Once a month we like to share a story we find really interesting from a volunteer’s blog. This month we share one from It All Started in the “Land of Smiles.”

Clark Finkelstein, 130 TESS

Happy Thanksgiving!  This is a holiday my parents hosted for many years.  During this time of year our house needed to be clean.  By clean I mean extra clean. My house was always clean but ‘holiday clean’ is a completely different level of clean.  This affected me because my bedroom was always a mess. I was really creative growing up and would stay up all night making purses out of duct tape, picture collages or bottle cap jewelry all while singing along to Avril Lavigne, thinking she’s the only one who gets how I feel … you get the picture.  My floor was typically decorated with all my materials, a zillion empty water cups, dirty clothes and all the clean clothes one must try on before picking out the perfect outfit. Whenever I was told it’s time to clean, instead of packing all my supplies into their boxes, putting the dirty laundry away and folding the clean clothes I would do something entirely different.

I have this weird issue where I have to completely start a project from scratch and give it 110 percent. This meant dumping out the contents of each dresser drawer onto my floor, emptying my entire closet and literally turning my room inside out, creating an even bigger mess and multiple piles of things everywhere. At this point I would look at it all have a panic attack and slump into one of the many piles on my floor where eventually my mom would find me crying. Not being her first rodeo, she always knew the cure.  She’d sit with me and help calm me down and would chunk off tasks for me then check in on me after each task, for example pick up everything blue, or put away all your socks. At some point I no longer needed her tasks and would finish. My room always ended up looking immaculate (about eight hours and no sleep later).
I’ve grown since then but with everything I do, be it lesson planning, starting an English Club, or anything really, I have this impulse to almost destroy all I have and start from the complete bottom go above and beyond at which point I get super overwhelmed.

Like most, I am my own biggest critic and feel that if I do anything it needs to be perfect, just like my bedroom would be after HOURS of cleaning and reorganizing. Here in Thailand it’s not just me and my room.  I work with two other co-teachers that I have to depend on who work and think completely differently than I do. I make every task here way more difficult than it needs to be and without my mom and her guided steps I find myself creating these piles all around me and struggling to know how to even begin.  I have been on the move striving to make so many changes and make every second of my time here count, I want to integrate and connect with everyone in my community, learn more Thai, to be the proper model for America and help share EVERY aspect of America (impossible), to become my best self yet and so many more things.  Like wow could I set the bar any higher? Who in the world do I think I am to accomplish all of that?!  If someone else told me all of that I’d respond by reminding them they are human not a magician or a unicorn or a superhero.

It’s hard though. We are told to reach for the stars and try our best, but I take this to the extreme.  I have had such a struggle here with anxiety, depression, lacking patience and find myself having a hard time finding a silver lining. I need to take a HUGE step back and just take it all in and let it be. Life isn’t meant to be so serious. I would hate to finish my service and list of accomplishments, only to remember the misery and stress I have been feeling as of lately. At that point, I should just leave.  Deep down though, I know I don’t want that, so I need to figure out how to live and be happy in this new place and life I have signed up for. My first step towards this new outlook is recognizing and appreciating it all including some unreal experiences I’ve had since arriving here.

Recently I traveled to Bali where I had a really wonderful time.  A year ago I didn’t even think about travelling to Bali. I am so glad I went because it was truly amazing. From the perfectly carved rice terraces to the surrounding tall lush mountains, to the dolphin I saw do a flip out of the water while in a boat with the sunrise right behind it. To living like a queen in the infinity pools facing the vast ocean before me while splurging on fancy drinks, to a spa day unlike any other, and the whole time being embraced by spiritual vibes in a land that values the environment and is essentially a vegan and vegetarian heaven with so many healthy delicious foods … it really was everything and more.  Our last night in Bali, we treated ourselves to a fancy dinner and happened to be sitting by two lovely women, one from America and my neighbor state, Indiana. We talked during our whole meal and multiple times the women thanked us for all that we do and were very grateful for the Peace Corps as a whole. We said our goodbyes and went to pay, to find out the women bought our meal as an extra thank you and surprise. It gave me all the feels and it was the perfect ending to a perfect trip.

Talking with the women I realized that despite my struggles I actually have accomplished a lot at my school. I was fortunate enough to have two other volunteers come help me to decorate my English room, after being inspired by my friend Berline’s English room at her site.  I have incorporated “English today” into our daily morning announcements. English club is officially up and running consistently now and overall things are looking good. One group of kids are writing letters for a pen pal assignment that I set up with a teacher back home. I just need to shift my perspective and everything around me changes. Instead of unravelling my life and pouring all my worries and stress out, I need to look at one thing at a time and then remember that things are the way they are and that is okay. So wish me luck as I strive to change my perspective and let some things be as they are. It’s wayyyyyyy easier said than done but hopefully sooner than later I can make this shift.

Read Clark’s previous articles and contributions.

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