Anti-Trump artwork on a building in Hyde Park, Chicago.
Anit-Trump art on a building in Chicago, 2016.
What I want the world to know is my eyes have been opened as I’ve learned from every interaction I’ve had, every place I’ve been, and every experience I’ve gained while abroad.

Cross-cultural integration has broken down barriers within me. Navigating the daily unknowns about life overseas has strengthened me. My students in far away classrooms have taught me. Being welcomed as an expat into many communities has shown me.

I want the world to know I know referring to myself as an expat is a privilege, and it seems expatriates are essentially nothing more than glorified, temporary immigrants. I went in search of ways to better my own life while serving others. Isn’t this what anyone who migrates is doing? To seek better opportunities elsewhere?

What I want the world to know is I feel a sense of purpose now, which stems from all I’ve been gifted while spending the majority of my 20s away from the United States, away from familiarity. And my purpose is to be here now. I feel needed here somehow.

It’s been quite a shock to return. Not the sort of “reverse culture shock” one would expect to have, but a shock nonetheless. A nation once recognizable to me is, at the moment, an alien resemblance of itself. A divide I’ve never witnessed exists where I never thought it would. I want the world to know this.

It’s as if I’m an outsider within, as if I’m still living in a different culture even though I came “home” just in time for this election five months ago. And I must try to understand why people act and behave in the ways they do now—just like I had to when I actually did dwell on foreign ground. My country isn’t what I thought it was, perhaps it never was, and I, too, have changed.

What I want the world to know is I cried the day after Donald J. Trump was elected as the 45th president of the United States of America. I cried.

I hung my head on a bus to work that day, in shame. I wondered if the people surrounding me, the people of another background, of another skin color, of another perceived social class would assume I had voted for Trump because of where I come from, because I’m white, and because of my societal standing.

I sat stunned next my colleagues at our office. We gathered and attempted to process, together. We grieved for our country, and we feared the very real threat this vote has cast upon what we believe to be important—cross-cultural exchange. I want the world to know this.

Trump is our president. To say he’s not would be an “alternative fact”. But, what I want the world to know is he doesn’t represent me. Sure, we share the same color of skin, but that’s about it. And there are many other people in the United States who feel this way, too. Please, know this world.

I want the world to know I don’t think “sucking it up” and “dealing with” what’s happened is beneficial for anyone. Uniting with a side that fosters global hate isn’t something I’m willing to do. Yet, to several, I’m the bad guy for taking such a stance, for even choosing sides.

What I want the world to know is that because I care about the reputation of my country, I’ve got it all wrong.

Because I’m vocally against Trump, and how the actions of his administration have impacted our character, I’m the reason our nation is so divided. I want the world to know this.

Because I desire equality for all, I want the world to know I’m the hateful one.

Because I’m acutely aware that globalization is a real thing, and that the United States isn’t able to stand on its own, I’m the problem. Did you know this, world?

Hell, no.

Because I have the mental capacity to be able to think outside everything I’ve ever been told to believe or know, I’m NOT the ignorant person. And I won’t subscribe to such stupidity.

What I want the world to know is I don’t care what I’m called. Call me liberal. Call me progressive. Call me democrat. It’s never been about these labels to me. It’s never been about Hillary Clinton losing. It’s always been about the man who’s now my president. I’ll never support him.

Give me a competent leader, and I’ll gladly show my respect regardless of party differences. Have Trump amend his disastrous ways, and I'll listen.

We’re all victims of our systems, and we have the power to change what’s been put in place. Good can come from all this. I sense a necessary shift is happening, and I feel called to be a small part of it. You’ve equipped me for this, world. I want you to know this.

I won’t step down. We won’t give in.

I want the world to know I’m so proud of many of my fellow Americans for peacefully protesting, and for standing up to give others a seat on that bus. We must show the world there’s a not-so-quiet majority that exists here, and we have the likes of Donald Trump to thank for it. The concept of democracy and our freedoms must not be taken for granted anymore.

I’ll live abroad again some day, world, when my work here feels finished and you’ve provided me with another chance to explore, to grow, to give, and to gain some more. I'm extremely thankful to be able to freely live and work in numerous countries, I hope this is always the case, and I desire for everyone to have the same opportunities I've been afforded.
Lotus flowers being offered at Doi Suthep Temple near Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Although I've lived in Southeast Asia for over two years, I rarely do "touristy" things. My usual quick trips to Thailand involve an IKEA run, a McDonald's stop (or three), and lots of toasted sandwich lovin' from any number of 7-Eleven convenience stores in Bangkok. I take the short flight from Yangon every two months or so to renew my Myanmar work visa. It's high time I start exploring more of the area's hotspots, wouldn't you think?
Holiday lights, candles, and glass pieces on top of a table in Yangon, Myanmar.

The longer I live abroad the more important it seems to hold onto holiday traditions from my childhood. Retaining at least aspects of these habits helps keep a past part of me alive in addition to lessening the distance between loved ones. Although I don't make it home for Christmas as often as I'd like, I try to find ways to bring home to the table wherever I may be.

Just as important as clinging to familiarity is adaptation and creating newness. Throughout my travels I’ve sampled different ways to celebrate Christmas, and have combined these with what’s always been to sort of form my own way to do the holidays. 

Opening presents on Christmas Eve, a meat and cheese tray at dinner, as well as pussy willows are all favorite memories from my past. Mulled wine, having a gingerbread house, and deciding to take turns smashing the gingerbread house to bits with a wooden spoon are all acquired customs. 

What are some ways in which you hold onto holiday traditions while at the same time as embracing fresh ones? This photo essay provides a peek at the small gathering I hosted this year, and features old and new traditions I’ve combined to celebrate Christmas while living abroad.

Red pussy willows against a white wall in my apartment. Yangon, Myanmar.
Red pussy willows against a white wall in my apartment. Yangon, Myanmar. December, 2015.
A gingerbread house and red pussy willows from above in Yangon, Myanmar.
A gingerbread house and red pussy willows were among several decorations for my holiday party. Yangon, Myanmar.
A table and Trek bike decorated with lights for a Christmas gathering in Yangon, Myanmar.
My table and Trek bike decorated with lights for the Christmas gathering. Yangon, Myanmar. December, 2015.
Holiday party table spread with food, glass pieces, candles and lights in Yangon, Myanmar.
Holiday party table spread with food, glass pieces, candles and lights. Yangon, Myanmar. December, 2015.
Cheers with four glasses of mulled wine in Yangon, Myanmar.
Cheers with four glasses of mulled wine in Yangon, Myanmar. December, 2015.
Friends gathered around a table of food, candles and lights for a Christmas party in Yangon, Myanmar.
Friends gathered around a table of food, candles and lights for my Christmas party in Yangon, Myanmar.
A small Christmas tree with big lights as decoration for a holiday party in Yangon, Myanmar.
A small Christmas tree with big lights was a main attraction at my holiday party in Yangon, Myanmar.
Orange slices, cinnamon sticks, and whole cloves used to make mulled wine in Yangon, Myanmar.
Orange slices, cinnamon sticks, and whole cloves were all that was left of the mulled wine. December, 2015.
A smashed gingerbread house on top of a green plastic garbage bag in Yangon, Myanmar.
Smashing a gingerbread house to end the holiday party is a fun, new tradition. Yangon, Myanmar. December, 2015.
A man from the village drinks a coke. Sagaing Division, Myanmar.

To get the chance to shoot some behind the scenes photos during the making of a Coca-Cola Myanmar commercial was a career highlight for me. Filming took place in a village just outside of KalaySagaing Division—an area overwhelmingly impacted by the floods of 2015 in Myanmar.
Colorful thread hanging above a wooden loom in Sagaing Division, Myanmar.

I recently had the opportunity to visit a rural village just outside of Kalay in Sagaing Division. Roughly two takeoffs and two landings away from Yangon, it’s one of the furthest destinations to reach in Myanmar. India sits just a short drive away to the northwest.

Peanut butter hummus and hummus with olive oil alongside flatbread.
International flavors find new roosts in Nyaung ShweInle Lake, as Myanmar continues to dish up prime places for adventure seekers to feast upon.

Nestled just off Yone Gyi Street near some of the touristy town’s most popular hotels is One Owl Mediterranean Bar and Grill. Offering an array of Mediterranean and fusion dishes you likely won’t even find in Yangon yet, One Owl Grill is a must-try restaurant when savoring Inle Lake.

Owls of all shapes and sizes and colors perch on walls of the tastefully decorated space. Its cozy interior spills outside through large open windows at night, leaving an entire street corner aglow. Almost as inviting as its open feel are two very clean, well-stocked restrooms.

Prices are extremely reasonable at One Owl Grill, especially for the authenticity provided. If you're hungering for something healthy while exploring the area, definitely go for the hummus with olive oil. 1,800 kyats gets you a good size bowl alongside a piece of freshly baked flatbread.

Red Owl at One Owl Grill in Nyaung Shwe, Inle Lake.
If you’re in the mood for a bite of familiarity under four bucks, enjoy the scrambled eggs and bacon on flatbread for breakfast starting at 7AM. Dinner options such as sautéed pork leg with vegetables, and fried rice with garlic aren’t only delicious, they’re filling, and both are available for less than two dollars each.

Staff members are friendly, helpful, and open to feedback and suggestions. It was fun to help determine the final ingredients of a signature cocktail at One Owl Grill. Let me know what you think of the Ngapali Sunset. My favorite drink was the Red Owl, however. Hints of tamarind, strawberry, and lime combined in a beery brew makes for a very refreshing swig or three after a long day of boating and biking around Inle Lake.

Be sure to stop by One Owl Mediterranean Bar and Grill when in Nyaung Shwe, Myanmar. And nest awhile. Your taste buds will thank you. One Owl Grill can be found on Facebook, and check back often for its website to be fully up and running.

Sautéed pork leg with vegetables, fried rice with garlic, hummus with olive oil, and a mojito at One Owl Grill.

Exterior front of One Owl Mediterranean Bar and Grill in Nyaung Shwe, Inle Lake, Myanmar. July, 2015.

Customers ready to order at One Owl Mediterranean Bar and Grill in Nyaung Shwe, Inle Lake, Myanmar. July, 2015.

Decorative road signs outside One Owl Grill in Nyaung Shwe, Inle Lake, Myanmar. July, 2015.

Side view of One Owl Mediterranean Bar and Grill in Nyaung Shwe, Inle Lake, Myanmar. July, 2015.

Art on walls inside One Owl Mediterranean Bar and Grill in Nyaung Shwe, Inle Lake, Myanmar. July, 2015.
Would you like to learn more about One Owl Grill? Check out their Facebook page and website!

Chase Chisholm surrounded by nurses in an emergency room of a hospital in Yangon, Myanmar.

I refuse to only share about the high points of living overseas because that’s not life. It’s not real. A huge draw to being abroad (for me at least) is the struggle that comes with it—the hardships which add more depth. Risks are real. Especially when you choose to travel and/or live in places deemed somewhat dangerous, a little lawless, and always unpredictable.
Lightbulb sign inside Fahrenheit Bar and Cafe in Yangon, Myanmar.

For craft drinks and Mexican fusion food in Yangon, Myanmar, head to Fahrenheit Cafe and Bar. It's open daily from 5 to 11PM, and is the perfect pre-party place to be in the city.

There’s a field. Out there, somewhere, there exists a field where we’re to meet again one day. Someday. I know it. I hope for it. And I picture this field to be basking in morning sunlight, to be tranquil, to be the most perfect place for reading under a lone tree with nothing but breeze as disturbance.

The haven that’s served as our field for the past two months; however, has been anything but serene. It’s been my dang kitchen floor. My cramped, dimly lit kitchen has been our refuge. Save for a noisy water pump and flooding several times due to the rainy season, we’ve made this space our special place, our field. 

I’m haunted by it now. By the images of times we’ve spent there. I see them so clearly, so very vividly. I don’t even have to close my eyes to relive our first kiss, particularly the moments leading up to it. I picture it in front of me as I stand in the doorway, staring at what’s just a kitchen again. Not the magical place it became. I see us cooking side-by-side, making messes and getting tipsy off wine.

I find it unbelievably healing to share this, and I’m realizing I’ve never actually been heartbroken before. I’ve been in love, and my heart has hurt. I’ve also hurt others. I’ve just never really been the brokenhearted. It’s good to live this. It’s needed. I can now more fully understand deep sorrow; the extreme realness that goes along with grieving. I can now relate better to those I’ve hurt.

From early on in our time together, I said I’d devote an entire chapter or two of some book or memoir I might end up writing to our love, and on the importance of falling in love no matter the circumstances. This post will serve as the beginning of that tale, of our monsoon love story.

We were sitting at a table outside a restaurant when I mentioned this. It was dusk. An old church steeple towered to my left, silhouetted against sunset rays bouncing off cloudy puffs. Earlier that day, typhoon-force winds and rain kept us cooped inside a well-known joint where we enjoyed Shan noodles and light conversation. That’s where I captured the first of many photos of this heart I fell for. To remember how embarrassing it was for such a beautiful soul to pose brings a big smile to my face.

I knew the day would come, this day, where I’d be left undeniably heartbroken and holding onto nothing but hoping we meet again in that field one day. The field we dreamed up and talked about. Some day. But, I did it anyway. I let myself fall. I know I was fallen for as well. What we’ve had has been special.

Whether it’s the wrong time or we’re not right for each other, I’ve learned you can’t fall in love with the potential of what could be, even when you can see it staring back at you through teary dark eyes rimmed with a tinge of blue. It’s like falling in love with impossibility. 

As Myanmar’s monsoon season comes to an end, so does our time together. Not our love. Love remains and continues to pour down so heavily upon us. It seems you finally get who the person is next to you during your final hours. You finally see them for who they are, and what they’ve been trying to communicate all along. You no longer look for faults in each other. You no longer dwell on miscommunication. You no longer push or rush into things. You simply take the time to thank each other. 

You let the tears create wet spots on the pillows. 

You study the face in front of you. Every little detail you don’t want to forget. 

You reminisce. You apologize. You hold each other. You laugh. 

You allow the reality that it could very well be the last time to do any of this set in. 

You owe it to yourself and each other to do this, although it truly, truly is one of the hardest, most painful experiences worth having. 

And when love seemingly walks out of your life just as fast as it came storming in with the rains, you exchange those wrenching but necessary last looks, and you watch it go down the street until you can’t see it any longer. Just in case one day, someday, you don’t get to embrace each other again in that field out there, somewhere.