Losing (and Finding) Myself in Thailand

I think a huge part about college is finding opportunities for yourself that you’d probably never get the chance to do again. For me personally, that meant studying abroad. The idea of being able to pick up my life, move to a different country and start all over for as long as I wanted, sounded amazing. When you grow up daydreaming about all the different lives you want to live, it just seems like the best thing to do.


I could see myself studying in Italy, trying out new restaurants, sipping on wine at night. Or maybe Australia, where I’d probably skip class just to hit the beach and find a cute guy to teach me how to surf. Or maybe go to Argentina, or Ireland, or anywhere else where I didn’t have to settle for a ‘normal’ life.


My problem is: I’m poor.


Ok, not dirt poor. Not “I’m going to struggle really bad for the next couple days if I buy this now” poor. But poor as in I work to pay for everything I have, so I can’t afford to be extravagant and take out a couple grand to go skip class and dance salsa and see museums. I got bills to pay. Textbooks to rent and never read. Really expensive Uber eats to order (I really wish I was kidding about this).


So, as I slowly became a senior, I kind of just accepted that I wouldn’t be the lucky one out of my friend group to backpack Europe while studying abroad in Barcelona (shoutout to Kaeli for living my best life for me last year). It was hard though. It definitely felt like a rite of passage that I had missed out on.


And then I found out about a travel course UT was offering. A two-week trip into Thailand, centered around filming local change-makers who were making groundbreaking efforts to help refugees, ethnic people, and any other harmed populations in Thailand. This seemed like something I’d love to do, combining my interests in film and traveling. The price was high, but then again, not something I couldn’t just work my ass off a little harder for.


Long story short, several months later and I’m standing at the Tampa International Airport, watching my Uber leave me as it’s just me and the doors. A part of me was terrified to enter the airport. This was my first time leaving for a country I didn’t know at all on my own, and I didn’t know who was going on this trip, or what to really expect. Like, I’m allergic to peanuts, what if I can’t eat anything there? Or what if I get sick? What if I get kidnapped? What if everyone hates me?


What if I hadn’t gotten on that plane?


These two weeks were perhaps the best of my life. And it’s not like I did anything that crazy. I walked the busy streets of Chiang Mai, strolling through little markets, visiting temples dripped in gold and flowers. I talked to locals and met with refugees that had been given a second

chance in life. I captured it all on film, and I don’t think I could ever forget how it made me feel, to see this story being told in person. I let myself be open to people that I would have never, ever had gotten to know on my own back in school. A couple days in, and we all had our own inside jokes, group chats all over the place and a shared fascination and respect for this country that had reminded us to have fun, to truly enjoy the smallest things and to break out of our comfort zones.


It took a trip to the other side of the world to realize what it is that makes me feel alive. Thailand re-introduced me to me; a more carefree, confident, ambitious me. Not to say I wasn’t shit before, but I think we all go through moments where our confidence is shaken and we’re not too sure if we’re on the right path. My doubt in myself hasn’t disappeared. But it doesn’t leave me up at night wondering what if.


So thank you Thailand, for making me feel like an excited little girl all over again when it comes to life.