Tuesday, June 11, 2013
In Search of Happiness
Hello from Thailand! My name is Rebecca Townsend and I am going into my senior year as a music therapy student at the University of Kansas. I love traveling, and this is my 3rd time outside of the US. I always imagined studying abroad would be part of my college experience and I just couldn’t pass up this incredible opportunity. I am so thankful to be here!
I hoped this trip would be a healing process for me, and so far, this has proven true. I had a very rough spring semester and was in a bad emotional place. I was struggling with defining who I am and determining what my happiness is. I was lost and wandering. I needed time away from the people, the environment, and the headspace that I had come to associate with my depression and anxiety. This opportunity came at the perfect time.
The culture of Thailand has been very refreshing. Being immersed in a culture so incredibly different from what I am used to is cleansing, healing, and eye opening all at once. Throwing myself into new experiences every day is how I commit myself to continue working toward my “new leaf” and new perspective that will ultimately raise my spirits. Things that are very different from American culture, like Waiing (bowing slightly with palms together in greeting), taking shoes off when entering rooms, bartering for a cheaper price at a market, eating squid, whole fish, and unbelievably spicy things, and using squat pots are ordinary everyday occurrences for Thais. It is incredible to think that this is how they live. None of these things are awkward or uncomfortable – it’s just daily life. Putting myself in this mindset of a new normal is slowly but surely helping to morph my outlook into something more positive. While I wouldn’t say I have culture shock, immersing myself in these very different practices is very far outside my comfort zone. People find out who they are by being out of their comfort zone, so I feel that this is a necessary part of my healing process.
To me, the most inspirational cultural aspect is that Thai people are very welcoming and courteous to each other and to foreigners. Laughter and smiles are abundant, even among strangers. They are very happy people, and minimize worries and problems as much as possible. It is exceptionally encouraging to me to know that so many people are able to fully embrace happiness.
Last weekend at the beach, for the first time in a long time I was enlightened to the beauty that surrounded me. This realization in and of itself was a great step forward. I took many moments to close my eyes and deeply breathe in the salty air. I was continuously flooded with disbelief, wonder, gratefulness and other emotions I can’t exactly define. It was incredible. I began thinking through all the things that are beautiful that I haven’t been able to see as I worked within myself to reach a new equilibrium of satisfaction, happiness, and self-acceptance.
There is the very obvious beauty of the crystal clear blue-green water, white sand, blue skies, aged rock formations shaped by weather. There is also the beauty in meaningful conversation that builds friendships, which I have had the pleasure of taking part in with several members of the group. There is beauty in watching the bustle of the city and in all cultural differences – big and small. There is beauty in simple things like those icy washcloths we get on the bus after being outside in the heat, or seeing the word “connecting” when attempting to FaceTime my loved ones on the other side of the world. Noticing these tiny things, and reminding myself to look for the beauty everywhere, is slowly paving my way to happiness and helping me to find myself.
Through all of this, I am also realizing there is beauty in the struggles. When we climbed up the mountain to the Tiger Temple (1237 steps!), I never doubted I could make it to the top. Each step was progress, and each bead of sweat was proof that I was actively working towards my goal. My perseverance created at least part of the incredulousness of the experience. In direct correlation to this, when looking back at last semester, I am in disbelief that I made it through, yet this experience of struggle is still valuable to me... The beauty was imbedded in my ability to ask for help, but even more so in the willingness of my friends, family, and counselors to show me unconditional love and support without judgment. This realization, again, is important to my healing: without the struggles, I wouldn’t have had to embark on this journey to find myself; I wouldn’t have had needed to force myself to look beyond my problems to realize the beauty that has always been there.
As a result of being exposed to the unmistakable gorgeousness of the scenery around me here in Thailand and numerous extraordinary cultural experiences am now realizing the true saturation of the beauty around me. I am thankful for the struggles and for my newly opened eyes. My healing process is well underway.Honestly, what better place to discover my happiness than in the Land of Smiles?