How are you... really?

Authored by:
Gab G.

Gab G.

One month in Thailand! The days have been flying by as I've built my routine, settled into my apartment, and gotten the swing of things in my classroom. Today, a close friend from home reached out and said, "How are you?" and within seconds sent another text, "but really...". That's when I realized I haven't been great at documenting this past month. I've taken the time I've needed to adjust, but haven't been checking in frequently with everyone at home or sharing my experience with the world... and that's okay. BUT my response to that text got me excited to share how things are really going. 

Did I experience culture shock? Upon landing in Thailand, we had an orientation for 5 days in Bangkok with a group of other American teachers setting off on their journeys. I experienced little to no culture shock while in Bangkok. I was surrounded by English-speaking, like-minded people. It felt as though I was vacationing rather than a serious move across the globe. That's not to say we didn't experiment with the local cuisine, use our elementry Thai language to say "thank you" or politely ask for no spice. It was just... comfortable. Come Sunday, we all flew to our respective provinces. I was placed in the North Eastern region of Thailand known as Isan. The closest Americans from orientation were about 1.5 hours by car from me. The plane landed and I was greeted by 3 sweet Thai women. They spoke little English, but welcomed me with open arms. They took me to my apartment, helped me settle in, then gave me some time to get ready before they picked me up for dinner. It was a pleasant evening. Following, they dropped me at my motel/dorm-esque apartment and I fell fast asleep. It wasn't until I woke up that I literally said, "what the bleep". We had off work for the holiday and I had all day to "settle in'', but that meant leaving the apartment for food, toiletries, proper bedding, the list goes on. I was intimidated to step outside. I knew this was home now, but I also understood none of my neighbors would be able to communicate with me easily. I wanted to be respectful, accepted, and I wanted to feel like I belonged. It was tough to grasp the amount of stares that I got walking down the street or the confusion in a cashier's eyes when I tried to ask a specific question at the 7-Eleven counter. That's when I realized, "ohhhhhh... so THIS is what they meant by culture shock".

The Thai Way of Mind - The important thing is, the stares and confusion didn't stop me. I pushed out of my comfort zone and continued to explore. I used Google Maps to pin a few places that seemed like they would have what I needed. Then I set off, on foot, to start shopping. The first stop on the list was titled, "Outlet Mall", online. I interpreted that to mean I could get a few things for the apartment at a fair price. Interpretation... wrong. I walked 20 minutes to the pin on the map and a kind lady stopped me to say, "You seem a little lost. Can I help you?". I showed her where I was headed on the map and she goes, "That's my house!". I was so unbelievably confused and asked, "Outlet mall??" which she didn't understand. She just said, "I have fabrics. I make dresses. Do you want to come inside?". Following my gut, I went inside and within minutes was meeting her family, being dressed up in premium Thai fabrics, and told I was their lucky charm. Two hours flew by. We understood about 15% of what each other was saying, but we were laughing and enjoying ourselves. By the end of the visit, the woman offered to drive me to the real mall and when she dropped me off we exchanged numbers. She added herself in my phone as "Thai Mom". It was at that point that I decided to embrace all the differences rather than staying intimidated and inside. The faster you can overcome the culture shock, the faster you'll be able to embrace the Thai way.

 

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