Good morning! It’s Tuesday, which means another edition of the “Intentional Expat Interview Series.” Each week I feature an interview someone who is either an avid traveler or living outside of their home country and embracing their experience abroad. Today I’m featuring the first interview with a Peace Corps volunteer. Meet Skylar Gingrich, Peace Corps Teacher Collaboration and Community Service (TCCS) volunteer in Khon Kaen province, Thailand.
Hi Skylar! Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m from WA originally, but I am currently teaching with Peace Corps in Thailand. I teach 6th and 9th grades in an extended primary school in a small town and work with the regional school district to help train English teachers. I’m passionate about traveling and learning as much as I can about the world and the people who inhabit it.
What motivated you to move abroad?
I wanted to learn about a new culture and completely immerse myself in it. I love visiting/vacationing in different countries, but there’s something so special about spending enough time in a place to learn all the little intricacies of what it’s like to live there.
Where all have you lived abroad? What place was your favorite and why?
I’ve lived abroad in Ukraine (’09-11) and Thailand, both times teaching English with Peace Corps. Ukraine holds a very special place in my heart because of the people there and Thailand has amazing beaches/scenery, so it’s a tie J
What’s the most difficult part about living abroad? What’s the best part?
For me, the most difficult part of living abroad is the homesickness on holidays and not being able to see family regularly (except when video chatting). The best part is the knowledge and growth that comes from being able to thrive in a completely different culture. I don’t think I really knew myself and what I’m capable of before moving abroad. A close 2nd for the best part is the amazing people you meet, everyone from tourists to expats to locals.
What have you learned from living abroad?
It’s kind of funny but I think that I have both learned how to take care of myself and how to ask for help. I know that seems very contradictory, but it’s true. I’ve learned that I can manage my own household/life and navigate life’s little challenges for the most part, but ultimately, while living in another country/culture, there are times when I’ve had to work up the nerve to go to my neighbor or a local and ask for help.
What is your secret to keeping a positive attitude while living abroad?
I like to think of things as stories/adventures. So when I showed up to an English camp thinking that I was just observing it, only to find out that I had to lead the camp for 4 hours, I just thought of it as an adventure that would make a good story to tell people back home. That helps me be able to laugh about it and not get too bent out of shape. Also, as cliché as it sounds, I take note of all the little, good things that happen, like when I only get called “farang” (the Thai word for “foreigner”) once a day instead of the umpteen times when I first arrived. And if those fail, then I watch funny animal videos on Youtube until I feel better J
What´s the best place you´ve ever traveled to?
I have a 4-way tie: Barcelona, Berlin, Helsinki, and Riga. I would love to someday live in any of these cities.
Do you have a bucket list? Would you share with us a couple of things on that list?
I don’t have a bucket list, per se, but I do have travel goals. My next goal is to visit 5 continents; I’m only at 3 now.
Can you share one experience abroad that´s been truly ¨blogworthy?¨¨
This one is kind of embarrassing, but pretty hilarious. It was my first night with my host family in Ukraine. It was late September so it got cold there at night, and they only had an outhouse, so they kept a bucket of food scraps in the kitchen that turned into the bathroom if you had to go after dark. It kind of grossed me out, so I was determined not to use it…but my bladder got the best of me and around 9:30pm I was in my bedroom when the urge struck. I looked around my room and decided to try to use my Nalgene-esque water bottle instead. Long story short, I failed and I had to use the bucket anyway. The best part is that it turns out the curtains in my room get sheer when the lights on, and a neighbor must’ve told my host mom what I’d attempted because a couple days later she suddenly became very interested in the bottle and kept asking me what was in it while chuckling.
What advice do you have for people who are considering moving abroad, but are feeling doubtful?
I think that you tend to regret the things you don’t do more than the things you do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told people I’m a PC volunteer and they say things like “Oh, I wanted to do that but then I ___________ instead.” I’ve never talked to anyone who regretted living abroad, even when it may not have been what they expected.
Thanks so much for sharing your stories and tips with us Skylar! If you want to learn more about volunteering with the Peace Corps you can visit their website at http://www.peacecorps.gov/
Are you a travel addict yourself? Living outside of your home country and have a great story to share? Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you want to be featured in a future Tuesday interview!