If you ever move to another country to live and work you have to learn to adapt. It’s a big step and, depending on which country, most likely it will be a huge culture shock. I remember going on holiday to Sri Lanka for the first time, and was shocked at people living in shanty towns with nothing to their name.
I looked up the definition of “culture shock.” A condition of disorientation affecting someone who is suddenly exposed to an unfamiliar culture or way of life or set of attitudes. Unfamiliar? Definitely! There are ways to get over this and adapting to your new way of life is one of them.
Moving to a new country is full of excitement and wonder and you may well think that you will be living a glamorous lifestyle- all lazy days on the beach with cocktails in hand. And it will be at first- anyone with a bit of sense will go to a country and chill for a bit- so think cocktails and lazy days. But once you start work to earn money to be able to live there in the first place, unless you have a load of money, you will soon realise that it’s harder than it seems.
I love living in Thailand. I love the slower pace of life, the weather, the food, the people. I could go on. But I have to work, and work I do. I have a great job, teaching English. I only have to go in to teach my classes, albeit two and a half hours a day during the week. This gives me a lot of time at home, which is great for my work, life balance. So, if you can find a job that you don’t have to be at all day. You are here to live your life after all, and if most of that is spent at work then you won’t have time to enjoy the other things in life.
In your own country there are certain things that you do and don’t do, a certain etiquette that everyone takes for granted. But in a foreign country these rules have to be learned and adhered to. For example, in Thailand you have to learn that touching people on the head is a definite no-no. Thais believe the head is the most sacred part of the body, so it is considered rude if you pat them on the head. Another biggy is making derogatory comments about the Thai Royal Family- Don’t! It can land you in jail. The Thais love their King and his face appears on all Thai currency, so you should be careful not to step on any banknote or coin because this, to a Thai, would be like kicking him in the face. On the same note the national anthem is played in cinemas at the start of each movie, and you are expected to stand. Likewise when the national anthem is played at 8am and 6pm in public places, like train stations or parks, you must stop in your tracks and pay respect. People who choose to live in a foreign country will adapt easily if you do as the Thais do.
You have to get used to the people in foreign countries, and they have to get used to you. Thais think all foreigners are mad anyway. We go swimming in scanty bikinis- Thais go swimming in shorts and t-shirts; we can be loud and brash- the Thais are a demure lot and hate confrontation and loud voices; we live in two-up-two-down houses- some Thais don’t even have a home and those that do, do their washing in the river. We have three courses for a meal- the Thais have it all at once on the table in front of them- so when you sit down to eat you learn to start eating, even though your dinner partner (s) haven’t got their meals yet. Thais are very friendly and if you smile they will smile back. The people can teach you a lot about yourself. I, for one, have learned that I don’t need all the material possessions that can be important at home, take a leaf out of the locals’ books and learn to live a simple life- it’s good for the soul.
Learning to adapt is paramount if you are going to survive and be happy in your chosen country, so here are my tips for surviving.
Tip number 1:- Seek out restaurants with foreign owners- Thai food is fabulous and you will never go hungry. There are food stalls and restaurants all over the place, but sometimes, just sometimes you will hanker after a plate of spaghetti or roast dinner, just like your Mum makes it. If a restaurant has a foreign owner then you can be sure that the food is going to be just like home.
Tip number 2:- Get into a relaxed state of mind- it takes a while to learn how to “do” stuff-like where to pay bills, or connecting internet, or how to get to places by bus. If you get stressed about it or start complaining that it’s easier back home, then you will either get nothing done or it will take longer.
Tip number 3:-Accept the slower pace of life and go with the flow even if you don’t know what the heck is going on. Enjoy it and think of it as an adventure- albeit a slow one.
Tip number 4:-Establish a routine. This always helps if you have plans. It keeps you focused and you will feel more in control of yourself.
Tip number 5:- Unless you have friends here already, it might take you a while to build a network of people you can socialise with, so learn to be comfortable with your own company. It’s quite amusing people watching as you sit in a restaurant or bar alone. More importantly, to be able to go and do stuff on your own is very empowering.
Tip number 6:- Eat and drink like the Thais do- it’s much cheaper than all that foreign food.
Tip number 7:- Talk to your neighbours and make friends with them. This is a great way to adapt. Try and make meaningful relationships with people, just like the ones you got back home. Alright, they don’t need to know about your weird little habits that your besties love you for, but this will make you feel more at home. I lived in Surin for three years and made some fantastic friends, all of whom I would consider among my best friends and my substitute family. This will give you a sense of stability and reduce feelings of disorientation and unfamiliarity.
Tip number 8:- If you live in areas that don’t see many foreigners chances are you will get stared at- a lot. Even though this may be considered rude in your own country, remember you’re not in your own country. These people don’t see many foreign faces- so take it in your stride and smile at them. Believe me it will be worth the reaction you get in return.
Tip number 9:- Never get angry- this will be counteractive in what you are trying to achieve.
Tip number 10:- Familiarise yourself with the social conduct. For example, many Thais do not say “good morning” or will not hold the door open for you. Just like we will say “hello” or “how are you doing?” to someone in passing, and not wait for a reply. Maybe this would be strange to someone visiting our own countries. So put yourself in their shoes.
Tip number 11:- In Thailand there is a two-tiered pricing system. One price for Thais, and a much higher price for foreigners. Although you may find this slightly annoying or even racist, there isn’t much you can do about it. See tip number: 10-Never get angry.
Tip number 12:- Learn the language- you will get so much pleasure from speaking the lingo with the local people, and the prices might get a bit cheaper as well. Retain a sense of humour as well. If you say something that is not quite right, learn to laugh at yourself. People will laugh with you, and will admire your effort to communicate with them.
Tip number 13:-People will try and rip you off- taxi drivers and tuk-tuk drivers can tell a mile off if you have just landed in Bangkok. They will try and get you to pay an inflated priced. So be savvy, but also remember they are just trying to make a living, and the amount of money you would part with is very small compared to what you earn at home- I am forever giving tips to people.
Tip number 14:- Most importantly don’t pretend that you know everything there is too know about a different country or culture. It takes years to fully understand the social and historical aspect of it. If you are not sure how to act then just do as the locals do. “When in Rome…..”
Tip number 15:- Get out and explore your surroundings. It’s never easy to adapt to living in a foreign country but if you are prepared to leave your comfort zone, and at least be willing to learn different ways, then your life will be all the more enriched from your experiences. For me, even though I have been living in Thailand since 2009, it’s going to take me a few more years to be fully adapted. But, one thing is for sure, it’s all part of growing as a person and most importantly having fun, and I intend to have lots of that.
About the Author: Gill Morris has been living and working in Thailand since 2009. She is currently working as an English Instructor in Bangkok. Her interests include writing, photography, travel and culture. In her free time she loves to write about her surroundings and capture life through the “round window” with her photography. Moving abroad awakened these interests in Gill and her new found passions are growing every day. Gill has her own websites where she documents her life experiences, and through these she hopes to inspire others to travel and learn about the world for themselves.