I have been living in Khon Kaen, Thailand for 4 months now and I can definitely say there are some things I wish I knew before moving all the way across the world. I am from Charlotte, North Carolina, and trust me when I say Thailand is nothing like North Carolina.
Before coming I truly believed I had asked all the questions. I talked to people who had lived in Thailand before, I talked to people who had done CIEE, I talked to the CIEE staff. People stopped responding to my emails that's how annoying I got will all my questions. I wanted to feel prepared, to feel like I knew what I was doing. And yet, there were still things that I could not have really prepared myself for until I got here and really started living.
So, here they are, the things I wish I had known before moving my entire life to Thailand:
What I Wish I Knew Before Moving to Thailand
1. Don't make plans
As a planner (seriously it is part of my identity), this was a hard one to learn. In Thailand I can barely even go a full day doing everything I had wanted to do or planned to do. All the time my school coordinator will tell me the day of the students are missing a certain class for something. It was shocking to me when I first get here that sometimes the students would even miss a full week of school and I wouldn't know about it until the day of.
Even today I had hoped to go to the post office during my lunch break but while walking out of school another teacher saw me and told me that now we go to lunch together. I would plan to make it to the post office later, but we all know how that's going to go.
2. The language barrier is real
Before moving to Thailand I had come here two weeks on vacation. I went to Bangkok, Krabi, and Chiang Mai. I did not know a single word in Thai and had the best time! Not once was I unable to order food in English or get somewhere in a taxi. And then I moved my life to Khon Kaen, Thailand. I have seen Khon Kaen described on the internet as “the middle of nowhere Thailand”. While I don't totally agree with that, it is definitely a place you won't find many tourists. It is also not an extremely wealthy part of Thailand. As a result of this, most locals barely knowing any English. This meant that my first month in Thailand, getting around and ordering food was hard. For the first couple of weeks at school, I ate in the school canteen and had my students order food for me. I had them teach me basic phrases to order at restaurants. This was incredibly helpful, except for when someone would ask me a question back in Thai and I would just stare at them confused. Not only was I in a completely new city and new job trying to figure that whole mess out, but on top of it no one was speaking my language.
3. Sometimes you feel lonely
This probably doesn't seem too shocking, I mean I did move my life far, far away from all my friends and family in America. Yet, that first month, I was surprised at how much I missed the simplicity of calling up and friend and going on a walk. Of course I stayed in touch with people from home, but I still felt lonely. Not to mention with the language barrier mentioned above I couldn't even shoot the breeze with the coffee lady.
Some days I wish someone had told me all those things, but I am also pretty glad no one did. Because if I had known all of those things in advance, I might have thought that moving to Thailand sounded too hard and scary. If I had known all those things, I probably would not have moved to Thailand and then I wouldn't have learned all of this:
What I Learned After Moving to Thailand
3. Not making plans is freeing
Not knowing where every minute of your life is going can be scary for a control freak like me. Yet, some of my best Thailand days have been days where I showed up at school thinking it was just going to be a normal day and then plans change and I get to do something like meet the governor of Khon Kaen. It turns out my school was helping launch a sports program for students with disabilities and the governor came to our school on the programs opening day. While I was not involved in this specific project, my school wanted to governor to see all of the top programs the school had to offer. As one of the two first teachers of the International Program at my school this meant that I got to meet and introduce myself to the governor of Khon Kaen. He asked me and the other IP teacher many questions about where we were from, what we do in our program, and how we like Khon Kaen. It was an exciting experience that ended with our picture being taken with him!
One of my favorite memories so far has been the day I showed up at school and my director looked at me and told me that day after school he was taking me into his village and we were cooking food with his family. The people of Thailand are very go with the flow and generally don't plan ahead, and while it drove me crazy at first, it has led to some of my best adventures.
Oh and the teacher who took me to lunch today? Took me to a restaurant I never would have found on my own, let me try so many new foods, and paid for the whole thing. The teacher told me her daughter was in America and that her daughter had some great teachers looking out for her there. This teacher from my school wanted to do the same for me.
2. Learning a new language opens so many doors
One of my favorite things I have started doing since moving to Thailand is learning Thai. One reason is my amazing Thai tutor. Once a week I am invited over to her home while she teaches me Thai. However I learn so much more than just the language. I learn so much about the culture from my Thai teacher, her family, and the language. One of the first things we worked on together were phrases on ordering food. The sense of satisfaction I felt the first time I walked into a restaurant and ordered a meal in Thai was indescribable. The people of Thailand always appreciate how much I am trying to speak their language and work very hard with me to try and come to a mutual understanding. Speaking Thai with the locals makes me feel connected to a community within Khon Kaen and it helps make it feel like home.
3. Making all sorts of different kinds of friends, the experiences bring you closer
Being in a completely new city and country allows you to make friends with people you might not have if you were in your comfort zone. By going through CIEE, I already had a community of teachers teaching in Thailand. I made friends during orientation and was able to look through people's social medias and reach out to them from there. While not all of those teachers have the same placement as me, they are still people I can reach out to when I want to travel and ask to join me. Traveling to new places and having new experiences with people can really help you form a bond, even if you didn't know each other well before! I have also made friends with local Thai people. I have made friends anywhere from the teachers at my school to the family that owns the restaurant I eat lunch at most days. These friendships help me understand Thai culture better as well as help my Thai. I wouldn't change my placement for the world because of the friends it has brought into my life. These are now the people I can go to on a rough day where I feel homesick, because they have been there too, and they understand how I am feeling. These are also the people that I go on adventures with and they help me to explore and understand the world a little better. I am so grateful for the unique friendships I have made here.
My first month in Thailand was hard. But what has come out of those struggles is better than I could have ever imagined. I once heard that growth, or an atmosphere of growth, brings happiness. I couldn't agree with this statement more. Moving to Thailand has brought its fair share of challenges, but has allowed me and my mindset to grow so much in just four months. I am thankful for everything that has come along with this journey.