Sunday, September 4, 2011

Redefining Normal

Hi everyone,
my name is Brighton and I'm a music therapy major at Colorado State University, with cello as my main instrument. I'm so thankful God has blessed me with the ability to perform music and a heart for helping and healing people, so I'm excited to share my experiences from Thailand!

How does one define normal? Can normal ever change? It did for me, over the course of 5 long and yet short weeks in Thailand. I’m sure by now you have all read our experiences of culture shock upon arriving in Thailand and accounts of how we adjusted. Never did I imagine that I could immerse myself in a foreign culture so deeply that returning to my own country would seem odd. After all, compared to 21 years of being raised in America, could 5 weeks in another country really affect me that much? Apparently so! It was this discovery that made me realize how my day to day expectations had broadened since staying in Thailand. My “normal” did change after all.

The most noticeable change was my eagerness to learn. I am not referring to learning in a typical academic context but rather in a constant striving to soak up any new experience every minute of every day. When a comfortable rug of assumptions was pulled out from under me, I could no lounge around on my familiar customs. Instead had to use every opportunity to learn and adjust! What a challenge and yet also an exhilaration to always be gaining new knowledge in Thailand– bowing (called a “wai”) when greeting someone, taking off my shoes when entering a building, ordering and eating unfamiliar food, communicating without verbal language, waving down a taxi, driving on the left side of the road, haggling in the markets…the list goes on and on of things I learned while travelling. It was challenging having to earn all these processes because I could not take a break and function in the culture without knowing them. And yet, it was exciting to have a mindset of constant learning and to be open to new experiences. I always love a good adventure, so it wasn’t too hard for me to adjust to this lifestyle. It became my new normal to make every encounter into a learning experience and then from that apply what I learned to future circumstances. I was never once bored; every place I went, every person with whom I interacted, everything I saw and heard was an adventure!

We have a running joke with the trip members that Thailand is our Narnia, our fantastic world of friends and adventure. It definitely felt like Narnia to me – almost like a secret fantasy world where everything is magical and exciting, created for the purpose of learning and personal growth in such a way that wouldn’t have been possible in normal life. I teamed up with eight other students to facilitate music therapy in hospitals and rehab settings and learn about Thai music during lessons at the school. I walked to school every day through a beautiful tropical setting with green plants, flowers, ponds, and giant lizards calmly monitoring the water. Food was cheap and delicious, no matter how strange it looked. Fruit was served with every meal and the smoothies were to die for! I survived walking through and haggling at the crowded markets and saw the most exquisite sites of Thailand with the team. We learned the meaning of quality social time and planning because we had no cell phones or instant means of electronic communication. We climbed coconut trees, played giant gongs, saw crocodile wrestlers, and rode elephants together. All of these things I’ll miss dearly, but I know most importantly I have shared in this experience with a team, now family, of people that will always be around to share in memories and support me in the future.

As I left Thailand, I thought of the ending scene in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The Pevensies had entered Narnia as children and quickly forgot the world they left behind as Narnia became their new home that they knew and loved so deeply. They then reigned in Narnia as kings and queens for years. After all that time, what a shock it was to return to earth through the wardrobe and discover that everything was just as they had left it. But no matter how little things had changed at home, they knew and remembered everything that had happened in Narnia. That’s as best as I can illustrate how I feel about leaving Thailand and returning home – I may look the same outwardly, but I’ve grown so much as a person and clinician through the few weeks that I’ll never forget. Now the challenge will be to take what I have learned abroad and apply it to my faith, relationships, and school at home. Although everything here seems the same, it will not be boring; I won’t let it be. I’m changing my new normal and setting bigger dreams, higher hopes, and challenging myself more than before. Ready or not, here I come!

Was there ever a time in your life where normal changed for you, and what did that look like?

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