Tips and Tricks for Surviving Your First Month Teaching Abroad

Authored by:
Mary F.

Mary F.

Before moving to Thailand I was filled with jitters. I was mostly excited for this new adventure but a little bit nervous. Would I have friends? Would the job be too difficult? What if I hated it?! All of these feelings are normal! And the nervous jitters stuck with me for a little while even after moving. However six months in I can safely say I have no more jitters, and I am all the wiser.

Luckily when you first arrive in Bangkok, Thailand you have orientation. This means built in people to become friends with, daily activities, and, most importantly, someone to order all your food for you. However, just a few short days later, orientation ends and that's when your real Thai life begins. For me, it meant  being dropped off at my apartment in the middle of Khon Kaen, Thailand with absolutely no clue what to do next. It was scary and at times I thought I might starve, but these things helped me survive that first month adjustment:

1. Stop thinking in US dollars

When you first arrive in Thailand it is easy to look at all the prices and think “Wow! Everything is so cheap!” On some level you are not wrong. 6 American dollars for a whole meal is cheap! Except when you live in Thailand and your salary is in Thai baht. If you start converting everything to American dollars, you will run out of baht faster than you would have thought. Once you start making Thai baht, with a Thai salary, you really should start thinking in Thai baht. What might be cheap for American standards, may not be so cheap for Thailand standards. Before coming to Thailand I knew that I would want to travel around Thailand during my time here. Therefore I knew that is where I wanted most of my money to go to, so I looked for other areas in my life to save baht. Luckily, I quickly found that I can get amazing meals for 30-50 baht, almost anywhere in Thailand. I also found out how to use cheap public transportation and could save money there too by not taking a taxi or Grab (Thailand's Uber) everywhere. By focusing on baht and not comparing everything to US prices, I am able to budget quite well. That allows me travel to my heart's desire, on my Thai salary.

2. Learn how to order a couple of dishes in Thai

One of the most difficult things about living in Khon Kaen is that many people do not speak English. Before moving to Khon Kaen, I had been to Bangkok and I was able to eat lots of food without knowing any Thai! However, my first week in Khon Kaen I thought I might starve to death. I got laughed at a lot in many restaurants and sometimes just simply told no, due to confusion and no one being able to understand each other. The best thing I learned was how to do was order a couple of different dishes in Thai. I just asked my students and my school director what they like to eat. I even had them write it down in Thai just incase the restaurant owner didn't understand my pronunciation. Now when I go to a new restaurant and I am not sure what they have (sometimes they will not have a menu or the menu will be in all Thai) I can simply ask them for a dish I know is popular. If they say no or look confused, I just try another!

3. Have activities to look forward to

I'm not going to sugarcoat it for you, the first month can be hard. Adapting to a new language, job, and culture can definitely present some challenges. Planning a trip helped me get through the first month because it gave me something to look forward to. I wanted to stay in Khon Kaen for my first month so I could learn about my new city and create community within my new home. I do not regret that choice at all, as it really did help me learn my way around. However the first weekend of the next month I planned a trip to the beach with some friends (who spoke English!). Knowing that I had a fun activity coming up made some of the difficult days a little better. And when I came back to Khon Kaen, it felt like coming home after a weekend away.

4. Ask your students for help!

Asking my students for help has saved me in a lot of situations. My students are 12 years old and have been learning English for a couple of years now. While their English is not perfect, they know enough to help and are so kind and generous when it comes to giving that help. My students have ordered food for me, talked to taxi drivers, and even told me about new places to see in Khon Kaen. My students and their families are so thoughtful and even invite me to do things outside of school with them that they think I will enjoy. Recently I did a city wide bike race with one of my students and her family. I might not have even known about this race until it was too late to go had my student not invited me. I get to have amazing and authentic experiences because of my caring students!

5. Figure out public transportation

My first weekend in Khon Kaen I walked over an hour (!!!) to a restaurant that I had read was good on the internet. I was that desperate for food I knew I could order and couldn't find a taxi that knew enough English to take me. The best thing I ever did was figure out public transportation. The public buses (more like pickup trucks) are very cheap (9 baht!) and go all over the city. They are called songtauws. I saw them all the time around my city, so first I asked my school director. He helped a little, but he has his own car so he doesn't use them often. With his little bit of information I researched them and their routes more on the internet. Once I felt more confident I started hopping on ones I saw come by my school a lot, and only taking them to places I knew or that were close by. It took a lot of trial and error but after the first month here, I finally had these songtauws figured out. It has opened up so much more of Khon Kaen for me to explore and I no longer have to walk an hour to eat food.

The first month in any new city is a learning curve, for sure. Moving across the world seems like a daunting task and I'll admit the first month wasn't always easy. However once I got these tricks down, things started getting easier. I quickly got in the hang of thinking in baht and stopped converting things in my head. Learning the names of Thai dishes while out with new Thai friends was a fun experience! The best thing that you can do to learn about your new home is to ask questions! You can ask people who have been to the city previously, ask people who are there now, and make sure you ask the locals. The wonderful thing about Thailand is that the people who live here are extremely kind, generous, and ready to help you as much as they can. So take a deep breath, ask questions, and go for it.

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