Hiking at Doi Inthanon
Hiking at Doi Inthanon

The Education Abroad Network’s tagline is appropriately ‘An Adventure In Mind’. The TEAN website, stickers, t-shirts, and program pamphlets boast this fitting motto, but I didn’t notice it until recently.

If you asked me to describe my experience these past four months in a few words, I’d be confounded. It was arguably just as hard to put them into a handful of blog posts. But, I will say that if I had to choose one, adventure, although putting it lightly, would be appropriate.

From the day I arrived in January, to the day I tearfully boarded a plane back to the States, I never stopped learning and growing. The TEAN orientation provided us an introduction to Thailand filled with the country’s greatest hits–elephants, grand temples, cheap and spicy food, trendy fast-paced city life, and the beautiful silence of the mountains.

Kayaking in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Kayaking in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Just when we thought we were approaching the end of the honeymoon phase, we met our Thai roommates, all of whom were friendly and full of character, and then we spent a week in a rural village learning the struggles and smiles that come with non-verbal communication. I slept on the floor, squatted to my ankles to use the bathroom, and I ate more rice and boiled eggs than I’d wish on my worst enemy; it was surprisingly one of the most fun and eye-opening weeks of my life.

At the TEAN farewell dinner, our director asked us to tell her our semester best and worst, which was difficult for the most cliche reasons. 1) The entire semester was a string of bests. 2) All the worsts turned into smiles when we realized how small and usually hilarious our problems were.

My best was night swimming under the full moon in the Andaman Sea during the beach excursion in Krabi (google Krabi, Thailand immediately and then buy a ticket there because it’s epic). And my worst was the 90 hours spent on less than comfortable busses/minivans on spring break. The long and confusing bus rides were hell, but this is Southeast Asia, so we just went with it and appreciated the fact that we were acquiring countless good stories to tell.

TEAN farewell
TEAN Farewell Dinner

In between those best and worst events were weeks of learning a useful amount of Thai and learning that the country we called home has a chaotic political past. We absorbed the culture into our daily routines, from wai-ing to being conscious of where we pointed or placed our feet.

For my community service, I got to record the inspiring stories of migrant workers from Burma. In my free time I could wander around the city and discover my favorite coffee shops and restaurants in Chiang Mai. On free weekends I could travel to the happiest mountain town called Pai, or the breathtaking beach Koh Samet.

My spring break wasn’t ‘like a totally awesome week in Cabo San Lucas’. It was two weeks soaking in the beauty and culture of Vietnam and Laos. Those four months that I spent out of my Western bubble, taught me to be appreciative of my privileges and to stay aware of what’s happening in the beautiful countries on the opposite side of the world.

The Pai Canyon
The Pai Canyon

The day that I reluctantly left Chiang Mai, I had my last lunch at the ever famous Penny’s (where a delicious meal is one dollar), and tearfully said thank you and goodbye to the amazing woman who owns it.

The tears didn’t stop for hours as I said farewell to my classmates/true friends that changed my life by showing me that my full potential is far greater than I’ve ever imagined it. I hugged them, my American and Thai friends, tightly for the last time in who knows how long, and sobbed because the adventure of my lifetime was over.

No, but seriously I didn’t stop crying. Even when I was on the plane, and the flight attendant gave me Haagen Daaz ice cream for dessert, I just looked out the window and cried while I ate the ice cream and listened to Bon Iver.

But I have no shame for my melodramatic exit from Chiang Mai. The four months I spent in that city were an epic adventure that I will carry with me forever, and all I need to do to put a smile back on my face is remember that adventure.

Disclaimer: If you’re a friend of mine, a family member, or honestly just someone sitting next to me on a train, prepare to be annoyed by how much I talk about Thailand.

Cara Taylor  is a student at the University of Redlands and a TEAN Featured Blogger. Cara just completed her semester abroad with TEAN in Chiang Mai, Thailand.