What do you want to be when you grow up?
When I was five years old I wanted to become a professional dishwasher on an island. I could clearly see the advantages: being close to the sea always, wearing summer clothes and doing something that I loved to do, the dishes. I had just discovered that many people hated washing dishes, and I liked it, so I figured that if I would do it for all the people who hated it I could live near the sea and just go around houses. It seemed perfect to me.
As I grew up, my dreams became a bit bigger: flight attendant, lawyer, doctor, it all crossed my mind. Years passed and I still couldn’t really decide, I think I have never been able to make a permanent decision. I just want to be happy and do something I like doing. One day that can be writing, the next day it can be drawing,helping people,or simply daydreaming. I just like my freedom.
I tried social studies and eventually got a degree. Then I got addicted to the world. Travelling changed my world and my perspective. I realized how fortunate I am: that I come from a country were human rights are important, where we grow up in safety, where we are allowed to give our opinions and where I, as a woman have the right to be treated equally to a man. As I child I had enough clothes and toys and freedom to fantasize about what I wanted to be, and later I had the freedom to say no to the things I did not like or believe in.
Travelling made me appreciate what I had, but also made it hard for me to return to what I had, without a deep yearning to see what’s out there. I wanted to fill my pockets, not with money, but with wisdom. So I did what I had to do and packed my bags again: this time to Thailand, to do a teaching training and to become an English teacher.
I ended up working online in a big office, teaching English to Chinese students of all ages. I realized how hard some of my students work, the pressure that they have to deal with from when they are very young, and again how lucky I have been to grow up in an environment where stability and chances were already given to me. I never had to leave my family in order to get the right education and I always learned that happiness is more important than school results.
However, after hours of talking to students I got to see the other side: Education is a way to increase happiness for the next generations. It can be the difference between living in a house or sharing a bed with four others, while the rats are crawling around and you can smell the open toilet in the corner.
Education leads to development, to emancipation. Even while living in poverty, being able to read and understand your rights can truly make a difference.
But not only education leads to happiness. And education doesn’t just bring magically happy people. Happiness is also about freedom: Freedom to choose, to speak without fear, to be who you are, and to become who you want to be.
During my first year in Thailand I realized again how fortunate I am with my passport, my possibilities to live and work in a foreign country and to make a salary that is much higher than that of my Asian colleagues. It’s a strange thought how the place where you happen to be born can be of such importance.
Then one day, immigration came into the office of the company I worked for. They inspected the company’s paperwork and asked for our work permits, and took us to the immigration office. By that time, I had a work permit, but that didn’t save us from spending a night in jail. My work permit was registered on a different school, and some of my colleagues worked under tourist visas. Not because they wanted to, but because they were told that the work permit would only be provided after probation, and that this was a normal procedure in Thailand because the paperwork to get a work permit is very hard to get done.
I spent the whole night thinking how I could turn this experience into something positive, something that would make it worth suffering for a night. The next morning, we were bailed out. The company paid a large sum of money, but all wasn’t over yet.
Many of us had to wait for Court. The first hearing was last month and most of my colleagues who worked under tourist visas were sent back to their home countries. A sad ending to their Thailand stories that I wish would have been different for them.
I happened to have a work permit, just because I worked there longer than some of my colleagues, but that was the only difference. It could just have been me.
I am still waiting for my Court Date and I am not allowed to leave Thailand. It’s ironic how I ended up not able to leave my favorite country for a while. Still I consider myself one of the lucky few, as I am not ready to go home yet.
At the same time I know that if I have to go home, that I will be fine and that I will have many loved ones waiting. I am very thankful for that.