Remember the first day of seventh grade? That awkward moment when you walked into your new homeroom praying a familiar face was saving you a seat in the back row. Then came the realization that you know no one. And everyone was staring at you. This reoccurring bad dream is our everyday reality.
At first not knowing anyone during our travels was not a bother. In fact, I felt anonymity had huge perks; no one expects anything of you, no one is depending on you, no one is watching, judging or scoring your performance. And because we were traveling in our merry band of seven, my social needs were filled. Roaming the planet un-tethered to other humans and the responsibilities associated with relationships was actually liberating.
Sure, strangers whispered behind our backs, pointed fingers, and snapped cell phone selfies with us as their backdrop. What could I expect as our entourage of seven big, white Americans trudged along like ducks in a row? Up to this point no one knew if we were swans or ugly ducklings, the good guys or the bad guys, and I loved being just a pretty face in the crowd. My dream of blending in was happening perfectly until I the day I woke up and realized no one knew who I was.
I think I woke up shortly after the BYU kids flew back to the States. Our numbers dwindled down to five, the foot loose and fancy free vibe had worn thin and we now had a rented apartment which meant doorman, front desk clerk and neighbors to greet daily in the elevator. And they are all nice people! Super nice with beautiful smiles and respectful bows when we pass coming and going. But they did not know me. I mean KNOW me and that’s when the seventh grade nightmare started – entering the room to discover no one was saving me a seat. I needed friends.
So my friendless self began reaching out to fellow Americans, world nomads, weirdos like me who are living in Chiang Mai and might be interested in formulating relationships. I approached total strangers in at markets, in the mall, on the street, at the pool, on line, in coffee shops, on walks, at the park, at the library. Here’s an example of my outreach efforts (note the names have been changed to protect the innocent):
Pat at Create Thailand/Christian Outreach gave me your name the other day and said you are the Chiang Mai go-to girl for all things homeschooling in this area. I’m hoping we can connect.
By way of introduction, my family and I are from Atlanta, GA and have recently begun traveling the world and homeschooling. I have five children, however, with two attend Brigham Young Univeristy in UT we are left with our three sons, Bennett age 17, Matthew age 13, and Thomas age 7, here in Chiang Mai. My husband, Robert, is in the IT field, but looking to retool during this experience. I am a homemaker who tutors and teaches a bit when needed, and I love travel, food and learning most everything. We will be staying here for several months and would love to plug into this community of homeschoolers.
Pat said you have sons similar ages — would they be open to a “play date” of sorts? I’m not certain what you call an arranged meeting with teens and moms! 😕 My sons are into Pokemon Go, who isn’t, eh, Scouting, music (piano, saxophone and trumpet), video gaming, rugby, swimming, reading, and non-stop eating. The attached photo helps you get eyes on us.
We live right by Pat’s workspace and have transport so we could come to you or meet somewhere.
Hoping to hear from you soon,
I understand completely your desire to make some connections here. How long will your family be in Chiang Mai?
To be perfectly honest, I don’t know if my sons would be willing to get together with your guys. We have lived overseas for 10 years and what I see in my kids (and in other TCK’s (I don’t even know what a TCK is) ) is this: They constantly have to say goodbye to friends and try to make new ones. Then when they go back to their American home, it is also like starting over. It was a lot easier when they were young and could all just play in the sandbox together; it didn’t matter if they had a history that they remembered. Now in the teens, it is quite awkward for them to start or re-start relationships. They have a tendency not to put forth the effort if it isn’t going to last more than a short season… I hope this doesn’t sound mean. It isn’t anything personal, it is just my observation as a parent. Even as an adult I have experienced a deep fatigue about “starting over” in building relationships here in Chiang Mai. This is an incredibly transient community.
Sally did go on to offer a contact at the local BSA Scouting troop, but again strongly cautioned me it might be difficult to break into that community. Same with the local homeschooling co-op. She suggested I join a gym.
This email stung. Why would someone not want to be my friend? Doesn’t she know I hate gyms?
Days have passed since this particular nightmare disrupted my dream Adventure. I have thought a lot about anonymity, friends, developing relationships, and “putting yourself out there”. I have licked my wounds and moved on. I want to think I appreciate her position and have even gained some empathy. But in the still of the night this bad dream comes back and I find myself thinking, “Can you really ever have too many friends?”
I did shoot Sally back a quick reply …
Thanks for your candid repy. I think I understand everything you are expressing. Because we are new to this semi-nomadic, worldschooling, overseas, here today, gone tomorrow life, we are eager to practice the new skill of introducing ourselves, breaking into a community, making a friend, partying down for as long as we will be together, and saying good bye when the wind shifts. Making short term relationships happen is going to be incredibly tough for us, especially with teens, but we feel the need to try and push ourselves to face a fear we have not yet encountered. It seems we may not have the same needs as you.
No worries … Let me know if your sons, or you, ever want to go swimming, or to a shooting range, or a movie, or meet at CAMP, or out for pizza.
P.S. You lost out on your dream chance to meet a really GREAT, amazing, super-cool, talented, bright, fun, rock star family of five who could have loved you and been a great friend to you and your boys! Too bad, so sad for your “starting over” fatigued self. I know a gym you could join. OK – I really didn’t really send the PS, but I wanted to!
UPDATE: Nanny, nanny, boo, boo! We have made some great friends and here is photographic proof: