Week 1: Be Flexible and Accept the Unpredictability of Life
After self-isolating for two weeks and wishing farewell (or rather a “see you again!”) to my home, I set off on my journey to Thailand! As I drove from my home to the airport, I felt excited for the first time in a long time. The current global pandemic has taught me so clearly that life is unexpected, and the future is uncertain, so I have had to learn how to be flexible as I mentally prepare myself to accept whatever happens. Even if the thing that happens is the cancellation of my program.
As sweet as it was to feel excitement for the future once again, I had to remind myself that my journey had only just begun when I arrived at the airport. I had to be ready for the unexpected, especially since travel has changed so drastically since the outbreak of COVID-19. Now, in addition to taking health precautions, individuals are expected to provide a number of documents in order to board the plane, many of which are time-sensitive (having to be issued within 72 hours of the flight). For this reason, there was no time to be excited just yet. In fact, this sentiment quickly rang true as I arrived in LAX and the students in my program and I learned that we had issues with one of our documents. This was so concerning at the time because an issue of this form meant that we would not be able to board the airplane. Hearing that I might not be able to continue my journey to Thailand after all my hard work could have devastated me, but I decided to radically accept the circumstance and to trust that all of my work was not in vain and that I would be able to continue my journey. Fortunately, my program advisor was able to help us sort out the issue and we were in fact able to continue our journey! In moments like that, I felt gratitude for having learned how to be flexible and having accepted the fact that no matter what happens in the future I will be okay.
Naturally, landing at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok after all of the adversity I faced felt like the greatest weight lifted off my shoulders. A new chapter in my educational journey has begun and I just know that this experience will be life-changing!
A full list of the documents I had to bring can be found here.
Week 2: Stay Connected and Communicate with Others
Staying in an Alternative State Quarantine facility (ASQ) has not been as difficult as I thought it would be! Online classes as well as virtual check-ins from family, friends, and my resident director have kept me busy, so I have not felt completely isolated. A typical day in the ASQ includes three meals a day at 8:00 AM, 11:00 AM, and 4:00 PM. The food is left out on a small table in front of my hotel room and I receive text messages from the hotel-through the popular messaging app Line-notifying me when dinner is served. We are also allowed to order room service and specific snacks from the nearby 7/11. These items are sent to us at mealtime and are paid for on the day before check-out. I am also required to take my temperature twice a day, at 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM, and text a photo of the thermometer to the hotel nurse’s Line. Between eating meals and taking my temperature, I complete online classes Monday-Friday and spend the remainder of the day checking-in with loved ones or resting. Also, after our first negative COVID-test (we take a test on day 5 and day 13) we can schedule 40-minutes of free-time outside which I was able to do this week and enjoyed greatly!
Besides having to move into a new room mid-week because of the broken A/C and having to work around flight cancellations as the nation tries to control a mini-surge of COVID cases; I have had a pretty smooth time in my ASQ. This is thanks in large part to the support of the hotel staff, my program’s on-site staff, and my loved ones.
As my quarantine ends, I realize how much I learned about the importance of community and staying connected with others. Complete isolation in a foreign country can be mentally taxing for anyone, but I found that with the collective effort of those in my program and my loved ones to keep me occupied, I have been able to come out of quarantine feeling supported and with my mental health intact. So, as a piece of advice, even if you are across the nation or across the world, staying in touch with people who support and care for you can make all of the difference!
P.S. One of the most interesting things about being abroad thus far is receiving news from back home through Thai media outlets. I was reminded of the Presidential Inauguration because of a Thai news channel this week. I even saw a tv commercial for the American show “Undercover Bosses”! It reminded me of not only the influence of the US across the world but also how (unfortunately) this exposure is not reciprocated in mainstream American media. It would be so incredible to have international tv shows, like shows made here in Thailand for example, as a visible and fully integrated part of mainstream media back home in the states. We could learn so much more about the world this way!
Week 3: Live in the Moment
I finally landed in Chiang Mai! Coming out of quarantine and landing in Chiang Mai felt as brand new and exciting as entering Thailand for the first time. Even though I entered Thailand two weeks earlier, being in quarantine only allowed me to have a very limited exposure to Thai culture. So, finally arriving in Chiang Mai starts my true immersion into Thai culture. Fortunately, the week has been packed with activities to acquaint us with the city, from visiting landmarks like Doi Suthep (which has over 300 steps to climb before reaching the temple!) to historical and cultural walking tours around Chiang Mai. I have also had the chance to get closer to my peers in the program through dinners out and visiting local night markets. Likewise, I had the opportunity to return to in-person classes for the first time in almost a year! Currently, Chiang Mai University’s campus is closed until next week as a part of the government’s efforts to control the surge, but we continued classes in a classroom on-site at my housing. It has been very exciting!
All in all, it is simple to say that I have been quite busy since my arrival. Through all of the bustle of getting adjusted to life in Chiang Mai, I have learned the importance of living in the moment. Life here in Thailand is completely different than life in the US. One must exercise precautions against COVID, but life is quickly returning to normal (or what we understand to be a “new normal”). That makes my time in Thailand particularly valuable as I am unsure of the next time I will feel a semblance of normalcy when I return home. For this reason, I am able to put many of the lessons I learned in my Mindfulness course to work. Lessons relating to staying present and leaving the anxieties of the future- well, for the future, have helped me stay grounded and grateful as I continue my stay here in Thailand.
In conclusion, I have learned so much and I look forward to learning more lessons as I adjust to my new life here in Chiang Mai!