How Travel Transforms: Bangkok at age 19

by midlifecrisisqueen on July 13, 2013

Thailand_1973 Photo for blogWhen I was born in Iowa in 1955, I wonder what the chances were that I would end up living in Bangkok Thailand by age 19.  That’s what I love about my life — it has been filled with so many delightful surprises!

But, in fact, there was a direct connection between where I was born and how I ended up in Bangkok.  My father completed his PhD at the University of Iowa soon after my birth, and became a botany professor.

Nineteen years later he earned a sabbatical, and decided to spend it in Bangkok working with UNESCO to improve Thai science education.  His NSF grant included travel for any of his children under age 20, and that’s how I ended up in Bangkok in December 1974.

poinsettia trees ThailandMy first surprise was when I stepped off the plane and received a fragrant fresh flower lei, and you can just imagine how all that heat and humidity felt after leaving Colorado in mid-winter!  The next morning I woke up early and couldn’t wait to go outside and explore.

There I found a tropical paradise filled with gigantic Poinsettia trees, right outside my door!  My head was abuzz with this completely different world I had just been dropped into.

The next day we paid a visit to the Grand Palace.  That was when I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore — such a transformative trans-cultural experience!

I lived in Bangkok for about three months, learning more everyday about southeast Asian culture.  We took a boat ride to the ancient capital of Ayudhya, visited the rural areas of southern Thailand and Chiang Mai in the north.  I felt just like a culture sponge, absorbing so many new sights, smells, tastes, and experiences.

I came away from this experience absolutely fascinated with Asia in general, and yet I found it difficult to express to my friends back home how this experience changed me.

I remember being surrounded by college friends at a party that following spring.  They were all curious about how being in Thailand had changed me and asking about my trip.  The best answer I could come up with was,

“It is SO different there!  It’s a bit like going to the moon!”

I returned to college determined to learn everything I could about Asia, because it seemed like an emerging and important force in our future.  I guess I got that right!  I ended up with a B.A. and M.A. in Asian studies, the ability to speak and write Chinese, and I lived in East Asia off and on for the next 15 years.

I only wish EVERY American could have the opportunity to travel to developing countries in their youth.  This trip absolutely changed my life, opening my eyes to so much of the world I was missing by staying in the U.S.  I feel certain we could change our world if we all had the chance to experience the full-range of life on earth.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa Froman July 13, 2013 at 8:55 am

Wow. This was fascinating. You were so lucky to have had this experience. I guess your trip really did influence your studies and future, didn’t it? I think it’s cool that you can speak and write Chinese, by the way!
I love the photos; everything looks so exotic. (And that’s a sweet photo of you!)

Connie McLeod July 13, 2013 at 9:59 am

I’ve been to Malaysia and Singapore and love that part of the world. Just thinking about it has me craving a mango. Enjoyed your story and pictures.

Irene S. Levine July 13, 2013 at 11:56 am

What a wonderful opportunity to become immersed in a a fascinating culture!

Caryn/The Mid Life Guru July 13, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Wow- what a cool experience!! You were brave! And back then, Bangkok was as remote as the moon. Thanks for sharing.

midlifecrisisqueen July 13, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Thank you all for reading and commenting!
Yes Caryn, I felt very brave when I flew over there alone at age 19! Then I missed my flight in LA, spent a day and night in Seoul South Korea, and arrived one day late into Bangkok at night… Yikes!
But my parents were there waiting for me at the airport with leis in hand!

AlexandraFunFit July 14, 2013 at 5:08 pm

My sister and I went with our 84 year old mom to Thailand earlier this year as part of a Sierra Club trip. We didn’t like the heat, but we loved everything else about the country, especially the people. We went to the places you mention, plus a number of national parks. I hope to go again. Sawadee-kah!

Karen D. Austin July 15, 2013 at 9:25 am

How wonderful that you could live inThailand–and then return to continue studying. I ended up picking up a minor in Near Eastern Studies after spending 6 months in Israel / Palestine. I still draw from that experience today.

Sandra Sallin July 15, 2013 at 9:33 am

I’m envious of your travels. i’ve never been to Asia but will some day… What a glorious experience for you.

Tammy July 15, 2013 at 9:42 am

Just shy of my 30th birthday I moved to England for two years. I loved it. Although I’ve been back for a decade, that time is very much with me every single day of my life. Like you, I couldn’t put into words what has changed about me, other than saying, “everything!” Understanding that our way of doing things isn’t the only way and living in someone else’s shoes makes every situation seem more grey instead of black and white.

Sharon Greenthal July 15, 2013 at 10:05 am

My husband lived in Shanghai for six months right before I met him. I wish I’d been able to share that experience with him! How wonderful that your trip to Asia has infused so much of your life.

midlifecrisisqueen July 15, 2013 at 11:22 am

WOW! GenFabbers are sure the well-traveled group! Even if only in our dreams… and it does change us in so many ways!
I loved this quote from Style+Substance+Soul:
“My trip may be over but my journey has just begun.”

Beverly Diehl July 15, 2013 at 11:32 am

Beautiful, exotic, mind-expanding. What a fabulous opportunity (trying not to be jealous) and that’s wonderful that you learned Chinese.

b+ July 15, 2013 at 11:32 am

I loved Bangkok so much. It changed my view of the world in so many ways. I suppose I will always flash on that city when I smell fish sauce.


Helene Cohen Bludman July 15, 2013 at 12:53 pm

What a great experience you had. It is amazing how things like this can impact you for a lifetime. I hope to travel to that area of the world someday.

Lois July 15, 2013 at 12:55 pm

What a fantastic experience. I totally agree that the world would change if everyone got the chance to visit other cultures. Thailand is on my travel list! P.S. Thanks for the shout-out about my quote. Totally applies to all of our amazing trips.

Shannon Bradley-Colleary July 15, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Asia is one of the only continents I have’t visited and you’re convincing me that I need to do this. I’ve always been more drawn to European countries; England, France, Spain, Germany, The Czech Republic because those are the origins of my bloodline. But I had a job for three weeks in South Africa — also a place I never thought I would visit — and fell in love. Perhaps Asia should be next on my To Do list. Thanks for your story.

midlifecrisisqueen July 15, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Asia is just so different in every way from the West. But now my husband Mike & I are turning our attention to South America, and I’m beginning to see a trip in our future! -LLC

Pat July 15, 2013 at 6:47 pm

What an amazing experience. Marvelous that you know how to speak and write Chinese!

Chloe July 15, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Asia has always intimidated me. What am amazing opportunity you had getting to go there young. I think we’re more often open to new experiences when we are young.

Virginia Sullivan July 15, 2013 at 9:28 pm

What a wonderful experience. You were very lucky to do that for 3 months at a young age. Certainly that must have impacted your life so much. Great Post! — Virginia

midlifecrisisqueen July 16, 2013 at 8:51 am

Thank you all for reader and commenting!
Yes, I don’t know if I would have gone there without a free trip and my parents already living there. That’s how life surprises you, and sometimes in really great ways! – LLC

Donna July 16, 2013 at 7:13 pm

What a wonderful, life changing experience for a young person to have. And how much better would Americans understand the rest the world if more of us got to visit other countries when we’re young?

Barbara Shallue July 17, 2013 at 10:04 pm

What an incredible experience! I agree with you that more travel when we’re young would help us be more accepting of cultural differences. I’m grateful my kids sacrificed to let me go, and in turn, I’ve sacrificed so that my kids could travel, too.

midlifecrisisqueen July 18, 2013 at 7:22 am

Yes Barbara! So glad my Dad planned ahead so that I would have the opportunity of a lifetime at age 19. I wish everyone understood how important these experiences are for our kids! – LLC

Haralee July 18, 2013 at 8:15 pm

What a wonderful experience. At 19 you had the maturity to absorb, not everyone can do that and many not at 19!

midlifecrisisqueen July 19, 2013 at 7:08 am

Thank you ALL for reading and commenting! It means a lot to me as a fellow GenFabber!

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