Why I still love America

You don’t need a Ph.D. in psychology to figure out that I love Laos. It’s pretty obvious and I’m not ashamed of it at all.  As a matter of fact, I’m probably a little obnoxious about it but I can’t help it. The thing is is that I’m not Lao. I’m American. And I’m ok with that because I love America too. 

There seems to be a trend of bitterness towards America for people who move or travel outside of America for long periods of time. There are plenty of reasons for this but I think the biggest is that we often see the faults and mistakes of things the more disconnected we get from them. You get away from America and you start seeing all it’s problems magnified.  You may have sensed them in America but all of a sudden every time you look back home you see faults and weakness.

Americans, believe it or not, are not perfect. We’re generally materialistic, selfish, and are more preoccupied with that corner office with the high-paying salary than wether or not the person sitting across the dining room table has had a good day.  And, yet, I can still sit here and tell you I love my country. How? First, because I realize no place is perfect. Guess what, Laos and every other country out there has problems too. America isn’t alone. Second, because hating a place just because you’ve found something wrong with it doesn’t make sense to me.  

I can find nothing useful from hating my own country. If I decided to choose hatred and bitterness for every problem I face then none of those problems would ever be resolved. Eventually I would back myself into a corner where I could no longer turn away and then I’m just stuck with a lot of disappointment and bitterness. You can’t escape the failures of this world. You can only stand and face them hoping to be enough of a change to make a difference. Unrealistic optimism? Maybe but it’s better than doing nothing. 

That leads me to the second reason why I still love America. I choose to see the positive things about my country. I don’t ignore the shortcomings but I don’t let them dominate my view of America. Yes, I’m an optimistic person. There’s no hiding it but that doesn’t mean I ignore the bad things. I just don’t let them control how I view things.

Just like no country is perfect I also believe every place has something good to offer. We often ignore these things because we are either stuck wallowing in our own bitterness or because we don’t want to see anything good. Sometimes it feels good to hate and we want to keep it that way. Hating just happens to get you nowhere and so I choose to find the things about American that I love.  Among many things, I’m grateful to be in a place that values equality and, in theory, strives for a society that respects you no matter who you are or where you come from.  I’m also thankful to have a family and community here that is loving and caring.  Without the generosity of the people here I would never be able to live in Laos. So, whenever I look back and see the problems of America I also see the things that make me love it. 

No place is perfect so running into problems shouldn’t be a surprise. What you do with those problem or what you let those problems do to you is the key. Really, it’s up to you. I decided to love my country.  

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Alabama, USA - 2014 
Thankful for the times at home where I can just rest and relax with the family.  I’m down to 10 days before returning to Laos! 

Alabama, USA - 2014 

Thankful for the times at home where I can just rest and relax with the family.  I’m down to 10 days before returning to Laos! 

"Why you gotta be so rude?"

I know I’m kinda of late to the “cool music bus” but I love that song. Cut me some slack, 10 months out of the year I have no idea what’s going on in the American music scene. (all you international readers are already completely lost….sorry, the title is a line from a popular US song right now) 

So, I guess I kind of owe you guys some sort of apology for leaving you hanging the past month and a half. “Geesh Noah, you tell us your home and then…poof…you’re gone.” Yep, that’s pretty much what happened. But you see, life has been pretty busy.  In just the past two weeks I drove over 1,500 miles. That’s a lot of miles to drive.  And then before that I was with my family at the beach (let’s be honest, I love you guys, but I’m not going to spend time writing on this blog when I have my family to hang out with. The truth hurts). And then before that I was spending a week at one my favorite places (every kid needs to go to a summer camp. Period.) And then before that I was arriving in America.  So yeah, the schedule has been pretty crazy. Do you want to know what’s even crazier? I go back to Laos in 2 weeks.  

TWO. WEEKS. 

I just got here. And now I’m going back.  ”Well, how do you feel about that, Noah?” That’s an impossible question and you know it. Don’t ask me stuff like that.

……..

Ok fine, I’ll try to explain it to you. I’m sad for one because I have to say goodbye to my family and friends here. I have a pretty awesome family. No really. I do. Seeing them has been beyond wonderful.  I mean, look at her. You wish you had a niece as cute as this. 

And to top it off she’s a twin so there’s TWO OF THEM THIS CUTE. Boom. 

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You say goodbye to that face knowing it’ll be another year before you see her again without feeling like your heart is being ripped out. But then, on the other end of the spectrum I’m super excited to see Laos again. I love that place so much. I get to see my old students and friends again in Pakse for the first three weeks that I’m back which is awesome. But then after three weeks I’m headed to Cambodia which is simultaneously extremely sad and exciting. Sad because I have to say a much more final goodbye to all my friends in Pakse but exciting because I’m going to Cambodia to meet the new teachers that will be coming to Laos next year.  AND THEN after Cambodia I move to Luang Prabang. I MOVE TO LUANG PRABANG. What am I supposed to do with that? 

Feel like you just went through an emotional roller coaster? Welcome to how I feel right now.  Honestly, I’m doing my best just to focus on these next two weeks. I’m planning on spending it mostly with my family because as I mentioned earlier, they’re awesome. I want to really enjoy every moment I can. It gets kind of hard knowing you’ll only see a group of people you love dearly once a year.  So, I can’t promise I’ll post more these next two weeks but I will actually try. Unlike the past month and a half.  But don’t get your hopes up. 

Also, side note, you guys should feel really loved. I had this whole thing written and ready to post but then safari freaked out and shut down and I lost the whole post. So what did I do at 10 pm? Go to bed in frustration like I felt? Nope. I came back and wrote the whole thing again. Just because I do like you guys. Kind of. Feel loved. 

Hey look, a pretty sunset picture to distract you! 

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I’m home

It still hasn’t fully registered that I’m back in America. But I am. I’m actually here. I can walk up to anyone walking down the street and have a complete conversation where I understand 100% of the words spoken to me. That’s kind of weird and amazing at the same time. I can also eat Mexican food, hamburgers, friend shrimp, and drink sweat tea whenever I want.  

Best of all I get to talk in person to my family and friends.  I talk often about how amazing my life in Laos is and how much I enjoy spending time with my students and friends there but one thing I don’t bring up very often is how much I miss the people back at home. My friend and family here get me. I’ve grown up with them and they understand me on a deep level.  It’s really hard to leave that for huge chunks of the year.  Being back here has reminded me how much I’ve missed them and I’m enjoying being able to have face to face conversations again. 

My trip back to America was….rough.  I had purposefully planned my trip back home to go through South Korea because I know they have a wonderful airline and airport and I wasn’t disappointed.  Those airplanes were some of the nicest planes I’ve ever been on and that airport, my goodness. I had free wifi, free showers, and free recliners to help me get through my layover there.  I’ve learned, though, that no matter how nice the airplane is, a 14 hour flight is still miserable.  I started getting a little crazy at hour 7 when I realized I was only half way through but I forced myself to calm down and watch a movie (one of four I watched on that flight…along with a documentary).  I think in total I slept only about 2 hours thanks to my seat mate who didn’t seem to get the fact that I didn’t speak any Korean at all and continuously talked to me throughout the flight.  Poor guy, I wanted to strangle him but he was just so old and friendly. Regardless, I did make it back to America without a single delay or problem which is amazing.  So I’m happy. I’ve just got to strategize about that return trip because it projected to be a 15 hour flight.  Maybe I’ll drug myself to sleep.  

I’ll try to keep you guys updated on readjustment to America and future plans about Luang Prabang but right now jet lag is calling my name. See you later, alligator. I’m definitely back home in Alabama. 

This is it, guys. The day has come. I will start my journey back to America in just under 2 hours. It’s been harder to say goodbye than I’ve expected but I also couldn’t have asked for a better last few days here in Pakse.  
I’m sure I’ll keep processing everything and continue to write about Pakse through the summer but right now I don’t have the energy or emotional ability to write anything longer than this. I will let you guys know that I am, for the  fourth time, flying half way across the world.  Here are some fun facts about the upcoming journey.  
Start time: 8:00 am, 29th of May 
End time: 2:10 pm, 30th of May  
Total travel time: 42 hours (crossing the international date line is fun) 
Actual traveling time (not counting layovers): 26 hours 
Countries: 4 
Countries currently under a military coup: 1 
Expected sleep: 5 combined hours……….maybe 

This is it, guys. The day has come. I will start my journey back to America in just under 2 hours. It’s been harder to say goodbye than I’ve expected but I also couldn’t have asked for a better last few days here in Pakse.  

I’m sure I’ll keep processing everything and continue to write about Pakse through the summer but right now I don’t have the energy or emotional ability to write anything longer than this. I will let you guys know that I am, for the  fourth time, flying half way across the world.  Here are some fun facts about the upcoming journey.  

Start time: 8:00 am, 29th of May 

End time: 2:10 pm, 30th of May  

Total travel time: 42 hours (crossing the international date line is fun) 

Actual traveling time (not counting layovers): 26 hours 

Countries: 4 

Countries currently under a military coup: 1 

Expected sleep: 5 combined hours……….maybe 

This just happened at my house. Few things can make me as happy as being able to see these faces just one more time before I leave (which happens in the morning).  

I love my job. I love these people. 

Leaving stinks. 

Unplanned sleepover at teacher Noah’s house. 

This is what it looks like when you only have two more nights at a place you’ve spent the last two years pouring your entire life into. 

One on the couch. One on the floor. Two on a bed. And just off frame is the guy who is sleeping in my bed.  

This is Laos.

Unplanned sleepover at teacher Noah’s house.

This is what it looks like when you only have two more nights at a place you’ve spent the last two years pouring your entire life into.

One on the couch. One on the floor. Two on a bed. And just off frame is the guy who is sleeping in my bed.

This is Laos.

Dear Teacher Noah

This was written last Friday. 

Today was rough.

It was my last day as a teacher at the Pakse Teacher Training College. I walked out of that classroom for the last time knowing that I may not ever see some of their faces again. Saying goodbye to them is harder than I imagined it would be. You see, I’ve taught them for two years and in that time I’ve discovered they are more than students to me. Somewhere in that time they started coming to me with more than questions about English. They started to come with questions about life. Through those questions I realized how much I cared for them. Teaching English is obviously a priority for me but beyond that I want them to succeed and be happy in life just as I would want for my family or friends.  It’s really hard to say goodbye to family and friends. And it’s hard to say goodbye to my students. 

At the end of classes today the school hosted a farewell party for me.  I was given some gifts and recognized for my teaching but by far the most touching moment came from a speech that one of my students gave. I realize that posting a speech about myself might seem self-aggrandizing but it’s something I want to share with you (please realize I don’t think I’m the best teacher in the world.) 

 I’ve told you guys over and over how much these students mean to me. I figured I could give you their perspective for once. 

We have studied with Achan (this is the Lao word for “teacher) Noah for two years. We’ve learned about his interesting techniques of teaching. He is a teacher who deeply cares and sincerely helps all his students. Achan Noah is kind and enthusiastic.  When we study with him we feel free and not afraid to ask him questions or talk to him. Moreover, he is also our advisor when we have problems. He usually gives us good advice. 

He taught us to know that communication between people doesn’t depends on knowing each other for a long or short time. It’s not important that we are from different places or speak different languages. We can communicate with each other through understanding and helping each other. 

One more thing that Achan Noah showed us is that being a good teacher is not easy but it’s not too difficult if we try. A number of students are not easy to and control but he did it and he did it the best because of his love. 

Now Achan Noah will move to work at another school. We are very disappointed because we will miss him.  We would like to say thank you for every good thing that you gave us. We apologize for our mistakes, either intentionally or unintentionally. 

Achan Noah, I ask that God will bless you to travel safely and that you will be successful and happy in your work at your new school. Please think of us and come back to visit us again. We still love you and will remember and think of you always and forever. We will never forget you, our respected teacher, Achan Noah.  

Today was rough. But it was also good because I got confirmation that they actually do understand the one thing I’ve tried to communicate through the past two years. That is, that I love them.

Don’t worry, guys, I will never forget you. 

My Pakse Family

Let me just go ahead and get this out there. I leave in 7 days.  I need to let that sink in a little

……….

Ok. I’m good.  

Now that things are kind of speeding towards the end I wanted to devote a little bit of my blog to the next group of people that I’m going to sorely miss (I’ve told you guys about my students already. Scroll down if you haven’t read it. Be warned. It’s sappy). 

My team. 

One of the best things about being here in Laos is the fact that I get to experience life here with a team of people who love Laos just as much as I do.  Let’s be honest. Laos is amazing but it would be incredibly difficult to be here alone.  Even on the days where you feel like you’re really grooving with the Lao people there’s still a little part of you that reminds you that you are still a foreigner. Having a team of people who completely get your cultures is, frankly, just what you need sometimes.  My team isn’t just useful for the times when I really need some foreigner love either. They’ve been some of the first ones at my door anytime I’ve been sick or needed help.  Remember that time my foot decided to swell up to the size of basketball? I probably would’ve gone hungry had it not been for my team.  Through my day to day life, they are always there for me. And to top it all off they are here for the same reason. Working with a bunch of people dedicated to teaching English has been so beneficial to me as a teacher. They not only push me to be a better teacher but a better person.  There’s no doubt that these guys are a huge reason why my time in Laos has been so great. I’m truly thankful for them. Even though I will be moving cities and will be with a different team I know these guys will never cease to be my friends. 

I love you guys! 

The first time he’s ever seen a violin. 
Moments like this are what make this job truly incredible.  A grainy phone photo can’t even begin to capture what it’s like to introduce someone to the beauty of a music in different ways.  

The first time he’s ever seen a violin. 

Moments like this are what make this job truly incredible.  A grainy phone photo can’t even begin to capture what it’s like to introduce someone to the beauty of a music in different ways.