Get Out There On the Ground



After 2 years and 4 months, or 839 days if you’re really counting, my Southeast Asian journey is fast coming to an end and may even be at the end by the time I can physically get my fingers to type out those dreaded words – I’m leaving. Thailand. This week. It has been a chore to even say those words aloud let alone write about it, but with only a few days to go before I’m on a plane and most definitely out of here, it is time to wrap it all up.

Amazing memories from a wet Songrakn (Thai New Year) in April 2012

After 2 years and 4 months, or 839 days if you’re really counting, my Southeast Asian journey is fast coming to an end and may even be at the end by the time I can physically get my fingers to type out those dreaded words – I’m leaving. Thailand. This week. It has been a chore to even say those words aloud let alone write about it, but with only a few days to go before I’m on a plane and most definitely out of here, it is time to wrap it all up.

2010 to 2013 has been a whirlwind of travel and exploration, challenging me like never before and opening my eyes to a world I could only have dreamed of before moving to Asia. In just over 2 years, I’ve set foot in 14 different countries and discovered the secrets of different cultures that have left a lifelong imprint on my heart. It is hard not to be moved in some way by the intensity of the heat, colours and sounds that Asia inscribes on you on a daily basis and having spent 2 years absorbing it all, I feel more fulfilled and complete then ever before.

On my last day with Aying

The past month has had me grappling with the realities of leaving this life-affirming adventure behind. It’ll hit me intrusively while I’m in the bathroom or in the middle of my sleep and publicly while I’m out relishing my last few Thai meals. The feeling of uncertainty will wash over me completely, sucking the breath out of me and in one fail swoop I feel at a loss for words and am trying to hold on and to savor everything that surrounds me. To be honest, I didn’t realize it would be this difficult to let go, 3 months ago I was all for a new challenge and excited about London for the first time in 2 years. But the reality is that Chiang Mai has deeply affected me in a way I didn’t think was possible, the people, the culture, the warmth, my family at COSA and the familiarity of having made a life for myself here is overwhelmingly satisfying and all of a sudden, London seems like a foreign far off land full of grey clouds and corporate culture.

This last week has been full of emotions. Every happy thought has been tinged with sadness at having to leave and head off into the unknown. I’ve been immersed in the ‘last time I…’ scenario’s and have seemed to be counting down every action, every day. While living in the present and experiencing life so fully, time has flown by and taken me by surprise. Suddenly it’s Friday, and I’m flying next Thursday. Suddenly I can’t sleep. Suddenly fear has overtaken my promise to make the most out of my remaining time here. To make the transition easier on myself, I know something needs to shift, my attitude, my momentum and most importantly my positivity.

Visiting COSA’s target communities was always a highlight

The turning point came mid-week where a number of elements fused to help me see my ‘plight’ in a much more different light. This week I heard the wise words of someone who has been through ‘Reverse Culture Shock’ who’s fell as in love with Thailand as I have and who is still standing and doing amazing things with her career back in the US. She told me not to be afraid of going back, that whatever happens and however long it takes to settle back in to life, things will never be the same as when I left. It’s impossible, she said, as I will have changed on a fundamental level just like she had when she went home. She recommended some articles for me to read about how she managed and some simple coping mechanisms, and while I don’t know how I’ll react to life until I’m back, her wise words and encouragement were enough to put me back on track.

This week I also (long overdue I’m sure) started reading The Secret. The premise of The Secret is positive thinking, banish the negative thoughts and visualize what you what and then imagine yourself having it. Positivity, it goes on to say, is the basis for all the successes you could imagine, in your career, relationships, health, and that You are the only one who can deliver this to yourself. By thinking negative thoughts, you attract even more negative thoughts thus perpetuating a cycle of negativity and never allowing good things to happen to you. By focusing on the positive, thinking good thoughts and being thankful, you are becoming active in molding the life that you want.

As I am sitting here typing this farewell, I feel a sense of calm, of fulfillment and of thanks. I am thinking about how lucky I am and how much I have to be thankful for. I have worked and travelled for 2 years and learned so much, not just about the world, but about who I am and what makes me tick. I’m thankful for my incredible boyfriend who has set up home for us both in London and is eagerly awaiting my return to start the next chapter of our life. He’s listened to my fears and worries and consistently given me strength in our decision to move on. He is the person I want to spend the rest of my life with, my hero, my confident and my best friend in the whole world. I also have a wonderful, loving and supportive family, who will now only be a matter of hours away again. I have old and new friends with whom I can celebrate the past and build new memories into our futures. I have my health, my Nationality (which I have become acutely aware of how lucky I am in this respect) and my whole life ahead of me. This isn’t the end of a journey, merely a full stop in the book of my life with a new paragraph eagerly awaiting me. As corny as it sounds, focusing on all these positives really does change my mood and gives me the strength I need to say goodbye to COSA and to Thailand.

The final part of my coping mechanism has been to rediscover a beautiful piece of classical music, which has laid dormant on my iPod since moving to Asia. Parce Mihi Domine by Jan Gaberek  & The Hilliard Ensemble is a hauntingly beautiful piece of music which has the ability to soothe me to sleep, help me meditate and most importantly, brings me so much calm. I brought this piece of music with me when I paid a farewell visit to my favourite place in Chiang Mai – Wat Palad. I know now, that when I’m back in London and need to be reminded of Chiang Mai, I can just play Parce Mihi Domine and be immediately transported back.

My favourite temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Palad

Living in the present is a mantra of Buddhist culture and one I’ve tried to embrace since living in Asia. While it has made me feel like time is going by so much faster, ultimately it has made life more enriching. To be fully present at any waking moment is to really experience life and leaves you open to change and growth as an individual. For me, this is the path to a happier life, one where you don’t rush through everything to get to tomorrow, where you’re not always thinking in future tense, where you are never fully present in conversations, at meals, at work. I want to channel this sense of the present back into life in London where I embrace my surroundings every day.

The last 2 years have seen me succumb to new countries and cultures and have helped me to see my life and myself in a more colourful vein. I’ve not just travelled to Asia, I’ve lived, breathed and experienced Asia and while I still have only just scratched beneath the surface of everything Asia has to offer, I’ve made lasting memories and become a better person for being here.

While I have been frustrated and culture fatigued, have been confronted and tested with life abroad, I have also been enriched not just by experiences, but also by the incredible people I have met along the way some of whom I know will become lifelong friends.

Fun times taking 5 of the COSA girls to the beach for the first time in Khao Lak, Thailand!

I’ve learned to love myself, and love others and I thank the Children’s Organization of Southeast Asia (COSA) for allowing me into their family. I’ve found a purpose and a direction in life and I know that I want to dedicate myself to Human Rights and empowerment programmes in the UK and abroad.

In just 2 years, I feel like a different person. Thinking over everything that I’ve achieved in this short time brings a huge smile to my face. I will never be the same person as I was, nor will I ever be the same as I am now. I am here to live my life to the full and embrace new challenges. That’s what I’m good at. That’s what I thrive on and that’s what London will be when I’m back this week.

Bring it on London, finally, I think, I’m ready for you.

Nicci Hawkins
Nicci Hawkins left the sleepy English countryside for the bright lights of London at only 16 years of age. With a vision of becoming a professional dancer, her dreams took a turn when she found herself volunteering at an orphanage in the Philippines in 2005. With the seeds of travel sown firmly into her shoes, she returned to complete a Public Relations degree at a prestigious Fashion School while using all of her spare time to traverse the globe. Nicci returned to the Philippines in 2010 for 1 year to work with Volunteer Agency Kaya Responsible Travel, promoting responsible tourism and volunteer work. Since then, Nicci moved to Chiang Mai Thailand for 1.5 years to work as Program Director for the Children’s Organization of Southeast Asia (COSA) ( a non-profit dedicated to preventing human trafficking in northern Thailand. In March 2013, Nicci returned back to the UK to battle the cold and continue in her pursuit of a career in development in her home country.

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