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Reflections during Asian American and Pacific Islander Month

Flashback 20 years ago, around this time, I was on an international flight heading to Bangkok, Thailand with my husband, then four year old son, infant daughter, and our miniature schnauzer Bailey under the airplane seat. This was not a trip that I had ever expected nor wanted to make, but a few months earlier my husband broached the topic of moving overseas. My daughter had just started to sleep through the night, I finally had a group of good friends following our last corporate move, and my son was settled into pre-school. Life was predictably good.

Working for a large global company, I knew that spending time overseas as an expatriate was important for my husband’s career growth. He was already flying back and forth to Bangkok monthly, leaving me single parenting little ones with no family nearby for weeks at a time. At least moving might mean we would be together as a family? I hoped so. Soon after, I found myself filling two carts at Costco with cases of Pampers diapers in assorted sizes, about 100 boxes of Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese for my preschooler, and an assortment of other American creature comforts, ready to stuff into a shipping container. We left our home virtually untouched, frozen in time, while we journeyed to a new land, to live in a wildly different culture, on an unfamiliar continent, in a developing nation. We were going to a place where I did not know the language, would not be allowed to drive a car (per our corporate expatriate agreement), would soon encounter my first monitor lizard (the size of a Labrador), and would learn how to stop a cockroach dead in its tracks with hairspray (desperate times called for desperate measures).

I could probably write a book on the many funny (and not so funny) experiences that I had over the two and a half years that we spent living there, but today, as we are in the midst of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I would like to share a few of my most cherished takeaways from my time living there, and how that experience has changed my life in both small, and profound ways that I am forever grateful.

  • The Thai people are beautiful, peaceful, loving individuals. While living there, I felt very safe, and experienced amazing kindness and patience (especially as I butchered the language with my terrible, amateur Thai language skills).

  • The international school my son attended (Bangkok Patana School) was incredibly diverse. I had no idea when I moved there that the expatriate community would be filled with wonderful people from literally all over the world. My son’s school had students from 72 different countries. On International Day, each child paraded through the school with clothing and props that were representative of their home countries. If only our world could get along as well as these children did. That parade (resembled the opening ceremonies of the Olympics) was the highlight of each year that we spent there. Because I am a sentimental sap, it made me cry!

  • Sticky rice and mango, with coconut milk. Delicious.

  • The stunning beaches of the south and beautiful mountain region in the north. If you have not been, go! Phuket, Ko Samui, Krabi, and Chiang Mai should be on every travel adventurer’s bucket list. You will not be disappointed.

  • Ancient historical sites such as Ayutthaya and Phimai, foot reflexologists, hand pounded stainless steel, intricate teak carvings, fresh fruit everywhere, temperatures that never dip below 75 degrees, gorgeous silks, Pad Thai, the lifelong friends that we made, and the list goes on and on.

The work that I did volunteering at the local orphanages was incredibly emotional and impactful, but by far, the most lasting and pivotal experience was on March, 26, 2004, the day that we first met our infant son, William Yuthachai Haugh. Will (then known only as Master Yuthachai) was residing at a home for orphaned children in the town of Khon Kaen, about a six hour drive from Bangkok, not far from the Laos and Cambodian borders. Fast forward 18 years…..William is now just days shy of graduating high school. He was born Thai, but has spent all but the first nine months of his life growing up here in America. As we celebrate Asian Americans this month, I can not help but beam with pride over my beautiful son Will, whose kindness knows no bounds, and whose creativity, talent, and hard work inspires so many. I think back to the day that my husband asked me if I would consider moving to Bangkok and the incredulous look I must have had on my face coupled with the fear and sadness I felt in leaving home.

I am forever grateful that I buckled up and took that crazy ride. I am forever grateful for the rich and unique cultural experiences. I am forever appreciative of the gifts we experience as American citizens living a privileged life. Best of all, I am forever Mom to Will. And because of that.....I am forever changed.

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