I’ve been living in Thailand with my family for a bit over a year and half now, which you might think is hardly any time at all, and yet I can say I’ve learned quite a bit about myself and my interaction with the world at large in that time. Or have I? Have I learned anything by living in Thailand that I didn’t already know or could have learned living in another country or even my home country?
While I will be the first to admit that my Thai language skills are weak at best, I still know far more Thai than I would if I were living anywhere else in the world. I suppose that is a good thing, but really it only benefits me for as long as I continue to live in Thailand right? Still, if you are going to live in a country it is only right to learn the language. It not only helps you in your daily life, it also provides insights into the culture of your host country and the people who live there.
America has long been pointed to as a home of racism, which isn’t surprising considering the huge diversity of the population. Racism is certainly not an American invention however, and point of fact is that most Americans came from other countries and they brought their racism with them. If you think Thailand is different because of all the Land of Smiles stories, think again. Thai people are still people and as a foreigner living here you can expect to run up against racism. Especially troubling is the racism I’ve encountered from other Westerners. Can’t we all just get along folks?
Children are treasured here much more than in my home country, or so it seems. Thais always have a smile for small kids and are always willing to cater to them. In addition, because there is a lack of the whole “politically correct” movement here (so far), parents are able to raise their children as they like without interference from government agencies. This is really a dual edged sword though. For responsible and caring parents it can be freeing, but for those children living in neglected situations (always far too many) it means there are little to no social services to fall back on. I’m not a sociologist so can’t comment much further, but would love to hear from those with a more in depth background in social science, psychology and child services.
Like many Westerners I was brought up to continually strive to improve and most importantly to win at all costs. My life in the West was stressed and frantic, trying to advance my career and keep up with the Jones’ to some degree (though I never fully bought into this mindset it is difficult to avoid when you are surrounded by it). Since moving to Thailand I have learned to relax and to take things more organically, as they come so to speak. Yes, I am still far more pressured and time oriented than the average Thai, but I am still learning to chill out and take things as they come when appropriate.
You would think that moving half way around the world would teach more self reliance and in some ways that may be true, but I’ve found a different picture. Americans are taught to be self reliant from a very young age already (too bad so many haven’t followed the teachings) so I had a full measure of self reliance before coming to Thailand. Since being here though I have actually learned to be more willing to accept help when it is offered, and one thing you can say for Thais is that they are very good at offering help and sharing generously, especially once they come to know you personally. This may be one of the more valuable lessons I’ve learned since being here.
I have no doubt there are many other lessons both large and small that I’ve learned over the past 19 months, but I think you get the picture. Living in Thailand has been both a learning experience and a growth experience and it is one I wouldn’t change for anything. As they say, “No regrets”. If you are looking to expand your horizons you could do much worse than a move to Thailand, or any other country for that matter, even if it is just for a short time.
And for those of you who have already expatriated, what have you learned by living in a foreign country that you wouldn’t have been likely to have learned back in your home country?