When CIEE first reached out about wanting bloggers to help accumulate a series of posts on what it's like dealing with stereotypes while living abroad in relation to gender, race, nationality, etc., I was at a loss for what to say. As a straight, white, American female, I have not had to face many of the challenges that others may have come across in their travels, nor would I ever want to act like I know what they have gone through.
Over the past few weeks, I've put a lot of thought into how I wanted to go about writing my piece of the series. I realized that being an American living in Thailand has given me plenty of curious stares, countless conversations lost in translation, and several immediate checks to the COVID vaccine card because people assume I'm just a tourist on vacation. However, above all, it has given me a brand new perspective on the way people in other countries live, and helped me experience gratitude like no other.
In some of my other posts, I've touched on ways in which living here has proven to be difficult, and how much I've had to work towards adjusting to change. I don't want this post to be another way for me to complain about how those challenges have pushed me, but rather how they have pulled me into reality, and allowed me to see the world through a brand new lens.
When I came here and met all the awesome people who were also on my program, I assumed that was it. Those were my friends. We were predominantly American, we all had many similar past experiences, and we were all sharing this brand new journey together. I figured we'd spend the weeks waiting for the weekend to roll around so that we could see each other again. It was like that for a while in the beginning, counting down the days until I got the chance to escape the loneliness of Si Racha for a few days and hang out with a bigger group of people who were just like me.
Sort of a sh*tty way to live huh?
I've never really liked countdowns. They're a means of letting the days slip away from you while you wait for something seemingly better to come around. Don't get me wrong, it's great to have things to look forward to, but while we're waiting, why don't we become present and enjoy what's happening right now too?
Maybe being spread out around the country from all the people so similar to me, was the best thing that could have happened to me. (Disclaimer: I love them so much and still cannot wait for every time I get to reunite with them!) When you look around your home and see that you're one of the only two people living there who look like you, it's intimidating. It presents the automatic assumption that no one will be able to communicate with you or understand you. I felt like this, but all it took was two people to completely turn it all around.
I work with plenty of Thai teachers at my school, and they are lovely, but the language barrier proves to be a challenge every day. We can have simple conversations about the weather, or share a laugh over what a student said, but without the help of Google translate, not much else gets discussed. It is likely that there will be a community of Filipino teachers working at your school as well, those of whom speak fluent English. I was lucky enough to quickly befriend two of them who I work with, and in doing so, have grown so much as a person in only a month's time.
There are a lot of generalizations that people will make about you as an American, but one that stands out considerably is the idea that you have money. Currency varies so radically from country to country, and the USD proves to be worth much more in several of the places you may visit, Thailand included. Because of this, I find spending to be more carefree than my co-teachers might. Don't get me wrong, I'm not rich. I come from an average middle class family, and I've been working since I was 15, often holding multiple jobs at once so I could support my own endeavors. But, I've been saving money for traveling for quite a few years, so I definitely came here with the intention of dropping some cash.
Things that cost 100 baht convert to a mere three dollars back at home, so to me, it's often a quick yes to purchasing. Sometimes it's hard to draw the line between what is an acceptable amount to offer to spend on something, and what may seem like you're flaunting that it's no big deal. I never want to come across as thinking they can't afford things when I offer to pay for what they may deem as an 'expensive' item. It's more about me having less dire expenses because I am only staying here temporarily, whereas their money is going towards making a living here with their families.
This is when I learned that for some of them, that's how it's always been. Every job they've ever had was to support their families. Since they were 12 years old, they would wake up before school to make money that could help put dinner on the table. I think back to when I was 12, mooching off my parents for money to spend at the mall to buy an overpriced shirt from Delia's that I'd wear twice. Rather than spending my after school hours learning how to cook to feed my siblings, I was fortunate enough to take dance classes and hang out with my friends. As grateful as I am for that, I am even more grateful that coming to Thailand gave me the perspective to think about that.
I've learned a lot about my co-teacher's childhoods, and often find myself feeling guilty about the happy memories of my own. Of course, it's not my fault that we grew up in such different ways, but that doesn't make it any more fair. I have grown to respect them as educators from the moment we met, as people the more we started talking, and now as inspirations who I hope will stay in my life forever, because they've given me something that no one else ever has; real, genuine perspective on the ways that people live outside the borders of one of the world's richest countries.
I've had this blog draft typed up for almost a month now, debating every Sunday if I was ready to share it or not. No matter how much I re-read and edited it, I kept feeling like something was missing. Yesterday, I stumbled across exactly what that something was. A quote popped up on my Facebook feed that said, "When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything." Teaching abroad is the most rewarding experience because it will truly expand your horizons like no other, and enlighten you in ways that will help you grow. As I mentioned earlier, if I had to pick the most important thing I've learned in Thailand thus far, it's gratitude. I feel that I've always been someone who is very appreciative of what I have, but so often that is similar to what many others around me have as well. I am so grateful for the people that living here has given me, because they've helped to both change and shape my mind about more than I ever thought there was to know.