango sticky rice….extra coconut milk please!! =P

9. The opportunity to travel to developing countries. I’ve met various people who live in the poorest communities who appear to have nothing but offer everything. People who has suffered more than I can ever fathom and still carry the warmest smile and kind eyes. Thank you for showing me courage, compassion and ingenuity at its finest.

10. Having made amazing friends from all over the world. Many of whom I know will remain throughout my life. I look forward to experiencing and celebrating the unity of love in various countries. WEDDINGS!!

11. Passion. I love when someone speaks to me passionately about something, anything! Even if I may not understand sometimes…I just love the feeling and energy I get from it.

12. TRULY believing that I am enough.

13. Thankful for my physical health. I shouldn’t speak too soon but I have been so fortunate that I have not been sick (hungover doesn’t count) throughout my entire time abroad. This comes as a surprise to me because I am not exactly the most careful person. I’ve put myself in some unsafe situations like sitting with 2 people on the back of a motor bike through Bangkok just to save a buck, eating really delicious but very mysterious street food everywhere I’ve been, woken up on a remote island with countless mosquito bites, enjoyed nice beach front meals with a stray cat on the table and stray dog beneath, never questioning whether or not I should take ice with my drinks and the list goes on.

14. Creativity and the ability to create.

15. Being able to connect with my family and friends though I’m far from home. Thanks to technology for getting me through my moments of homesickness.

16. A new found liking and appreciation for Jazz.

17. The feeling of bicycling around a foreign town, completely alone and lost. This happens quiet often due to my lack of navigation skills but I like to think this has been a gift in disguise.

18. Coming to terms with my past and seeing the beauty in all the ugliness.

19. Taking a year to leave my comfort zone has been the best opportunity for me to focus on myself and realize what is important to me and my future.  The idea of truly getting to know and love oneself resonates with me now more than ever. I knew that I would learn more about my strengths and weaknesses by being on my own but as I take a step back and view my life as it was before, I recognize how difficult it can be to formulate and cherish our own ideas and aspirations without the influence of our surroundings. Took me 24 years to discover this but better late than never 😉 I am feeling more empowered than ever before and it’s a beautiful feeling.

20. Thankful for eyes to see all the beauty this world has to offer which leaves me wanting more. Sense of smell which has guided me towards very delicious meals and beautiful flowers. Taste to enjoy all the exotic, fresh flavors in South East Asia. Touch of fine, warm, white sands and crystal blue waters on the beautiful islands in this country. And the ability to hear….the sound of laughter, my favorite!

21. Discovering how I can utilize my studies and ideas towards a greater cause with the power of Social Enterprise. According to Wikipedia which is hardly a reliable source but in this case it works…a Social Enterprise is any for-profit or non-profit organization that applies capitalistic strategies to achieving philanthropic goals. I’ve got a few ideas roaming around my noggin and will share very soon. Dare I say it…I have found something I want to do and it really did “hit” me…really hard in the face.

22. The happiness it brings me knowing that I am surrounded by amazing people with ideas and a collaborative attitude.

23. Traveling really is an addiction. Looking forward to many travels ahead!

24. Truly appreciating freedom. After traveling to a country such as Burma where the people are denied even the most basic rights. I now realize how fortunate I am to have the freedom to choose exactly how I want to live my life. Therefore, as a gift to myself this year, I have made a promise to me…that I will not do, speak, think, participate or encourage anything that is against my beliefs. Of course I never believed in doing things that were against my beliefs prior to this but since being alone for nearly 1 year, I realized that in the past I have gone along with the crowd far too much in fear of going against the crowd. Now I can say wholeheartedly that I look forward to the challenges ahead and frankly, I have a good feeling about it.


Me at 24. Cheers to another year of life!