22 Things I Learned on my First Holiday Away from Home

One of the biggest hindrances for my decision to move to Thailand was the thought of missing some of my favorite days–especially Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. And while realistically it is only a few days on the calendar, it is much more than that for a sentimental girl like myself.

Being away for the holidays means missing out on time spent with loved ones, good food, laughs, and the festive spirit. I don’t hear the merry tunes or see the beautiful decorations. It means I save money on presents, but don’t see my family’s smiles when they open gifts chosen specifically for them.

Being away for the holidays in an Eastern country, means even more: No tinseled trees or decorations, no fancy cookies, no seasonal drinks, no lights on the houses, no shopping, no wrapping, no singing classic songs, and no talk of mass or Jesus’ birth. Christmas in a small town in Thailand is practically nonexistent.

As I remind myself that there will be many more Thanksgivings, Christmases, and New Years to come, I’m thankful for the many things I’ve learned while away from home during the holiday season:

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1. New friends become your family.

I came into my TESOL program knowing only a few names and faces from brief Facebook conversations. From the first day in Bangkok I met people I knew would become great friends. I feel beyond fortunate to have spent each of my holidays with these amazing people. The laughs and adventures shared dimmed the sadness of missing home. While they were unconventional holidays, they are ones I will never forget because of the people I spent them with.

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2. Online shopping is a wonderful way to participate in your family’s gift exchange.

In my house, Christmas day tradition involves waking up early for an hour or two of immediate family time before the troops come rolling in. We open our gifts and toast to another year with mimosas. The idea of not participating in this tradition didn’t sit well with me. Shout out to the wonderful World Wide Web for allowing me to participate in giving, even in a small way.

3. FaceTime is the best invention in the world.

Again, God bless the world of technology. I can’t imagine this time away without the ability to see my favorite peoples’ faces regularly. I was able to join the celebrations on a few occasions, and while it gave me serious surges of homesickness, it was comforting to still be able to connect with my loved ones.

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4. It’s an equally emotional time for those at home.

I won’t lie, I had some bad days over the holiday season. Sure, I kept myself busy, but it didn’t stop me from missing everyone around the world. Sometimes when you’re the one away, it’s easy to forget that you’re not the only one feeling down during this time. Nothing gets you crying quicker than having your dad tell you that Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas without you. I was reminded that I wasn’t the only one feeling the distance.

5. 85+ degree days can make you forget what MN December feels like.

I see pictures of the snow and read about the cold, and think, “Wow, that sounds refreshing.” Then I slap myself. One of my Thai teachers says there are only two seasons in Thailand: Hot and very hot. She’s not kidding. The heat actually helped make these days easier for me. I certainly do not associate 85 degrees with Xmas, so it was simpler to forget what month it was exactly.

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6. Brunch that includes macaroni and cheese is equally as delicious as the feast your mother prepares (or at least close enough.)

I love brunch, but I especially love Christmas brunch. This year I treated myself to macaroni and cheese at 9:30am. Sounds kind of disgusting in hindsight, but when Western food is limited, you take what you can get.

7. It’s OK to splurge on unhealthy Western food to ease your homesickness.

While eating local food is definitely the most cost-effective route, I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to treat yourself to the more expensive pizza and cake on Thanksgiving.

8. It’s OK to be a little sad. It means that you’re lucky enough to have people to miss at home.

While traveling and working abroad looks glamorous from the pictures posted on social media, it is not always the reality. I didn’t post pictures of the nights spent in my dingy hotel room reading letters from loved ones and missing home. These moments are important to understand and embrace. Sadness is okay. It only means that I’m fortunate to have people and traditions worth missing.

9. You can’t expect your day to feel the same as it would at home.

I filled Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years with fun activities, but the days still didn’t resemble anything like they would at home. The cool thing about this is that I now have a year in my life that is completely unique to all others. I also have all the more reason to be excited for a return to the norm next year.

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(Decorations found in the primetime tourist spots. Thanks, Phuket!)

10. Life at home does not pause just because you are not partaking in it.

There will still be parties, events, laughs, and memories made while you are away. It’s one of the sacrifices of exploring the world.

11. There is nothing wrong with that.

You’re busy seeing and doing new things, becoming a new person, making new friends, learning new facts. It would be unfair to think that everyone else isn’t doing the same thing. As someone with a horrible case of FOMO, I sometimes struggle with missing out, but I am so happy for the new adventures my friends and family have started since I’ve been gone. With or without my presence, life goes on. Just as those closest to me were excited about my new adventures, I am excited for theirs.

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12. Christmas songs aren’t the same when you sit in a hot apartment, void of decorations.

I spent Xmas Eve doing laundry and cleaning my room. Exciting!!! I played the classics in the background, but it was not the same as listening to them while decorating the house or baking cookies with my mom.

13. You find a new appreciation for a white Christmas.

December and snow belong together in my mind and always will. Don’t get me wrong though, this does not mean I miss freezing my ass off (or shoveling.)

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(Winter 2015: I can’t remember what this feels like.)

14. The Grinch might make you cry.

Like I said, the holidays made me a bit emotional. After FaceTiming the fam jam on Christmas and settling in for the night, I turned to my beloved Netflix for a pick-me-up. Turns out The Grinch can actually make you tear up. As the movie says: it’s not about presents, it’s about love. And luckily—presents or not, near or far—I am so blessed with a lot of it. Thank God I didn’t try to watch It’s a Wonderful Life.

15. Laughing is a wonderful way to pass your time.

Seriously.

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16. Crying because of laughing is an even better way to pass your time.

There were sad tears shed, but there were also many tears shed from laughter. These are the moments I will remember and cherish most from my year away. Thank you, thank you, thank you to the people who helped make this post possible.

17. Seeing familiar faces is the best thing ever.

I was fortunate enough to have some of my best friends visit over the New Year. I can’t tell you the anticipation I felt the week leading up to their arrival. I screamed, I jumped, I cried at the reunion. It’s the best feeling knowing that time apart will never break bonds like these. It was cool to show off the places I’ve been and the culture I live in. Having that small comfort of home during such a fun season was really a blessing. Thanks for flying 8,700 miles to ring in the New Year with me.

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18. It’s extremely heartwarming to be wished a Merry Christmas by someone who doesn’t celebrate it him or herself.

My students and co-teachers do not celebrate Xmas, or even know much about it. So to be wished a Merry Christmas by these people was very sweet.

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19. Which reminds you how important it is to have tolerance and respect for different cultures and traditions.

My school put on a Christmas production that included songs, a skit, and many, many Santa hats. They will also do this for Chinese New Year, even though they don’t celebrate it themselves. While it is not their religion or tradition, they respect that it is someone else’s. With all the political turmoil happening around the world right now, it seems so rare that we see such regard between differing cultures. My time here has reminded me that just because something is different, doesn’t mean it is wrong or unequal. I have such an increased respect for cultures different than my own. And it was a very heartwarming feeling to have that reciprocated back through my kids’ seasons’ greetings. We should all be more like them.

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20. Pinterest is a dangerous place when all you want is delicious treats.

I don’t have a refrigerator, kettle, stove, oven, microwave, anything resembling a kitchen appliance in my room. Now I don’t cook frequently at home, but I never realized how much I love having the option. During off periods at school, I’d find myself perusing Pinterest and would spend the rest of the day with my mouth watering thinking of the sweet treats I wasn’t eating.

21. Amazing family and friends are the true reason being away is so challenging.

While I did miss the traditions, what I missed the most were the people I spend each of those days with. I missed my dad, mom, and brothers. I missed my extended family that I so infrequently see. I missed my Prior Lake crew, which truly is an extension of family. I missed my PL Gang or Die and my UST Betches (classy group nicknames, I know.) Sure, I would have loved to be stuffing my face on Thanksgiving and sharing presents on Christmas, but what I missed most was the people I spend that time with.

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22. New friends can give you one of the most memorable holiday seasons yet.

I’ve been places, done things, eaten food, learned tidbits, and met people that I never even knew existed before October. While the holidays weren’t what I am used to (and I am extremely excited for 2017’s season already,) I am so grateful for all that I have been able to experience. No other year will be like 2016 and that’s all due to the amazing people I spent it with. I am so thankful for the friendships, laughs, and memories created on this crazy journey.

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In the end, I’m glad I didn’t let my fear of missing out keep me from this adventure because Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years are truly just days on the calendar. What makes them special are the people you surround yourself with, and I can easily say that I am blessed with the best—near and far.

Now I just have to get myself through the Twin’s home opener and the 4th of July and it’ll be smooth sailing.

Happy belated holidays, reader!

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For more consistent updates on life, follow me on Instagram–mts25.

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3 thoughts on “22 Things I Learned on my First Holiday Away from Home”

  1. As a professor of intercultural communication, #19 warms my heart. That’s what it is really all about Molly — getting to know about how other cultures are formed and practiced and leaving judgement behind. You are a living example I will use many times with students who want to “travel” when they graduate. It can be done, I will tell them, and Molly is proving that it is possible and rewarding. I am proud of you!

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