This is already my second New Year in Laos. We often tend to say "this year went by even faster than the last one" or "i don't know where the time went". For me especially the former couldn't be truer. I know where the time went, it is just hard to grasp how quickly it can go by.
Living in a completely different culture brings a lot of changes along so your mind is constantly observing, absorbing, reflecting and adapting and before you even notice another 365 days have gone by.
My time here was and is a great opportunity to break free from the hamster-wheel most of us tend to get trapped in when we do the same thing in the same environment for too long.
Here are some of my learnings and experiences from the past year:
* I have become a country bumpkin (preferably in warmer climates): I like living in a small town where everything is in a walking or biking distance. I like seeing green hills when I wake up. And I like covering my feet with nothing but flip flops. All year round. I feel good and happy when I see the sun.
* Material things lost importance: Buying the 50th pair of shoes out of sheer frustration, stress or as a "reward" for working so hard always led to the same sensation within the shortest time after the purchase: a feeling of emptiness or sadness because nothing material in the world can compensate for feeling exhausted, frustrated or overworked. Since I have been living here I lost my craving for buying or possessing things, I don't miss any of the material things I have back home in Austria and I feel much more satisfied.
* being with and around special people. I am very fortunate to have found a circle of friends here in Luang Prabang who have made living here feeling like a home. I am surrounded by people like my wonderful neighbor/yoga queenand special friend Kathrin from Germany, Jutta from Switzerland, Jacinta and Richard from Australia & NZ, David & Katja from Germany, Rudy from the Netherlands, Jo, Lisa from Hungary, Heather and Khoun from the UK and Laos and many other great people from all over the world who have settled here. I am also happy that a number of friends visited me in the past year and I was able to show them around.
* Being thankful for what I have: seeing poverty in rural villages here, seeing the poor level of the educational and health system makes me appreciate all the more how lucky I was to grow up the way I did. Things like good doctors and educated teachers are something we take for granted but I have come to value this so much more now that I have seen how different it can be.
* Being healthy is the most precious thing to me: Every day I feel healthy is a good day. One of my aims while being in Laos was to get physically fit and strong after suffering from recurring infections and back problems over the past few years. I wanted to go running at least 3 days a week and I wanted to get muscles of steel (o.k., the last bit was maybe wishful thinking). Unfortunately things turned out differently. I started developing severe and persistent back pain in summer which stopped me from working out altogether and showed me once again the importance of a good health system or what the lack thereof means.
* I believe in Karma orwhen you really need help the Universe is looking out for you": just when I was close to despair in Novemberfrom all the back pain and I was hardly able to walk anymore I asked my friend Lisa who owns a bar in town if she could try her "magic" again. She has a blackboard outside her bar and I had already asked her a few months before if she could write a "looking for a chiropractor" message on her board (yes, you guessed right, there is no such thing here in Luang Prabang). Back then she called me back within 24 hours of writing the message as a chiropractor couple had shown up at her bar and offered to help. As the pain was so much stronger this time and I didn't know what to do anymore I asked her for help again. Only that this time I doubted that I could get that lucky once again. Lisa called me on the next day after she had written the message just to let me know that no one had responded yet. I tried to stay positive but didn't have any expectations, and on day 3 Lisa calls me in the evening and said "I found a Chiropractor". I couldn't believe my luck. Not only did the Universe send me one of the best Chiropractors and Kinesiologists that there are, not only did Steven stay here for over a month so I was able to get a lot of treatments, not only did he help me to find the underlying causes of my recurrent health problems but he also became a very special friend AND he supported me immensely with writing my school application for the new career path that I have chosen, which brings me to my next point->
* My future is not blurry anymore: I started my last round-the-world-trip in 2011 and one of the (not primary) aims was to give myself time to find out what I wanted to do work-wise in the future as I knew that I wouldn't retire as a Marketing and Advertising person. It took me 2 round the world trips and more than a year here in Laos to find out what I wanted to do with the rest of my (working)life. From my work as a volunteer English teacher here in Laos I learned how much I love working closely WITH people rather than spending 8-10 hours a day in front of a computer screen or in boring and mostly useless meetings. The immediate feedback and hence satisfaction I get after even one hour of teaching is incomparable to many years of my office jobs. It is direct, honest and clear: you teach well-> you get your students' attention and you see them advance, you even get a big thank you or a smile at the end of class. You suck and are poorly prepared- the students are loud, it is chaotic and you feel like they didn't keep anything in their head. Either way - you see the result of your input, and this is something I have missed throughout most of my professional life. Now combining the quality of working together with people with the topic of health and medicine which has interested me for a long time (much of it coming from my own long history of health issues) has led me to the decision to start studying again, this time though to work in the health care. The next few months will show at which school I get accepted .
* "Thank you students": my biggest THANK YOU (Korb jai lai lai!) goes to all my students whom I have been or am still teaching in Luang Prabang. There must have been about 25 of them, the youngest being 11 years old, the oldest around 23. It is hard to sum up what I have learned from them. I feel immensely fortunate to have the opportunity to be around them every day and to be able to teach them something while at the same time learning a lot about their culture, their backgrounds and how they deal with their lives. I developed and ease of dealing with young kids and finding a way of communication, no matter how little their vocabulary is. Even though I would have loved to pull some of them by their ears sometimes (lucky them that they are novices and I can't touch them) because they were lazy, didn't do their homework or didn't pay attention - I love each one of them, unconditionally. This feeling is probably the biggest gift I have received in a long time.
For me the essentials of this year and for the future are:
Do what you love, even if it requires a big change. Because life is too precious to waste it on something where your heart isn't dedicated.
Care for your health and be thankful every single day that you are healthy.
Volunteering of any kind is an enrichment- and worth a try.
When you think that the world isn't good to you - look a bit further or go travelling to less developed cuntries - and I am sure you get a whole new perspective on your situation.
On this note I would like to wish all of you a very Happy and Healthy New Year - Sok dee der Pi mai!