Lesson #9: Sometimes we befriend the most unlikely of characters: aka Melanie Rosenthal

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Let’s talk about the people that I have met since coming to Thailand, because after all it is the people who enter our lives and not necessarily where we are that truly enriches us. I have been lucky, beyond lucky, because deciding to teach in Thailand has meant that I have been connected to countless other like minded individuals. People who also dream big, who trust that the unknown is a friendly place, and who are genuinely interested in engaging with the world around them (If any of you are reading this, cheers to you- you’re wonderful)!

So back to Phuket, where I started this experience and met these fools who would become such an integral part of my journey. Meeting everyone was thrilling, but I couldn’t shut off the nagging voice in the back of my head that kept reminding me that in the mix there was only one other person going to the same town as I was. So, who would be the one other person sharing this experience with me? Who would be my trusty confidant? My potential new best friend? One week into the course I discovered it would be a woman named Melanie.

My first interaction with Melanie happened on day one. Around 10:00pm on the first night a group of us decided to jump into the ocean and go swimming. As I was walking down to the beach I bumped into Melanie and asked if she wanted to join us. Her response caught me off guard, “I don’t mean to mother you, but swimming at night can be really dangerous, if I were you I wouldn’t go out there.” I gave a confused chuckle, awkwardly told her I still wanted to swim, and then raced away in the direction of the beach. For the duration of the training course our interactions didn’t really improve. I knew Melanie was random and that she could make me laugh but conversations with her often left me confused and (similar to our first encounter) lost for words. She would say things like, “I think I am going to get a huge tiger tattoo on my back, what do you think?” or “This game on my phone keeps me up at night because I am addicted to the computer generated sound it makes when I get points.” She also politely refused peoples attempts to pull up her shirt, proclaiming that her bra peeking out the top was purposeful, enjoyed indulging in any meal that wasn’t Thai, spent as much time as she could in the mall and as little time as she could out in the city, and exclaimed that she didn’t need to drink because she lives with a natural buzz. People kept telling me I was lucky that we would be living together, but I wasn’t so convinced.

Now fast forward to today, three months into this experience and two months of living essentially as Melanie’s conjoined twin. Turns out everyone who had taken the time to really get to know Melanie was right. She is wonderful. I wasn’t wrong Melanie is pretty random, but she is also strong, humble, assertive, extremely compassionate, gosh darn hilarious, a great listener, unafraid of her emotions, and always down for a good time. She has taught me to put myself first more than I am normally comfortable with, to feel my emotions instead of beating myself up for having them, to let my individualism shine, and to embrace the mall or a good movie every once and a while. Except for when one of us is sick, we are always together; at the office, while we ride our bikes, eating meals, hanging out at night, which means we have gotten to know each other pretty well (to put it lightly). The reality is that not only have our differences provided us with a great opportunity to learn from each other, but we have also discovered that we are much more alike than we originally thought. There are the surface similarities, our taste in music, our gum chewing addictions, our love of literature, our weakness for boba milk tea. But more importantly there is trust, a mutual understanding, and respect between us that is quite rare to find, a connection that I promise you I didn’t predict back in Phuket.

It’s hard to sum up everything that this experience with Melanie has taught me. I think first and foremost it has shown me that sometimes the people that you don’t “click” with right away can actually teach you the most. We search for people who are similar to ourselves or similar to other friends that we have, but does that really help us grow? Secondly, Melanie has got me thinking about how many other people out there I have crossed off the list of potential friends before I actually got to know them. How many times have I thought I figured someone out after only a couple of brief interactions with them? We are all so layered, so complex, and often times the first impression that we give off is radically different from the people that we really are. It is easy for me to recognize this within myself, when I see the disparity between how people perceive me and who I actually am, but often times I forget to apply this same logic to others. Which leaves me wondering, how many amazing people have I missed out on getting to know? How many people have I thought were too “different” from myself to be friends with? And how many more ‘Melanie’s’ will come into my life if I am open to them?

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