Please welcome Stephanie from Quarter Life Epiphany, the newest contributing writer here at Go See Write!
At 24 years old, I had a great life. I did all the “right” things; I was on track for achieving the American Dream. I had a college degree, a nice office job, a new Jeep, and my own apartment. I had many reasons to be happy. But I wasn’t.
I felt empty. I felt out of place. I felt like something was missing.
I tried to fill the space with shopping sprees, and packed my apartment with trinkets and furniture, and my closets with unworn clothes. The emptiness remained.
I tried to fill my time with extra responsibilities, scheduling lengthy daily workouts, and even took on a hobby job to fill my nights and weekends. The emptiness persisted, but at least I fell into bed each evening exhausted, without the energy to think about the absence of something I couldn’t put my finger on.
I had always dreamed of Thailand, the seed of an idea to visit planted during university classes for my study of religion. I always yearned to travel but felt too weak to do anything so bold and too broken to do anything so kind to myself as to follow my dreams.
It started as a joke when I’d had a few drinks. Only half believing myself, I started telling people I was going to Thailand. The more I said it, the stronger I felt. But when I bought the plane ticket for a whirlwind ten day trip of Koh Phangan and Bangkok – my first solo venture and first time overseas – I was so anxious, scared, and excited, I threw up.
I was going to Thailand.
A month of excitement, three flights and a canceled yet reworked connection later, I landed with my bright blue 40L Kelty backpack and a mind full of naivety.
I fell in love with Thailand instantly – the kindness and the wais, the soft voices and small elegant gestures. For the first time since losing my mom at 15, I felt like I was home. The food, the streets, and even the chaos of Bangkok all felt so right to me. It was like I always imagined it, yet somehow even more amazing and magical than I could have dreamed.
The night before I was supposed to leave, I quit my job in the US and canceled my flight back to Michigan. I was already home.
I had a small amount of money saved, and would figure out the details later. I had to do this.
That night, I took a train to the south, and then a ferry to Koh Tao with some friends I had just met. I didn’t know the hostel we would be arriving to – but someone else did.
When I checked in, the receptionist promptly handed me the phone. Confused, I tried to explain that I didn’t want to make a call. Then I heard the voice on the other end, speaking English. A brisk, no-nonsense official who identified himself as with the US Embassy asked me to confirm my identity, and then asked whether I was there under my own free will. After a few embarrassing minutes back and forth, I found out that my family was worried that I had been kidnapped or forced, as my cancelled flight and decision to stay were so out of character. Yes, the choice was unexpected, perhaps irrational, and more than a little irresponsible – but it remains the best and most important of my life.
I spent three glorious months backpacking through the islands of Thailand, before coming back to Bangkok to find a job. After several interviews and subsequent job offers (finding a job was so much easier than I’d thought!), I landed my dream position working with an international fertility company in the heart of Silom. While waiting for my job to start, I backpacked for a few more months through Cambodia and Malaysia, before coming back to Thailand to start my new life.
I had learned that having a full heart is more important than a full closet, and I had more with a 40L backpack than with an entire apartment. I had freedom, and joy, and dreams. I had my quarter life epiphany.
I lived in Bangkok for almost two years, taking full advantage of that time by soaking up the strange and wonderful expat life in BKK while traveling throughout Southeast Asia and visiting more temples than my former self possibly imagined.
I was part of a commercial promoting the friendliness of Thai Tourism Police, though at first I thought I was getting arrested.
I saw freshwater dolphins and stunning sunsets while homestaying with a family on a tiny island in the Mekong River of Cambodia.
I prayed at the Schwedagan Pagoda in Myanmar, and had my unbelievable wish come true a year later.
I breathed in sights that reached inside my soul and listened to stories that tore my heart apart. I lost my naivety as I learned of the injustices of the world felt more deeply than ever before. Contrary to Instagram, life in Thailand is not all sunshine, beaches, and pad thai (though there is a lot of it).
I gained appreciation for the US, yearned for fair legislative, judicial, and educational systems, and had my eyes opened to the dangers of living in a country where rules can change overnight and lives are subsequently destroyed.
In the wake of the military coup, I left Thailand for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where I am now.
I became a volunteer English teacher, and a freelance writer and travel blogger.
I want to write in a way that makes readers think about the status quo of their lives, their privilege, and what they can do to contribute their own gift to the world while living their best life possible.
In writing, I seek to communicate the experiences I’ve had and the truths that need telling. I want to empower people to travel in search of their own answers, whether that means within the world or within themselves.