Like Riding a Bicycle

Like Riding a Bicycle pic

I realize that I use the above phrase without really thinking about it. When I did a real workout for the first time since having been abroad for six weeks, I said to myself, “It’ll be like riding a bicycle!” (a rather painful one at that). And I probably said the same for school, and a number of other things.

But I think I underestimated what setting that I would be riding this metaphorical bike on. I’ve been fairly preoccupied these first few weeks of school  – I’ve got 18 mostly writing-intensive units to master, two possibly three four-hour weekly jobs, trying to keep up with the people back home, and other responsibilities this semester, so That’s Classy-fied has been more or less put on the backburner.

As it so happens, I was riding my bike to class last week, venturing from one campus to the other with only ten minutes to spare, weaving in and out of slow-moving pedestrians, and trying not to get hit by oncoming traffic.

When you fall, it doesn’t really happen in slow-motion like it does in the movies…or at least that’s how it was for me. I don’t remember how it happened, but the end result had me crouched at the front of my overturned bike with small cuts on my palms, and my pride slightly dinged.

It was then that I realized that simplifying a task to being as easy as riding a bicycle is not necessarily a good comparison. You can totally face-plant into the sidewalk as I did, pop a tire, or break a chain.

Long story short – with all these things I’m currently juggling in my life right now, I don’t know if doing my weekly blogs that probably not that many people read anyway is going to be weekly so much as it will be on a I’ll-do-it-whenever-I-can basis.

So in my attempt to not crash and burn, this blog might go silent for a few weeks at a time, but it won’t be dead. To those who take the time to skim through these each week and enjoy them, I appreciate it, and I’ll be back…sometime eventually.

Baggage Claim

Baggage Claim pic

For as long as I was abroad, it did not take long for me to adjust back into plain old American life. Aside from the jet-lag-insomnia-sudden need to nap cycles disrupting my sleep pattern for the first three nights along with some minor reverse culture shock, the less than two-week transition to university life after Thailand was plenty manageable. My Thai food cravings on the other hand, are another story.

But those above things that I had to re-familiarize myself with are purely physical. Obviously I knew the time change would be different, the food less spicy than the Thai vendors’, the customs less rigid, and the cost of living much higher. Once I found myself doing my usual routine tasks – grocery shopping, driving around town, sending emails, etc., it was almost as though I had never even left, and my days have been relatively average since de-boarding.

The things that I encountered that changed me internally are what I didn’t want to somehow leave behind at the baggage claim. These are the things I can’t overlook or let fade away as I reintegrate myself into my everyday activities.

Bottom line is I’ve changed. But when people ask me how my trip was, I don’t really talk about that aspect of the trip, because it’s not something you necessarily want or expect to hear about. They expect to hear about what I saw or did (or ate).

So I write. Let not your hearts be troubled, I’m not about to go all eat-pray-love-peace and harmony-let’s-do-yoga-and-meditate-every-morning-and-sing-to-the-birds-at-Walden-Pond on you. But I do feel more zen-ful more often these days.

Less than a week after I was home, I spent some time with one of my good longtime family friends talking about my trip. During the trip, I was advised by another teammate to keep my story less than five minutes as to not scare people off. Yeah, well that didn’t work out in this special case…as I was telling her both the awesome and not-so-awesome experiences, she said to me, “You look different.”

“Different?” I repeated.

“Yeah, I don’t know what it is but you look prettier…and happier.”

I don’t know about prettier, but I do I catch myself smiling more now, which consequently improves my overall appearance.

Because I am happier. Not that I was a depressed person before, but my previous general attitude never went much beyond basic contentedness. As in I was never joyful per se, as I was just plain old fine. Fine with school and whatnot, but not quite truly blissful. Kind of bored, really.

This apparent boredom often left time for me to question my significance, and whether or not I was satisfied with the person I was or what I was doing and wondering  if other people were – and I didn’t think they were. I devoted most of my time to the comparison game, critiquing everything about myself, and hating myself when I wasn’t “good enough.” Whatever that means.

The biggest flaw I concentrated on most was my appearance. It’s a huge mental battle, and can drain me of much of my energy and happiness. Whenever a family member, friend, or whoever would tell me I looked pretty or even nice, I would quickly dismiss it, feeling uncomfortable because I could never let myself believe it. I don’t know why or how I started to think and to a degree still think this way, but I never thought I could be deserving of any attention unless I was perceived a certain way.

It was certainly something I didn’t think I’d have to deal with in Thailand. After all, I was there to serve, not focus on me. Much to my shock, I quickly came to learn that apparently, I was considerably attractive by Thai standards. And the people I was with would remind me of this regularly, which was both awkward but flattering. I wasn’t sure how to take it, other than with polite “Thank you” and small smile.

Even my own teammates made such great efforts uplift me on both my inner and outer qualities. Somehow, they saw the good that I had trouble seeing on my own. I hope one day I’ll be able to see what they see, but I’ve learned to open my eyes a bit.

Next…A natural observer, I’m quite shy and don’t like to be the center of attention. Even with small things such as meeting new people or confronting a waiter about a wrong food order make me nervous. As a foreign teacher though, I could not afford to be easily embarrassed. I had to go to great lengths to teach lessons, such as the day I taught my class of working middle-aged adults the song “London Bridge.” With hand motions. I spent hours talking to new people I’d never met before, and learned to get around Bangkok independently knowing very, very little Thai. The result has been a considerable increase in confidence, for which I’m grateful.

Thirdly, I found such genuine friendship within my team that I never expected. With all of our stark differences, my initial goal was to get through the trip without a hitch and do what needed to get done. I don’t know how it happened, but I’ve come to a place where I know I am genuinely cared for and vice versa, and will never be judged in any way. These people have taught me that sometimes, you have to go across an ocean to find this. Sincerity exists – it just might take a plane ticket to find it. But when you do, it’s quite extraordinary.

And to end with a bang, I realize time and again just how much things can change in a short span of time. The Ghost of Caitlin’s Past would’ve never imagined myself here now. It’s incredible what can happen, but even more so is how it will always be a mystery. For example, I have no idea if I will continue to pursue my goal of working in some sort of editing field, or if I will earn a teaching credential to work in a foreign country. Or maybe I’ll do public relations for a non-profit group. Or work as a travel journalist. Who knows? What I do know is that I will only be fully satisfied knowing that in the near future, I’ll always have a place to book a flight to.

While there, I was always asked when I would be coming back to Thailand. In honesty, I would like to see the rest of the world first before making “seconds.” But I would love to make a return someday, if possible.

At least once each week, one of my students would say something to me that echoed in my head throughout the trip, at the baggage claim at LAX, and now. I thought she was saying it in a joking, lighthearted manner, but the more I think about it, I start to think that that’s not the case at all:

“I’ll be waiting for you when you come back to Thailand.”

Façadebook

Facadebook pic

It’s currently freshmen orientation weekend at my university, and I can’t help but look back and think about how fast a year really goes. I remember being that freshman last year, and every detail about the four-day orientation as if it was my own this year.

But don’t be mistaken – I’m not getting nostalgic. In fact, I stayed on campus Thursday and Friday to move most of my things into my new apartment but left this morning to retrieve more things from home before returning. And I’m glad I did, because even as a second-year student, the campus is infused with too much energy for me to handle in between all the overly enthusiastic students reps, the long-awaited hug-scream greetings between girlfriends, and overall frenzy of it all. Hey now – I’m not being Negative Nancy, but it doesn’t take long for my battery to be completely drained by a lot of concentrated commotion. And I always, always have to get away to recharge. Consider this recharging time.

I remember being overwhelmed when it was my orientation by a) my new living situation, b) the jam-packed orientation schedule, and most of all c) how quickly everyone seemed to adapt to it all. Not just the whole moving-in process, but it wasn’t long before I saw pretty much all the freshmen already forming close-knit friendship circles, laughing at their hilarious inside jokes, and making plans for the upcoming year. The words of Ron Burgundy resounded through my mind – “Well that escalated quickly.”

Of course, that was any moons ago and things are way different and have changed in much better ways than I could have imagined since then =) So much so that I was having the classic “Can you believe how time flies?” conversation with one of my good friends earlier this week, in which all the above was mentioned. The funny thing about most of these blogs is that they are most often birthed from interesting conversations I have with people.

And in it, he brought up an excellent point. The people we hung out with early on in our college careers – you know, the ones who you thought would be your buddy for life – most likely have drifted off into their own life, and all those preconceived notions of best buddy-ship with them long gone. This may not be true for you, but I feel like it holds at least some truth for most of us. Whether this person was a friend from home, a living area cohabitant, coworker, or classmate, and whether they were from college, work, or a pen pal, you cannot deny that all these ideas we planted into our own minds of what we expected our lives to be were completely flipped upside-down. And if that hasn’t been the case for you, fear not, your turn will come.

But in the Façadebook frenzy (as I like to call it), which can occur at any point in your life (college or not), we’ve all been guilty of putting up a façade in our attempts to prove to the rest of the world that our lives are more awesome than they actually are, and that they are more within our control than they are. Example 1: considering the first person who shares your love for a sports team, band, hobby, etc. your new close friend, having lunch with them one time, Instagram-ing the occasion, and slapping on the label of “friends 4 lyfe” on this person after just a few days. Example 2: Taking a screenshot of your term paper, and uploading it with the caption “Econ paper…I luv college lyfe!” even if you’re feeling anything but love. All your Facebook friends or Instagram followers will probably assume that your “lyfe” is super awesome, which is also probably the impression you want to give. Aside from the occasional straight-from-an-angsty-teenage-girl’s-diary Facebook statuses, what posts aren’t trying to prove ourselves to some degree to the rest of the virtual world? No one brags about how sucky some aspect of their life is. We like to prove that we are cut out for this strange and crazy life that we’ve been given.

I’ve done it, you’ve done it. But there’s a difference between updating everyone about the great, successful encounters that you’ve had and putting up a false front about how happy you are. Most times you can’t tell the difference. I’m not telling anyone to stop doing it, because we all do it, maybe on a subconscious level. I don’t even really know. Perhaps that’s one of the underlying reasons why I blog…

But the great part of it is that even when you think everyone’s doing fantabulously except for you, it’s quite likely that a series of Façadebooks are making you feel this way – there’s nothing actually wrong with you, so there’s the good news.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t be intimidated by how the majority of your friends (virtual or otherwise) feel in comparison to your own feelings. How each person feels is relative. Some of what you perceive are facades – you just can’t tell which ones are. I value honesty yes, but don’t feel that you have to wear your true heart on your status. Do however, be honest with yourself.