Why Paying Attention to Your Internal Emotional Journey is an Important Part of Your Travel Experience

Greenheart Traveler, Carolina Azcuna, with students in Thailand.

I remember getting this pre-departure email while I was back home about what to expect throughout my experience teaching in Thailand. I read the words carefully and understood the message it was communicating, but really had no idea what I was about to embark on.

I over-packed in the course of about a week, made sure all of the paperwork was taken care of, and before I knew it, I was in Asia for the first time in my life… Alone. Even reading that sentence back to myself, right now, makes me smile.

It makes me smile because here I am: five months later with a better understanding of myself as a human being, and a better understanding of the fact that there is so much left to understand. Ironic, but a very rewarding realization to have.

An ornate temple in Thailand.

An ornate temple in Thailand.

Embarking on an Internal Exploration in Thailand

The feelings I have felt throughout my time in Thailand include: happiness, gratitude, fear, sadness, excitement, and many other things I had never felt in this magnitude. That means I was exploring a new side of myself that I would not have met if I had stayed in Maryland. That is something not many people get to do.

Here is why embracing the internal experience and emotions you will navigate during your travels is as important as exploring the sites and places of a country:

Taking away every bit of familiarity reveals so much to you about yourself.

When you don’t have the comfort of your home, your people, and all the places around you that you love so much, you have to look within yourself to create that comfort and that happiness. You have to ask yourself questions, and also answer those questions even if the answers are not the ones you want to hear.

A neon sign inside a cafe in Thailand.

A neon sign inside a cafe in Thailand.

You create your own power and take lessons back home with you.

For example, I continue to ask myself what I want to do when I’m back home, and I think I know the answer deep within myself. I get opinions from family and loved ones, but really what I hear inside myself is the only answer that truly matters. I want to live somewhere new in the United States, and I have answered that question for myself through time and reflection. It’s something I’ve accepted, no matter how much it may scare me.

Initially, I did not think I would experience culture shock.

I have traveled to many different places, and although I knew it would take some time getting used to, I did not think it would play a huge role… I was so wrong.

One of my biggest challenges here has been making friends. At first, I did not know why. I was meeting people, they seemed to be nice… Friendship could be the next step, right?

With some people, it was the next step. It just took time.

A hazy day in Thailand.

A hazy day in Thailand.

The lack of many friends also contributed to my feeling lonely at times.

I come from a culture where people are very warm, friendly, and loving no matter where you go, and I had to face the harsh contrast here in Bangkok. I was not always greeted in an elevator, I was not smiled at just to say good morning, and that was okay. I learned to rely on myself for that warmth and not let others affect my mood so much. It was very challenging, but I have slowly developed relationships and found ways to keep that warmth that I need.

This is when I need to mention one of the driving forces behind my success here in Bangkok… Dance.

I have danced since I was 11, and the main reason I chose to come to Bangkok out of different cities in Thailand was to maintain that constant that I’ve had all my life. I knew it would be helpful to keep me balanced, but I really didn’t know just how important it would be.

Having a passion from home to follow through with here in Thailand has kept me on my feet and has brought me up on days when I felt extremely low. Days where I’ve found myself feeling down and gray… I took myself to a class and found myself leaving with a little more color.

It gave me peace, and it gave me that connection to who I am. It also introduced me to a community here in Bangkok that I can relate to and that reminds me of my friends back home.

If you have something you are passionate about that you can continue with while you are abroad, I highly recommend it; it will help you find your smile if ever you misplace it.

A group of Thai youth posing for a photo.

A group of Thai youth posing for a photo.

Months in Bangkok have shown me the transparency we should have with ourselves.

Every single emotion you feel throughout your time is necessary to reach your next level, and my biggest piece of advice regarding those feelings would be to feel them all. Ride the wave. See this as an opportunity to explore uncharted waters.

We often approach big trips and adventures like this prepared for the logistical things, but forget that internally, there will be much to prepare for as well. As long as you take your steps with an open mind and ready to delve deeper, you will be on the right track. Without that, you cannot break through the glass ceiling above your head… The one you always look up at and wonder what is above it.

Greenheart Traveler, Carolina Azcuna, teaching in a Thai Classroom.

Carolina Azcuna teaching in a Thai Classroom.

Through Living in Another Culture You Evolve into a Stronger Version of Yourself

What’s above it is a stronger version of the person you are right now. You may experience loneliness even when you’re constantly surrounded by hundreds of people, and you learn how to face those feelings head on. You may also find yourself grinning from ear to ear, eyes closed, as you take your every-day route to work on the back of the locals’ motorcycle taxis. You expand in your own power, and you learn to adapt. Through that, you evolve.

I knew I would grow from this experience, and I have a feeling I will not entirely feel that growth until I return home. I expected to meet special people and appreciate my usual spots that I like to visit, but I did not expect to feel such happiness in the smallest of moments. I did not expect to find myself smiling as I pass by my students in the hallway… Even though I was exhausted. I did not expect to gain such insight towards my career path and the passions behind it. I did not expect to develop such a connection with the teenage girls I have spent my weekdays with.

Reflect on the Beautiful Moments of Unexpectedness

It’s safe to say that every bit of unexpectedness I’ve experienced throughout my time here has made me reflect on the beautiful moments. Tackling any obstacles when you are on the other side of the world prepares you for the challenges that will continue to present themselves upon your return home. Whether you feel it in the moment or not, you are growing. That growth is helping me understand my purpose a little bit more, and I want to give back as much as I can so we can grow together… That is what life’s all about.

If you’re looking for the chance to grow both personally and professionally, teach abroad in Thailand!

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