This year is the first time I will celebrate Thanksgiving with my family.
I grew up in Vietnam not knowing what Thanksgiving was or that it even existed.
However, after coming to the US and seeing how important this tradition is to America, I have developed an affinity for it.
When I was in college, Thanksgiving was the time when most of the campus was empty since the students went home to visit their family.
Many left campus one or two days before the break. Some chose to travel to nearby big cities.
As for me, I always stayed on campus and had turkey and stuffing with my host family.
After starting grad school, I’d often go to Thanksgiving potlucks with friends.
Thanksgiving, to me, is associated with lots of eating and being thankful for what I have.
In this post, I will highlight the 10 things that I am most grateful for in 2017.
1. A family that loves me
I am referring to my parents and extended family (i.e. grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins) who are thousands of miles away but always watch me in every step of the way.
Although my parents didn’t make a lot of money, they have always been willing to invest in my education, which in turn has enabled me to come to America on a scholarship at the age of 18.
My aunt and uncle have always supported me every time I faced a challenge. They give me advice, wisdom, and money to make sure that I can get through tough times. They never ask for anything in return and just keep giving.
My grandparents never stop worrying about me. When I was little, my grandma took care of me so that my parents could focus on their work and make money for the whole family. My grandma is truly my second mom.
My cousins, especially those on my dad’s side, grew up with me and are like my brothers and sisters. My trips to Vietnam wouldn’t be so enjoyable and fun without them.
2. My family reunion
2017 marked the end of our four-year long-distance marriage and the return of our son from China. During those years of being away from my husband and my baby, I at times doubted whether it was all worth it. Hope was by my side every single day, but sometimes it was so far away.
When I got married, my parents’ hope was for me to be with my husband and rely on him when things got tough. They were happy to have a good son-in-law. But they also had more worries in their lives. Mr. FAF still had years of grad school ahead of him at the time.
I know many other families are going through tougher situations. I’m glad ours is finally coming to an end. Even if there are more challenges awaiting us in the future, at least now we have each other to count on.
3. My in-laws
I’m sure you’ve heard about the long-standing tension between the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law no matter what culture they are in.
Throughout my childhood, I saw it played out between my mom and my grandmother. I just never understood why they couldn’t get along. At one point, I also didn’t want to get married because I didn’t want to deal with such tension in my life.
Before Mr. FAF and I tied the knot, my dad gave me a long lecture about what I should and shouldn’t do as a daughter-in-law and a wife. It really stressed me out, and I had to tell him to stop at one point because I couldn’t take it anymore.
Despite the language barrier and some challenges, my in-laws and I generally get along well. They have helped Mr. FAF and me buy our first home and take care of our baby in China for a year so that we could focus on our careers.
And they never asked for anything in return: no expensive gifts, no money, no new clothes, no nothing. Mr. FAF and I plan to have our parents move in with us when they’re older. That’s how we will return their favor of raising us and helping us out all those years of our existence.
4. My job
I know many people don’t really like their jobs. I have to admit that I tend to have the same feelings at times. However, at the end of the day, I am grateful that my employer took a chance on me and gave me the opportunity to prove myself and make a living to support my family.
I am not an adventurous person. I like the stability of knowing that I can still go to work tomorrow and get a paycheck at the end of the month. I have also learned a ton and developed great relationships at work.
I was in school for a long time and yearned for the day when I could finally work in a professional setting making a livable income. That day finally came about two years ago. I have to remind myself every day not to take it for granted.
Related: The Poor Life Of A PhD Student
5. Mr. FAF’s job
Mr. FAF was in grad school for six years. Even since we got married, I’ve been counting down the days when he could finally finish his doctoral degree and get a job.
I got anxious thinking about his progress. I can’t count how many times I got frustrated seeing him losing focus and drifting to an unknown territory.
I got worried whenever he told me that his advisor wasn’t satisfied with his papers and asked him to revise them multiple times. I felt like I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel when he told me he had to delay his graduation date since his dissertation wasn’t finished.
I was once in a PhD program, so I know how hard it is to stay on track. It can be emotionally draining and demoralizing. I wanted to be supportive, and I believe I was.
But the thought that our family reunion depended on his doctoral degree and job prospects constantly put me on edge over the past four years. I think I might have worried too much.
When Mr. FAF started his new job, I felt like my life has entered a new chapter. I didn’t think much about the fact that his name now has a Dr. title attached to it or that I am now the wife of a doctor. He’s still the same man I married four years ago.
I was just happy that I didn’t have to get stressed out about money, about the fact that we might not be able to afford daycare, or that we might lose our house one day.
Money concerns drove me insane sometimes. Mr. FAF, on the other hand, always assured me everything would be ok and wondered why I worried about money so much (?!).
Now that we have two incomes flowing in every month, I feel like a totally different person. I no longer get irritated about the little purchases that Mr. FAF makes although he doesn’t buy a lot of them.
I can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that even if I lose my job tomorrow, we will still have Mr. FAF’s income to support our family financially.
6. Our friends
I have to admit that I haven’t done a great job staying in touch with my good friends over those years. I could make more phone calls, send more emails, and exchange more text messages.
But something always comes up that occupy my time (or does it?). I still keep in touch with some of my good friends from college. It’s amazing what friendship can do.
Our friends have helped us get through some of the toughest times in our lives, answered our urgent questions with promptness, and shown us that our lives are more enriching when we surround ourselves with the right people.
Over the past few years, there have been instances when some of my friendships fell apart for various reasons. I don’t wish I could go back and undo what happened because I know it’s impossible.
What I’ve learned is that sometimes it’s good to let go and start something better with the lessons learned from things that I didn’t know out in my life.
7. Our house
Our house is the biggest purchase I have ever made in my entire life. I’ve also gotten myself into a huge amount of debt to finance it. Mr. FAF and I were over the moon when we became first-time home-owners.
With the help of my in-laws, we took a crucial step in building our first home and investing in an asset that hopefully will appreciate in the future.
Through work, I have had the opportunity to stay at fancy hotels and eat fancy food. It was fun in the beginning.
But at the end of the day, I always yearn for the familiarity of my own home: the hand-me-down bedding I got from friends, the old furniture we got from the curbside, and the chipped plates and bowls we got from our neighbors.
Those things might not look good. But at least, they belong to me, and I’m familiar with them. No fancy hotel can rival the coziness of our own home.
I feel grateful for a house I can leave in the morning and return to at the end of the day. And the most important thing is that in our house there are always home-cooked meals waiting for me and my family.
8. Being in America
I know this one might be so obvious, but I still want to acknowledge it. America is one of the greatest nations on earth. When I was in high school, I dreamed about the opportunity to study abroad in America every day.
Due to my parents’ low income, the only way I could make that dream come true was to get a full ride scholarship from a university overseas. I looked into Australia, the UK, other countries in Europe, and America. I quickly realized that the only country that had full-ride scholarships was America.
Cobbling together the limited resources that I had at the time, I took a plunge into the TOEFL, the SAT, and college applications. I was so happy when I got an acceptance letter from my alma matar.
My dream had finally come true. America has given a girl from a poor family in Vietnam the opportunity to get a world-class education and to work in one of the strongest economies in the world.
Over the past 12 years, I have faced many challenges some of which shook me to the core and made me want to give up everything that I had.
Fortunately, my family and friends have always been there to cheer me on. They showed me that there are more important things in life than the negative things that seemed to take over my life.
America has seen me get my first full-time job, get married to my husband, give birth to my son, and buy my first home. America has become my second home.
9. My blog
Sometimes I wonder if I’d ever start a personal finance (PF) blog if I weren’t in America and discovered the personal finance (PF) community. The first PF blog I ever stumbled upon was The Frugal Girl by Kristen. She’s one of the blogs I follow on a regular basis.
I had been wanting to start a blog for 12 years but didn’t take the plunge until March 21, 2017. Sometimes I wish I had started sooner. I could have made more blogger friends and had a larger following.
But overall, following other blogs for two years has helped me draw many valuable lessons, tips, and tricks about blogging.
Thanks to my blog, I have discovered a supportive network of PF bloggers, realized that I in fact do enjoy writing, found an outlet for my emotions, and gotten great advice from the reader about the problems that I face in my daily life.
I’m always hesitant to say that my blog helps others. If anything, I have learned a lot from other bloggers and my readers about collaboration, marriage advice, money saving tips, and starting a small business.
10. My Neighbors
Our family lives in the DC area. Although DC is one of the most expensive cities in America with a lot of highly educated professionals, some areas have stark levels of poverty, crime rates, and income inequality.
We are fortunate enough to have bought our first home in a relatively safe area of town. Our neighbors are friendly and always offer a hand when we need help.
When we first moved into our house, a snow storm left a huge pile of snow and slush in front of our house. Our next door neighbor offered to help us shovel the snow.
Some came by to say hi and asked if we needed anything. Some told us about the parking rules in the community since they were afraid that our cars might get towed away at our expense.
We were deeply touched by their gestures and have developed good relationships with many of them. Of course, there are always cases where someone could be nicer or more considerate.
But I’m also realistic and don’t expect everyone in the community to be model neighbors or citizens. I’m sure we have also done things that others are not perfectly happy with.
The season of festivity, delicious food, and get-togethers is here. It won’t be long until we celebrate Christmas and New Year’s. Before the end of the year rolls around, I want to take this time to express the 10 things I am most grateful for.
It is hard to picture what it would be like without any of the things I mentioned above. We all face challenges in our daily lives, but it’s also important to remind ourselves about all the wonderful things that we have.
I hope you will have a Happy Thanksgiving with your family and friends!
What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? I’d love to share your thoughts. 🙂