Choosing Thailand

Now Playing: “29 (Acoustic)” – Run River North

Before My Trip

When I told people I was coming to Thailand to teach, many people asked “Why Thailand?” I remember feeling pressured to have some grand reason. Some of my fellow TEFL trainees always dreamed of exploring Southeast Asia, some of them love the climate, waterfalls, hiking, and snorkeling opportunities, and others were drawn to the elements of Buddhism. Honestly, Thailand was the one country that kept coming up in conversation. Every single person who had been here said they fell in love with it. Friends, relatives, mutual friends, and strangers online alike claimed that it was a paradise, whether they spent two weeks or two years here.

I researched a bit further and discovered – what has proven to be the best and most interesting part of the culture – that Thai people are extremely laid back and generally easygoing. Though “Thailand” means “land of the people,” the country is known as “the land of smiles.” Before my trip, that sounded slightly cheesy. I pictured my experience in the Bahamas: salesmen grinning at us at every chance to sell us something. I read more and came to find that Thais like to “save face,” they don’t like confrontation or expressing intense emotions publicly. Anger, frustration, and stress roll off the shoulder here. If you know me, you can see why that would be extremely appealing…. Because of this, and the various aspects of mindfulness that define Buddhism, the people here are generally happy, inwardly and outwardly.

Furthermore, teachers are widely and wildly respected here. We are third down in the hierarchy basically of the King, monks, and then teachers. That didn’t sound so bad either!

Those aspects of Thai culture paired with gorgeous islands, sunsets, waterfalls, elephants, and monkeys – I was sold!

Upon Arrival

Adjusting to the Thai way of life has its pros and cons, but every adjustment hits hard, I’d say. The good things are overwhelmingly joyful – gorgeous sunsets, amazing meals, friendly people, historic monuments, warm sunlight, and unfamiliar animals around. The bad things can also feel intense – lack of organization and communication for transportation, no sense of urgency or schedule (particularly frustrating when you’re hungry), no concern for issues that you consider to be problems. The general “mai ben rai” (no worries) mindset backfiring! “It’s Thailand!” has come to be used in a negative connotation. Your food order never arrives, a taxi won’t stop to pick you up, you can’t photocopy something vitally important, things are last-minute or entirely unexpected, but hey, don’t worry! That is something that has been both a blessing and a curse to learn.

I quickly learned that what they say is true, the people here really do smile so widely! All the time! Granted, many of them DO want to sell me something, or just look at my unusual appearance (Thais frequently and openly talk about wanting my light skin), but overall they just smile at anyone they see.

Thais are grateful for what they have, they want to help others (my chicken vendor leant me his umbrella in a downpour!), they are silly, they are respectful, and they don’t waste energy on frustration. It’s amazing. It’s beautiful.

My students!!! And our incredibly sweet cab driver who endured an hour of 6 adult women chatting, laughing, and blasting Britney Spears before her concert in Bangkok 🙂

After 3 months

I wouldn’t change a thing. Not my choice to come here, not my experience with TEFL Heaven, not my placement in Ayutthaya, or even to be teaching P3, 5, and 6 at Prachasuksa School. Things have fallen into place. I am trying to not grip so tightly. To let it go, and let it be.

In NYC I often felt:

  • irritated
  • stressed / anxious
  • overwhelmed
  • rushed
  • crowded
  • tempted to eat and drink!
  • pressure to do more, work out more but also relax more…
  • poor
  • insecure
  • under-appreciative of the resources and conveniences at my disposal
  • concerned about constant changes in weather
  • like every small problem was a big problem

In Thailand I commonly feel:

  • grateful
  • joyful
  • relaxed / easygoing (can you even believe it?!)
  • curious
    • about this place, this history, this culture
    • about the new people I meet
    • about teaching techniques, lesson ideas, and students’ learning styles
  • creative
  • confident… in who I am and what I am doing here
  • carefree
    • what is makeup? who needs straight hair? who needs plans?
  • rich
    • “rich” = living above means, which will cease as soon as I return to the US Dollar…
  • refreshed
  • resourceful
  • thankful for America’s resources and conveniences, especially in my upbringing
  • calm
    • no timetables outside of work, no subway to fail me, no bus to catch, no crowded sidewalks, no sirens (only dogs barking)
  • reflective of things I’m learning, how I’ve grown, how relationships change, and general human connection
  • more appreciative than ever of the people I love and their efforts to stay connected

My biggest concerns here are:

  • getting my students to feel excited and engaged in a lesson
  • aggressive street dogs on my block
  • figuring out where to get food I’m craving (SEND BAGELS AND PINOT GRIGIO)
  • remembering to bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer everywhere
  • wondering what I’ll do when I go back to the U.S…..

So yea, it’s an improvement. Everyday I’m learning and trying to be happy and peaceful inwardly and outwardly. I’m glad I chose Thailand, it has helped me smile more.

“I saw that my life was a vast glowing empty page and I could do anything I wanted.”

-Jack Kerouac On the Road



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