Contemplations on My Place in Thailand Thus Far

I’ve been thinking a lot the last few days.

Processing everything that has happened in the last two weeks.

Trying to understand everything that has happened from the good, the not so good (and yes, there has been some of that), and the just plain stressful (and perhaps there has been a bit too much of that).

I’ve been thinking a lot, as I do…and I’ve come to this perhaps profound(?) realization:

I am not in Thailand.

……………….

Okay, yes, physically, if you pin point my location on a map, I am currently located in Northern Thailand in the city of Chiang Mai. Currently, you will find me writing up this blog post at the most Western ass coffee shop possibly in the whole city, if not the whole province (it’s almost obnoxiously cutesy and hipster, grossly overpriced, an expats haven…and man does it feel like home).

So, yes, I am in Thailand.

But you know, just because you are physically somewhere doesn’t mean a whole lot. I think presence is just as much a mentality as a location.

— — — —

These last two weeks, I’ve been in this perfect little bubble. I’ve spent all my time with Westerners–Americans, Canadians, Brits–all these amazing people who I’m getting to know in my TESOL course.

I will undoubtedly be friends with some of these people for life.

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My TESOL class at Doi Suthep

I’ve been learning how to become a teacher and that’s marvelous. Interacting with the Thai children at the school we’ve been taking our course at has been an out of this world experience. It leaves me thirsting for more and it has made me realize how right this decision to move here was.

We’ve had our fair share of Thai cultural experiences both inside and outside the classroom. The first week, we took part in a kick ass Muoy Thai class–also known as Thai Martial Arts, or the most intensively awesome workout of my short twenty-two years. We got to try our hand at traditional Thai painting and we’ve exposed ourselves to a whole ton of unbelievably yummy Thai food.

Yes, we are experiencing Thai culture–but it has been in this very controlled, safe setting–among friends–with the knowledge that we can go home at night and speak English with each other, make Western references in full confidence that everyone will understand.

I’m physically living and breathing in Thailand right now. But I am not embracing Thailand at all. Not in the least bit.

Outside of school, my communications with Thai people have been limited, to say that least. My Thai is horrible at best and having all my English speaking friends around me is not giving me any incentive to get better at it.

Of course I know that, in a matter of weeks, I’ll be off at my placement–very possibly as the only Westerner in my town. I know that I’ll need to pick up at least very basic Thai to support myself once there. And even though, realistically, that is only two weeks away, it feels so far off at this point.

We will start getting our placements this week. As in, people will at least have a general idea of where they’re going after our course is finished starting today.

That’s incredibly exciting. But also incredibly scary.

Right now we all have each other.

We will still have each other when we’re off at our placements, of course. Social media makes that so easy, keeping in touch with people who are far away. But it will be different. It will be an adjustment. And it will be scary.

Because I’m realizing something now:

Since moving to Thailand, I’ve been wading on the edges of this country and this culture. And it’s been wonderful. These days here in Chiang Mai with my TESOL group have truly been some of the best days of my life so far. I’m only twenty-two and I have so much life to live. But up till now, in many ways it really hasn’t gotten much better than these last two weeks.

Accepting my placement and moving by myself to a town I’ve probably never heard of in this vast and beautiful country that I now call home, though–now that’s jumping off the deep end.

This month in Chiang Mai is certainly preparing me for the teaching aspect of that jump. I love teaching. I can’t wait to get to my school and get to know my students.

But I wonder–with all the time I’m spending with my Western friends writing blog posts in Western-style coffee shops–how much is this month actually preparing me for totally and completely immersing myself in Thailand? For not just a full physical immersion, but a full mental immersion.

I want to be fully in Thailand.

That’s why I came here.

But getting to that point is going to take a lot of guts….

…getting to that point is going to be fucking terrifying.

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14 Replies to “Contemplations on My Place in Thailand Thus Far”

  1. I can understand how you feel, as I am currently abroad teaching as well. While I am technically in France, the fact that I’m hanging out with Americans, Canadians, and Brits, speaking English and whatnot, really takes away from my goal of improving my French. I am aware of it, and so I do plan to immerse myself more in the French culture (e.g. hang out with my school colleagues, converse with them in French) over the next months of being here. It is all too easy to speak English and feel comfortable knowing that you’re understood, but it’s much more rewarding to go beyond and better yourself, whether in the culture and/or language.

    In regards to feeling out-of-place as a foreigner, it’s interesting to see the same treatment on the flip side in Asia. I, as an Asian-American, have gotten stares, even racial remarks, on the street for my appearance; I can imagine that you have experienced the same in Thailand?

    In any case, I am happy that you’re enjoying yourself overseas. Do keep us posted with more adventures soon!

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    1. I don’t really feel that out of place. Perhaps that will change when I’m not around all of my Western friends in a few weeks, but I’m really not that worried about it. If the locals have been staring at me, I don’t really notice. Honestly, what other people think of me really isn’t on my radar. As long as I’m not offending anyone because of cultural differences, I could care less. There have been a few moments where people have come and asked for pictures of us, etc, but that’s really the only glaring time my physical differences have been explicitly pointed out.

      What is and will continue to be difficult for me is going outside of my comfort zone, speaking the language (Thai is really hard because it’s a tonal language), and going out of my way to get to know the Thai people. It’s something I will have to do and look forward to doing, but it will take a lot of courage on my part to get there.

      I’m very much enjoying myself and I will certainly keep blogging.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Britta… I may be twice your age but I feel as if I too am 22 years old and embarking on a new journey of self-discovery! At your age , I went to Italy alone and had adventures that I will never forget… Indeed, the idea of leaving your newly-found friends and the comfort of the TESOL training program sounds a bit scary, but I am sure that sooo many wonderful surprises await you in your placement town, that in six months time , you will have gained a world of wisdom and experience. How lovely to be able to read your feelings and emotions in this exciting time of your life!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. As always, thank you so much for your continued support, Lia. I KNOW I will have so many wonderful experiences once I get to my placement and I’m so excited for that. It won’t always be easy, but it will be SOOO worth it. I have a general idea of where I’m heading in a week (and will announce it on the blog when I have more confirmation) and I’m so excited to immerse myself in the culture of the area!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I really appreciate this post because it’s a great realization you’ve made. Many people “travel” their whole lives only experiencing this minor alteration in reality on vacations like a cruise or all-inclusive resort. It’s not immersive. It’s not the way local people live. It may be relaxing for them, but like you said, it’s safe and controlled.

    Of course, it’s scary to think about being the only English speaker in your town or being completely alone. I would be nervous too! But you’re also right to be excited about it. From my experience, those memories are the ones I look back on most fondly even if at the time they are the hardest. I think I cried my first month of living abroad because it’s challenging and feels isolating. But it’s where you learn the most, where you develop your inner strength, and where you become self-reliant. I’m so excited for you to experience the real, immersive Thailand once you get your placement. Can’t wait to follow along!

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    1. So glad you enjoyed this post. Thanks. 🙂

      It’s true, though. Traveling doesn’t necessarily mean you are any more “worldly” than the next person. It’s so easy to stay in that travel bubble. I have fellow teachers in my TESLO course who are concerned about if there’ll be a coffee shop in their town because apparently that’s a necessity…and yeah, while I love spending time at a good coffee shop (as stated in the post), that’s not really the point of this excursion for me. I want to live like the Thais live and really appreciate this culture for what it is. A coffee shop in my town would be an added plus, but its not something I need to have while here…and its certainly not something I’m looking for.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You took the most difficult decision already which brought you where you are now.
    Every step you’ve taken so far, from leaving your country and up to now, was a new one, and those are always scary. You made it and will do it again!
    This phase of adaptation was surely needed and the adventure will get even more interesting from now on. Fasten your seat belt, and keep flying and enjoying the experience.

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    1. Thank you so much, Lucile! I have a general idea of where I’ll be moving off to in a week and even though the idea of leaving the comfort and safety of my TESOL course certainly makes me a bit apprehensive, I’m so excited to immerse myself in the culture around my town, too. This is going to be such a wild adventure and I know I will NEVER regret it.

      Like

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