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“Life is About Human Connection”: On the Road with Cindy Cihuelo

This is a traveler case study. (Read others or nominate yourself.)

Cindy’s life experiences include living in her home country of France, plus living abroad in America, China, and most recently, Thailand. We asked her to share some of her experiences in moving around over the past several years.

Tell us about yourself.

At age 15, I left my beloved France for an exchange student experience in America. What followed was insatiable wanderlust. I found myself studying abroad in China during college, and stayed in Shanghai for three years. After a short stint back in France, I met an amazing guy, and five months later we were off to Thailand, where he became a trained Divemaster and I learned to teach yoga. We’ve been in Thailand for a few years now, working hard and still in love.

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What are the differences between living in Shanghai and living in Thailand?

Living in a fast-growing city like Shanghai is amazingly exciting and frustrating. It always feels like you have a thousand things to be done: a dozen new restaurant openings to attend, a handful of afterwork parties to pop by, and of course, maintaining a good standing at a stressful job. Shanghai is always changing. You grab a weekend get-away deal, and when you come back, half the places you loved closed, and a handful of new ones just opened.

On the other hand, living in Thailand, it feels like time has stopped. We spent five months on the island of Koh Lipe, which you can walk across in 20 minutes. we lived in a bamboo bungalow with a cold shower, one fan, and almost no WiFi. After living in Shanghai, this was quite a change! In Koh Lipe, the sun rises and sets at about the same time, and it feels like you’re living your life on repeat: wake up, go diving, lunch, diving, dinner and home again. Funny enough, you never get bored: my boyfriend and I appreciated the quietness, the simplicity, the routine.

We had been looking to get closer to what life really is about, and I think Thailand has showed us that.

What did you learn about life while in Thailand?

Life isn’t about what you look like—or even your personal likes and dislikes. Rather, life is about human connection and personal development. Perhaps it’s easier to explain with an example:

Home in France, dinner normally take hours, beginning at 8pm. You indulge in elaborate foods, drink wine, and talk. But in Thailand, we tended to eat just a simple meal at sunset, leaving us free with nothing to do for hours before bed. My boyfriend and I would sit on our terrace, often not even talking, simply enjoying the “being there.”

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How have you changed since you began traveling?

Travel transforms everything, from the way you look to the way you talk to the way you think. At home, you might be concerned about what clothes you put on your body. But while traveling, fashion is hardly on my mind. Practicality is the number one criteria for what I wear. So I don’t always look my best, but I always feel great.

However, the true change happens in the inside. I’m the type of person that loves to talk, discuss ideas, and have debates. I used to find it hard to believe you could like someone you can’t communicate with. But as I met more and more people with whom I don’t share any common languages, I start to appreciate the subtle communication of the body: a smile, a gesture, a touch. This understanding has greatly helped me in my yoga teaching.

The great debate: aisle or window?

Aisle, so I can get up and sit down without annoying anyone. My boyfriend likes window so he can watch the seas of clouds – so I guess opposites attract.

Have you learned anything from your time abroad?

Being judgmental of other cultures is terrifyingly easy. Every time I talk to someone from France about my time in Shanghai, they ask me the same question again and again: “Did you eat dog?” they say, and not just curiously—they’re horrified by the idea. Which is funny because in France, we eat plenty of strange things: life oysters, snails, tripe, rabbit, and horse. Yet we are so quick to judge Chinese people for eating cats and dogs.

When you travel and meet different people, you understand that there is no such thing as “this is right” and “this is wrong”—there are only opinions.

Best travel tip. Go:

Travel by feel, not guide.

Plenty of people rush from one monument to the next, looking  like they are going through a book looking only at the pictures, instead of reading the story. Find the story.

Where are you headed next?

We’ve been chasing the sun for over two years now. Soon, we leave our tropical island and exchange our flip-flops for snow boots. This winter, we’ll be working in a ski resort!

Follow Cindy’s journey on her site, My Diving Holidays

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