Just over 6 years ago, I was a day away from departing my year-long, Fulbright experience in Malaysia.
Some days it feels like that year was an eternity. Certain days it feels like that year was a blink of an eye. And yet other days it feels like that year was simply a beam of light in some subconscious dream or long-distance memory containing characters and images– like it didn’t happen.
On that particular day, six years ago (it was actually Halloween), I sat on a blue carpeted floor of the 18th story of a corporate building in Kuala Lumpur. The sounds were quieter and more subdued than what filled that same room 11 months earlier.
46 of us sat in a large, try-to-be, circle; it was difficult to form a large circle in a small conference room space.
Our Assistant Program Coordinator wanted to share an activity with us. An activity that would serve as a way to close out our experience before departing back to the States and whatever waited for us there. She held a large ball of yellow thread and squeezed it naturally between both hands, as she explained.
“By the end of this activity, this yellow thread will connect us all and serve as a reminder that no matter where our experiences take us, we are all connected, because we were all here together.”
We were to throw the ball of thread around the circle. When the ball landed in our hands we were to share the most impactful or memorable part of the year; the memory we would take with us when we left. After we shared, we were to throw the ball of thread to someone else, while keeping our fingers between the piece of thread that had reached us.
By the end of the activity, every individual held their piece of the thread. What had been empty space in the circle was now filled with different stretches of threaded coming and going; all intertwined.
We were all connected.
Scissors made their way around the circle, and we each cut off a segment of the thread we had been hanging onto between our fingers; enough to wrap around our wrists. When we all sported our new accessory, we prepared for final remarks and then, set out towards whatever waited for us next.
That thread made its way back home on my wrist, with me.
I did not have an easy transition back home. If I thought culture shock was difficult, reverse culture shock proved to be a much more confusing and difficult phenomenon to grasp. Weeks and months before, I had spent every night laying in bed in my village house looking up at the geckos on the ceiling, thinking about what I would do when I got back; the family and friends I would spend time with, my dog, the places I would go, the food I would eat and the goals I wanted to tackle as soon as my feet landed on US soil.
I was happy when I got home; I was. But I felt very lost as well; and more than anything, I was confused about so many things I had experienced that previous year, as well as how I was supposed to readjust. I felt as though a crane had just picked me up from one place and dropped me back somewhere else. I had studied abroad twice before in college (Italy & Korea) and returned home. However, for some reason, this return rocked me to my core. It moved me in a way I couldn’t express in words, and quite honestly, I did not even know who in my circle could understand.
My first few months home were tough; while a lot of things stayed the same during my absence, other things changed. Those early days back consisted mainly of pajamas, marathons of Law & Order SVU and NCIS, snuggles on the couch, long naps and a sort of avoidance towards any questions having to do with “How was Malaysia?” Eventually, after two months, my amazingly patient parents stepped in and suggested I try to develop some sort of routine and give myself a task. It didn’t happen overnight, but after some appreciated guidance, I set forth to do just that.
Heading into month three back at home, I spent 8am-4pm practically every day at my local Starbucks finishing the blog I had started in Malaysia, entitled “Take It With You When You Go.”
“You’ll be so happy you finished it, sweetie,” my mom would say.
She was right; there was something therapeutic about it. I appreciated the writing of the words and the general connection to society, even if it was from behind my MacBook, sitting on a wooden chair in Starbucks. Those days were special ones. In fact, some folks wonder why I am so darn in love with my local, hometown Starbucks (aside from the fact that I worked there in high school); it’s because I sat in that chair for practically a month and worked through my year in Malaysia with the power of my keyboard. It was also in that chair that I decided I would sign up, train and run my first marathon (Chicago Marathon 2013); I felt it was just what I needed to help myself stay focused and adjust during the time ahead.
I didn’t figure it all out in that month, and I continued to struggle that first year while home. But there was something powerful in that sweet, precious time; it was a time of reflection and self-discovery.
In the background of every image and memory of that first year back home is my piece of yellow thread. That piece of thread hung on my wrist from the day I returned, to all my lazy days watching TV, to my days writing in Starbucks, and even to my job interviews the following winter. I never cut it off; I felt that it would fall off when it was meant to.
By month nine, it started getting wilted and beat looking. I was shocked it hadn’t fallen off yet. In fact, a coworker had commented that I should probably just remove it, since it didn’t look right with my professional business attire. But, I just couldn’t get myself to cut it off.
Months passed, and the Chicago Marathon passed too. That thread made it every mile with me, and the three weeks after. At the end of October, just short of a year of the date it was originally placed on my wrist, it fell off while I was showering.
Maybe it’s the romantic in me, but that darn piece of thread became something very personal to me; it symbolized my journey from one experience into another. It symbolized a period of self-discovery, confusion and transition; a time when I needed something to be connected to.
The thread now hangs from my world map; the map where I place push pins for every place I have traveled. The thread is appropriately tacked to Kuala Besut, Malaysia; its proper home. Today, the thread remains a symbol and simple reminder of the connections we make in life and the phases of transition and change we so often encounter.
More than anything, that yellow thread reminds me that the people we meet, the adventures we take and the experiences we have are all connected and with purpose. They are all part of some larger plan, and that is what makes me passionately curious and excited to wake up each and every day.
This blog, Threaded Crossings, is a reflection of all those little (and big) things that make life a true adventure.