This week marks four months living overseas in Thailand. The time is flying by, and pretty soon I will have one semester of teaching English under my belt. About a year ago, my mind started floating around wanting to travel, to experience the unknown, and start living life to the fullest. Research led to finding that teaching English overseas was a realistic way to see the world, and I applied with 100% enthusiasm and excitement for this next chapter in my life.
I was inspired by other young people that took the leap and moved into a foreign country to work as a teacher. It was reading their blogs and that led me to apply and make the leap for myself, and that’s what I hope to pay forward to at least one person with this website. I thought I knew a lot about Thailand before I got here. But you can’t experience a culture from reading a book or a blog. Nothing can prepare you for the emotional roller coaster that living and working overseas entails.
I’m loving Thailand, but like with any loving relationship there are arguments and struggles and some days where you just don’t feel like trying. These days for me usually come around the end of a work week, when I’m straining my voice to control thirty 3 year old Thai kids from starting their own rodeo in my classroom because their fear mongering Thai teacher has left the room for one minute. My students are extremely cute and they’re good kids, but being outnumbered 30 to 1 sometimes takes its toll on your psyche. It’s the weekend that always, always restores my spirit and recharges my batteries.
The aim of this post to is address the things that no one really tells you before moving abroad. Let’s face it, Hollywood has romanticized this idea time and time again: the movie’s protagonist moves abroad to somewhere super romantic and finds not only themselves in the process but a sexy, foreign lover to travel the world with and feed each other cheese and wine. This couldn’t be further from reality. Movies and TV not only make this all seem fantastic, but they also make it seem effortless and easy. You rarely hear about the hard times; the obstacles that every expatriate has to face with living abroad.
Let’s face it, growing up isn’t easy. There are bills, taxes, medical insurance, losing that teenage metabolism you once had, and the dreaded 2 day hangover that sometimes engulfs your entire weekend. Combine that with living in a country where you don’t speak the native language, where many of the customs seem, well, foreign, and you’re bound to have a few bad days here and there.
For all you people out there that believe moving overseas is a fantasy life where I’m sipping on cocktails on a exotic Thai beach all the time, you couldn’t be more wrong (okay, that does happen sometimes). I work at a job that is most days a combination of confusing and stressful, and sometimes I wonder if I made the right choice to pack up my life and move across the world.
From figuring out Visa regulations to trying to find a skin lotion that doesn’t whiten your skin, nothing is simple or familiar when you’re transitioning abroad. Most of the time the situation becomes a funny story, like the many times I’ve almost peed myself on a bus or minivan ride, not being able to tell the driver to pull over (not like they would anyway) because I’m wedged, literally, in the back of a van amongst 15 other humans who don’t speak a lick of English. But sometimes, and hopefully only sometimes, it’s not so easy to let the cultural differences roll off your back. Standards are no longer considered standards, many times they’re even non existent. Things that would make the average uptight American’s eyes bulge happen constantly overseas.
Piling your entire family on a motorbike (including an infant) with no helmets in sight and dodging city traffic will always seem ludicrous to me. I will never understand the purpose in poking someone else’s belly fat only to remind the owner that it exists and exclaiming, “Oh, fat!” with a big smile. I will definitely never consider pure mayonnaise to be a yummy condiment for anything besides a cold cut sandwich, and I will probably always do a double take at a man taking a piss on a city wall in plain sight of passersby.
Learning a foreign language is hard. Learning Thai language is really hard . I haven’t committed to finding a tutor to learn because of this reason. Most English speakers can’t even produce some of the phonetics with their mouths. You have to retrain your tongue to make entirely new guttural sounds. In the same respect, it’s difficult for Thai people to pronounce the “L” and “R” sounds of English. I do know that if I want to master the language I have to find someone who is willing to teach me on a intensive level. I’m not going to learn a new language just by walking through the dalat (market). My intention from here on out is to make more of an effort in learning Thai.
It’s the struggles that make it all worth it. You wouldn’t be able to grow if you didn’t have to endure the shit that life throws at you. That beautiful beach or cave temple you traveled to see is that much better when you had to suffer quietly on an anxiety inducing bus ride in a monsoon. Some of the best memories I have backpacking in Europe with my sister were from the times when things went wrong, when one of us (cough cough not me) fell flat on our face racing for a train, or when we had no idea if we would ever see America again while aboard a rather suspicious overnight ferry to Greece.
Travel changes you. I’ve never heard anyone say they regretted traveling, most of the time they regret not going. It’s something that everyone thinks they can’t afford. Find a means if it’s what you want to do, and just do it. Find a job, a volunteer opportunity, crash on a couch, sell your belongings, just GO. Your life will be better for it. Living abroad continues to challenge me, for better or worse, and it’s an experience unlike anything I would find sitting on my couch. I can’t lie though, I do miss my couch most days.
Breathe. Smile. Do some yoga. Have a drink. Vent about the weird cultural differences with your friends. It’s all a part of the adventure. I haven’t wanted to pack up my bags at all, not even once, not even when I’m feeling my grumpiest or hungriest for a burrito or fresh coffee. This experience is molding me into a more responsible, respectful, and grateful human being. I can take the bad with the good; it offers insight and if nothing else, it can prompt a lengthy blog post.