Matthew here to talk about a potential growth moment I’m navigating that started with my language class buddy dropping the class and then the country.
We’ll call him Q (because, thanks to Bond, it sounds mysterious). Q and I have sat together in class for about 2 months now. We talk on breaks and we text about classwork. It’s very much a classroom-based friendship, but it’s been a good one with honest and connecting moments. We’ve been pushing to prep for a government language exam that is the equivalent of a Grade 6 Final Exam. I’ll call it the 6er. The prep course for the 6er is 3 months long (just started month 3) and it tests speaking, reading, writing, listening, and general knowledge of Thailand’s geography, history, culture, and political structure. In short, the 6er is no one’s friend.
Q was always convinced he would do the 6er. I wasn’t. It’s not a visa or work requirement, but it is a strong motivator in my studies. It has tossed me between “healthily intimidating in a way that challenges you onward” and “utterly demoralizing”. It depends on my comprehension of the given subject matter, really. The other day in class Q leaned over and told me that he’s dropping the course and returning to his home country. As he explained why, I knew I wouldn’t write the 6er, but it is only now as I type, that I’m able to feel definitive about that choice.
Only a few years into marriage, Q and his wife had found the cost of cross-cultural living to be steep. Culture shock (or even adjustment) had put a strain on them as individuals and their relationship. It had seeped into more of their lives than they had originally realized. I assured him I understand those feelings – and I do. The last thing we need is to feel alone in our cultural journeys. Q said that they are choosing their marriage over their jobs and desire to live abroad before starting a family. They’ve been here 18 months and his Thai is far better than mine. He talked about what people might say, what they will do for jobs, and the expense of it all, but in the end none of that outweighed their marriage. And just like that, that day became his last day in class.
As we parted ways, I experienced a great deal of respect for him and a slight twinge of “would my pride allow me to make that same decision if it ever came to that”.
I could write the 6er. I’d probably pass. I would get a piece of paper to show others. I wouldn’t frame it. After all, my degree is in a box in the same holder I received it in. I know me and I know the study version of me. Study-Matthew uses all of his free-time and mental space to prepare for an exam. There is something about exams that narrows my focus. It allows me to earn good marks and simultaneously turn into something sub-human. Don’t believe me? Ask Amber – once while studying for a Masters exam (still not done that, by the way), she walked up to me, handed me a key card to a room at a nearby Super 8 Motel and said, “I love you. Take 2 days away to study. The kids and I will stop by to use the pool”. True story.
If I ever need the 6er paper for something, I’ll know how to get it. For now, I’ve learned enough to know that I tether my sense of self-worth to accomplishments and doing. This has allowed me to glorify being busy. Inspired by Q, I am choosing to leave my margins wide. I choose my wife and kids and general sense of well-being. There’s no piece of paper that comes with this. I couldn’t frame it and hang it, even if I wanted to. I admit that I feel that tug and it serves as a reminder of how I must choose what I value most, not just what I value now.