It’s been awhile. I know. But I could not blog. Maybe because I’m adjusting to a new work schedule. Maybe because I I could not find time between motorbike jungle rides, and weekend beach getaways. But I avoided it mostly because they would have been insincere. I would like to say that I moved across the world, fell in love with the country instantly, and that I’m never planning on coming home. However, that is as far from the truth as you can get. In fact, the second day I was here I downloaded an app on my I-Phone that counts down the days until I get to go home.
Thailand is overwhelming. Yes I’ve dealt with homesickness and even culture shock before, but it is nothing compared to this. It wasn’t until we landed in Phuket that I realized that during my pre-departure honeymoon period I had neglected to learn any Thai. I could not even say ‘hello’ or ‘thank you’ in Thai. The ‘what the fuck were you thinking’ sinking feeling came about shortly after. I showed up in a completely foreign place, not knowing anything about the language, with minimal knowledge of the culture, and knew absolutely nothing about the geography of Thailand. I had become one of those desperate wandering, english shouting, tourists who seems to blame everyone else for their ignorance induced stress.
Now, what is my life like now? Surely after a month I’ve made some headway. I have. But I wouldn’t say I’m feeling at home. As far as the language goes I can count to 100, say hello, thank you, I want, and vegetarian (which doesn’t really work most times).
Day to day life? The best way I’ve been able to describe it is, it’s like camping. You are always a little bit disgusting, damp, and uncomfortable. The bathrooms are a bit scary. And there is almost always a bug (or lizard) in your room.
Language barriers and discomfort aside. The thing that gets me most… the smells.
If you didn’t know this about me before, I’m super sensitive to smells. How sensitive? Your scent makes a first impression on me. Seriously… if you smell funny I’m 70% less likely to pursue friendship with you (and yes, that was a very carefully calculated statistic). So how does Thailand smell. I’ve think I have come up with the perfect combination of familiar smells that will allow you to truly experience what it’s like to walk through the streets of Surat Thani.
Eau de Surat is one part Petco, two parts fish market, and add in a dash of asian restaurant. Just let this marinate in 90 degree heat and you’ve got it! The smells are second to only one other monumental adjustment… being a teacher.
I’ve had several job titles since leaving my first job as a Panera Bread cashier. Most of them involved sales associate in the title (and an extremely high number of them required me to wear starchy polos). I’ve worked at a probation office, I was a meter maid, a media specialist, a nanny, a country club pool waitress, and a ‘Visuals Expert’ (thanks Capo!). Last year at this time I would not have expected to add “teacher” to my resume.
I grew up around teachers. I always heard the stories about nightmare kids, ordeals with ornery parents, hours of unpaid lesson planning, relentless public scrutiny, etc. I was always asked if I wanted to be a teacher (because that’s what my parents do) and the answer was always a resounding ‘no’.
It was not until studying abroad that I ever started to consider the idea. (Andrea, you always wanted me to blog about you so that you could become ‘famous’! Eccolo!) I participated in a language exchange while I was abroad. Andrea and I got together every so often and spoke English and Italian together. The idea was for one of us to speak in our respective second language, while the other corrected our grammatical mistakes. This was by far one of the best ways I found to improve my Italian. The casual laid-back setting allows you to let go of some of the stress and embarrassment that comes with trying to speak another language. While we definitely had our fair share of casual conversation, I realized that I really enjoyed helping him study for his english exams. I liked helping him to learn something that I have already (supposedly) mastered. Not only was I able to learn a language from an Italian my age, but I also was able to help another person pursue their language goals, explore Ferrara with a native, and ultimately make a dear friend.
It was not until I hitched my wagon to Maggie and Hadley’s wild and wonderful ESL teaching adventure that I actually thought I could do it. When I finally was offered the job I was excited to start helping others with english again. I slightly underestimated the difference between one 22 year old Italian and 30 eight year old Thai children.
My first week. Yeah… there were tears, there were visits to travelocity to price flights home, there were international Facetimes to my mom asking her how the hell she did this everyday of her life. There were days that I was completely ready to walk away. A day like yesterday, when one of my co-teachers, Dan, and Maggie asked me how I was doing and I completely broke-down at my desk. I was already homesick. Why not? Go home, pretend like I didn’t fail, study for the GMAT, and apply to grad school like all my friends.
And then you have a day like today. A day where the lessons you have planned go terrifically. A day that your students are engaged and excited. You can see the wheels turning and can almost witness the physical manifestation of the learning process. It is nothing short of amazing.
Another extremely funny thing happened to me today. You know that age-old joke/nightmare where as you grow older you start to sound more and more like your mom. That has never happened to me more than when I’m in the classroom. It may have been the times I happened to call her before her students we gone, or when I went to work with her on take your daughter to work day. But I can hear so much of my mother in my teaching style. It’s insane. While it’s scary at times, I am heartened by this fact, because the more I teach, the more I realize that my mom is damn good teacher.
I don’t want it to seem all bad. Thailand definitely has its positives. The natives are extremely friendly and kind, my co-workers are genuine and witty. I’m just having a harder time than expected.
But let’s get one thing straight. This post isn’t about trolling for pity, it’s about honesty. It’s so easy for someone to post pictures of paradise on Facebook and act like it’s all smooth sailing. It’s awesome to be able to say that I live and work in Thailand. This purely social media based view paints a very glamorous picture of living in a completely foreign country. But this is the truth… it’s really fucking hard.
So I’ve got some work to do in the assimilating department. I’ve also got a shit ton of work to do in the teacher department. But as for today, I can say that I’m feeling better. I may even be excited.