20 April, 2015

Communities that travel

Flor and her thai dress
Flor Castellanos is from Laverne, Oklahoma and a graduate of Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. She graduated with a B.A. in German and International Studies before coming to Thailand and hopes to obtain a Master’s in Educational Psychology with a specialization in Culture upon her return.
Flor is currently an ETA in Mae Rim, Chiang Mai, Thailand where she has enjoyed building community. During her free time in Mae Rim, Flor spends her time volunteering at the Foundation for Highlander Educational Development and a hostel that houses Hmong children; and learning Muay Thai with locals in her community. With a passion for people, Flor focuses her narrative on the importance of community, and how the activities we enjoy can serve as a gateway for building a home away from home.

My vocabulary is limited to express my feelings for the many different places I have seen, and the many different moments I have experienced. However, though I travel miles from home, when I close my eyes and breathe in, grass freshly watered by the falling rain smells the same in Thailand as it did in Germany. When I dip my toes in the ocean and close my eyes, the waves sound the same in Thailand as they did in Cyprus. When I ride my bike and allow it to take me as fast as the hills will allow, the wind blowing past my face feels the same in Thailand as it did in Turkey. And when night falls and I stare at the moon, I know it is the same moon I saw in Jordan and will see at home when I return. Even when the coordinates change some things never do. I love the familiarity in the little things you can’t get away from no matter where in the world you are. These things give me the courage to walk through open doors that will change my surroundings. But it’s not only familiarity in what I feel, see, or smell that has brought me comfort in my transient life, but familiarity in the activities I’ve been able to engage in no matter where I’ve gone; activities that have helped me form supportive communities for a more positive experience.

I have realized that as long as I have community, I can endure the roughest of times. I would imagine this goes for anyone. For aren’t meaningful relationships and encouragement from other human beings something we all constantly yearn for? For this reason, it’s the community I leave behind that makes being away so hard. In the three times I have left America to live abroad, community has become a common denominator in what makes my experience positive or negative. Along the way, I have learned a lot about myself, and the things that help me cope with transitions. I have learned that to flourish I need community. I need it to keep my soul, mind, and spirit accountable to Christ, my body motivated to stay fit, and I need it to keep my heart light.

So what if I could take my community with me through every transition? What if I could pack it up and take it with me like I do my computer, wherever I go? Oh, but I’ve discovered I can! As crazy as it sounds, there are communities that travel. My traveling communities are, but should not be limited to: Church groups, Crossfit, and Salsa dancing groups. I have been able to find all three, or a variation of the three wherever I have gone. In my experience, all three of these communities have had very positive environments with people who have never failed to be welcoming. I have walked in beaten and discouraged, only to walk out feeling positive and happy to learn from my experiences. They love what I love and they help keep me accountable to who I am.

Salsa Dancing in Chiang Mai – Most of them are regulars and always eager
to teach each other new moves.

I recently read an article about community by Shaun Stevenson on relevantmagazine.com. I’m not a patient article reader, but as I was skimming yet another article on doing what we should already know how to do, be friendly, the last point really stood out to me. It was titled, “Walk alongside People, not at them.” Shaun continues on to say that “if people feel they’re going to be judged or ridiculed or ignored because of a life choice, they’re not likely going to engage in any community.“ There are many examples of traveling communities. I have seen people go abroad and get involved with jogging groups, biking groups, hiking groups, rock climbing groups, book clubs, and groups of people that get together to play Frisbee. Frisbee! I never even knew it was such a big deal, yet they have national ultimate Frisbee competitions here in Thailand! So as crazy as a traveling community may sound, it helps people bond and it builds community, because everyone involved is doing something they enjoy no matter where in the world they are.

Crossfit in Chiang Mai helped me start the day off with a positive outlook all through internship month. They also helped connect me with people in Mae Rim who get together to work out.

I agree, not every community is going to be for you. Who knows, it might take you moving to a new place to figure out what traveling community best helps you cope through a transition. But don’t wait until you get to that point to find a community of people that will walk along your side. I know, I know, there are other ways of making a transitional move positive. Many people outside my own “traveling communities” have positively influenced my level of stress due to transition. I have been blessed with a great family, and great friends at home and abroad that have gone above and beyond to be there for me through my many moves. However, making friends in a new place takes time and effort. So a little help through group involvement can only help. Focusing momentarily on my Church community and a conversation I recently had with a couple of friends in Thailand, Paul paints such a beautiful example of God’s love and push for community in 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” Something I love about allowing Christ to pour into my life is getting to pour out His love for me to others; such a beautiful picture of community. That we would do things we love together so to bring each other support and comfort despite our current sufferings. Allowing something to pour into us, so we can pour into others in our daily social settings. Thus, making transitions actions that grow, as opposed to destroy, our definition of “home”.

My Church Community in Mae Rim has brought such joy into my life.
My experience would definitely not be the same without them!

What types of communities help you find peace and fill up your poured out mind, heart, and body? Sometimes specific communities are hard to find in certain corners of the world, but if a variation is also not an option wherever you may find yourself, start sharing a bit of what you love. Try starting your own version of a community that has potential to travel with the people around you. Whatever new environment you find yourself getting ready to enter, don’t forget your community!