The Spinning Arrow

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I've never had a great sense of direction. 

Even at 30 years old I still sometimes have to mutter, "lefty loosy, righty tighty," or hold my hands up in front of me making "Ls" with my fingers so I can figure out which one is my left. If my GPS acts up, I have absolutely no hope to get where I am trying to go, and even though I live in a town called East Wenatchee, you'll still have to give me a minute to point you north.

The conclusion: Don't pick me as your co-pilot. 

Despite not having a great sense of my bearings, I have still managed to make it to a lot of places across our globe. China and Thailand being my most recent ventures. While neither turned out the way I had originally planned, they were adventures nonetheless and I wouldn't have changed a thing.

Lets talk about China...

My idea to pursue teaching English overseas came to me about one year ago. I was ready to travel again and strengthen my skills as a teacher. While China was never my first choice, or even my third or fourth, my research concluded it had the highest salary and after hours of researching blogs and YouTube videos, it seemed like most expats really enjoyed the country. So, in true Mandi fashion, I jumped in with two feet, accepted a job and was on a plane just a few months later. (Read about my first experiences in China in my last blog here) Fast forward several weeks into my position and I began realizing more and more that my core values were not in alignment with my job.

Why? While there wasn't particularly anything wrong with the company, my job was heavily based on sales and the lesson structure was built so that I was only seeing each group of my kids about once every two weeks, not allowing for any real teacher-student relationship to build. That just didn't vibe with my style of teaching or the reason that I desired to teach overseas in the first place. Additionally, (spoiler alert) there are A LOT of people in China. Like, a lot. Trying to get anywhere was like going through a maze of bodies and I had to completely throw any idea of personal space out the window. I experienced a completely new meaning of "survival." After those first two months I was fed up with the constant noise, the pollution, the food, and the fact the I feared for my life every time I crossed the road. So I began to consider turning my compass toward another direction.

Enter in Tanya...

Tanya and I met while getting our TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certificate together at Gonzaga University this past July. On the first day of class we all had to get up and introduce ourselves and when she did, she mentioned that she was originally from the Ukraine and she was taking the course because she wants to open a school in Thailand. I thought to myself, "Now there is a dreamer! We need to be friends!" And that is exactly what happened.

Tanya and I kept in touch as best we could while I was in China and when it simply wasn't working out for me, she invited me to join her in Thailand. I thought about it for all of about... three seconds, then quickly ran to my computer to book my plane ticket.

Arriving in Thailand was (literally) a breath of fresh air. In just the first few days I had fallen completely in love with "The Land of Smiles." True to its name, the people in Thailand are so friendly and the culture is just as laid back as the Chinese culture is strict. I was dodging chickens instead of cars, eating enormous amounts of delicious food and fresh fruit, and getting to feel the warm sunshine on my skin nearly every day. I was in heaven. 

I knew I was in heaven because Tanya is seriously an ANGEL. She was my complete guide to the language, food, and cultural norms. Not to mention she is an amazing adventure partner and (she's going to blush when she reads this) one bad-ass lover of Jesus and others. She allowed me to live with her more than once and took care of me both times I was seriously ill and in the hospital. If you don't have a friend like Tanya in your life, you are doing it wrong. 

My "sis" Tanya and I soaking up the sun at the Flower Festival in Chiang Mai
Since I was in Thailand over the holidays, a friend I had made while in China decided to come to visit and let me be his tour guide for a couple of weeks. Jan, and all six-foot-five of his German build, was just as much a spectacle to the locals in Thailand as he was in China. His goofy attitude, heart for animals, and drive to try anything new made him a great person to explore Thailand with. We enjoyed everything from feeding elephants, giraffes, and lots to stray animals, to motorbike rides by the ocean and long hikes up to temples. On our almost nightly walks to 7-11 for an ice cream snack, we heavily debated over the proper pronunciation of vowels. (In case you are wondering, he won most of the discussions. We Americans say a lot of things wrong!) If you don't have a Tanya in your life yet, I hope you at least have a Jan. 

I think my true appreciation for the connections you can make through traveling came on Christmas Eve when Jan sat down across from me for dinner and I looked at his t-shirt. Here is was... sitting in Thailand, with a German man, who I met in China...and he's wearing a Seahawks shirt. Talk about a small world after all!

Jan and I having an elephant-astic time!
It was incredibly hard for me to return back to the US after falling so deeply in love with everything about Thailand. The combination of visa problems, a drained bank account, and an even more drained body from a killer kidney infection, inevitably had me back on a plane and back on US soil mid February.

Many of you know that a great adventure plopped in my lap within just a few days of being home. Just a week ago, all of our plans for the next 7 months were torn away. It broke my heart for the reasons it had to be short-lived but I couldn't be more thankful for even just the several weeks I got to drive 10 beautiful Ugandan kids around on a bus.

So here we are...

I would say that I am "back at square one," but a close friend of mine recently pointed out to me that "square one" would imply that I haven't moved forward with my life over the last 8 months. And that's just not true. These feet of mine have covered a lot of new ground and I am definitely not the same person I was before I left. So now where do I go from here?

In Pocahontas, my all-time favorite Disney princess tells Grandmother Willow about a strange dream she keeps having. (You knew there was going to be a Disney reference in here somewhere, didn't you). In her dream, she's running through the forest and in front of her she sees an arrow that begins to spin, and spin, and spin until it suddenly stops. Grandmother Willow suggests that the arrow is pointing her down her path. Pocahontas defeatedly asks her, "But, Grandmother Willow, what is my path? How am I ever going to find it?"

Poca. Girl. I get you. 

For the last 8 months... No. For the last few years... I feel like my arrow has just been spinning, and spinning, and spinning. It has stopped a couple of different times to lead me on different paths...only to begin spinning again. To be honest, I'm getting a little dizzy! 

In the story, Pocahontas eventually finds a compass, which both literally and figuratively ends up pointing her down her path. For that time anyway. (We aren't EVEN going to get into everything that happens in Pocahontas II. It's on Netflix. Go watch it.) Pocahontas's compass arrow pointed her toward the desires of her heart, and I think my arrow does the same thing. I also think that travel, experiencing new cultures, new personal growth, relationships and even hardships can change a person's desires and dreams over time. I think it can cause their arrow to spin again and point in a new direction.

And that is okay. Actually, it's fantastic. New directions bring new life, new perspectives and new purpose. Moving in a new direction should be embraced and celebrated. Not feared.

I don't know where my arrow is going to stop this time but if you know me, you know I've already got a head full of ideas. May arrow may point me toward a new career, or maybe an opportunity to dust off some talents and skills I have put on the back burner for too long. I'm learning more and more every day to measure my success on my own terms, take care of myself, and follow my heart. I truly believe that our hearts are our life's compass and wherever they lead us is always the right path to take.

I can't wait to see where mine takes me next. 

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