By Catherine Tucker
What up. So I’m here to give you the down and dirty. A lot of expats seem to mostly write about unicorns shitting rainbows and other magical experiences when living abroad, but I’m here to tell you it’s not all cuddly kittens and life-changing epiphanies. Don’t get me wrong, life doesn’t suck living in Thailand, especially with some of the most beautiful beaches at my fingertips. However, it can be rough at times, especially in the beginning.
Before moving to Surat Thani, I had only been out of the country (USA) twice: once to Cancun when I graduated high school, which I don’t really count as out of the country, and once to Costa Rica for a brief 10 day vacation. Never in my life had I been an abroad traveler or expat. Sure, in the states I traveled all the time, going from show to show and festival to festival with a lot of like minded people and some of my very good friends, but that seems different to me now. But moving to Thailand, this was going to be my time to be a real traveler, to stop partying so much, to become a person of the world, one with all cultures, find enlightenment, look into the inner depths of my soul and find the answer to life. Um, ok I’m an expat, not a monk.
Back home, in Portland, OR, I wasn’t a huge partier going out every night or anything, but I did tend to go out every weekend. I liked to call myself a “weekend warrior.” During my last year in Portland before I moved abroad, I was in grad school, so I justified these outings because I worked my ass off during the week. However, when I graduated, I felt it was time to do some reevaluating. I had been in school for as long as I could remember, my boyfriend and I had recently broken up, there were no jobs in Portland, thus came the decision to get the hell outta dodge. So, I packed up all my shit, said goodbye to my friends, family, and dog and flew to Thailand to start my next adventure.
The plane lands, it’s hot as hell and 100 times more humid, but that’s okay, I’M IN THAILAND!! This mentality lasted for a good month or so. I wanted to see and do everything. I couldn’t just be, I needed to see! Then the job started, which I was happy that it did because I am a person who needs to be productive. Having gone to school for teaching, I felt somewhat comfortable with going into this position; however, I learned how to teach in the states, not in Thailand. During training, I listened to my boss and took his word for everything and decided to go with his methods instead of my own. Big mistake. Always trust your instincts.
The first few weeks of teaching went fine. I was teaching 11, 12, and 13 year old girls. The best age! Not. Instead of setting up classroom management procedures, I immediately went in and started playing a game, as was told to do in training. Well that really bit me in the ass for the rest of the semester because I could never really get my classes under any sort of management because I didn’t have really any systems in place. Additionally, because I was trained in the states, one of the biggest things I learned was not to teach until you have “100% percent compliance, 100% of the time.” Welp, when you have 55-60 middle school girls in each class, this is never going to happen. Long story short, I hated my job.
Not only did I hate my job, I also hated where I lived. One of the draws of the job was the “free housing.” Yes, the rent was free and the utilities were very low, but what price was I paying for my sanity? When I moved to Thailand, I was 27 years old and hadn’t lived in a dorm for about 10 years. This is exactly what this house felt like, a dorm. The house had 7 bedrooms, 3 of them quite large, 3 of them quite small, and 1 medium sized with a pillar in the middle of it. Ummmm, ok. Sounds like a house fit for the 7 bears, or maybe even the 7 dwarves, who knows. I was put into one of the quite small rooms. It was so small that even though it just had a twin sized bed, I couldn’t even open the door to the wardrobe all the way as it would hit said bed.
Not to mention I was put into a house with a couple of people who I would soon come to detest and lose all respect for. The people of whom I speak have now left this country, and it’s probably better for it. When they first moved here, they blatantly admitted to moving away from the states to “get away from all of the black people.” Way to move to a country that’s a completely different race than yours! Not only were these people racist, the guy in the situation was a sexist; so him and I got into almost immediately. Homey couldn’t hang with a strong-willed independent woman. The icing to the cake of this situation was that these 2 people were a couple at one time and decided to split up before they came, but the geniuses decided to live in the same house when they got here. My house. Fuck. When I heard they were leaving due to family illnesses back home (by the way, they got back together, ick), instead of having any sort of sympathy all I could think was, “ding dong the witch is dead!”
Also, this house was infested with ants. Now I’m not talking a few ants here and there in the cabinets, I’m talking on my cloths, on my bed, on my towels, in my food, etc… To read more about this problem, you can click the link to the article I wrote about it for my company’s website: Ant Wars. Disclaimer: I changed the ending to make it happier for my boss as he made me take it down from the company’s blog because it put the company in a bad light. How about you don’t have crap houses instead?
Anyway, I basically hated life for the first 5 months I lived in Thailand. I also felt like I wasn’t really clicking with anyone. Everyone seemed to find these tight little groups and I was on the outside. Wow, Thailand really makes me feel like I’m in middle school sometimes. Part of this is my fault though as it takes a while for me to let people in. I eventually started finding a little group, but I was overworking myself that I never felt like hanging out. During my first semester in Thailand I got paid hourly, which means I picked up as many hours as I could in order to save more money for traveling. Doing this made it so that I pretty much shut myself off from the world. So even though I may have been making more friends, I wasn’t allowing myself to make better relationships. When school finally ended and I was able to work less hours during summer camp, most of the friends I had made were moving away.
All of these factors were affecting me, and then the home sickness set in. I’ve never been that homesick in my entire life. I did a lot of crying and really distanced myself from people and gained about 10 pounds from overeating. Shit, is this move ever going to pay off?
One night my boss called me to ask if I wanted to stay for an extra 6 months to teach at the new MEP program. I would be teaching younger kids (the equivalent to 2nd grade) and would be teaching multiple subjects. Sure, you’re probably thinking that I wanted to run for the hills, throw my papers up in the air, say “Fuck this shit, I’m out!” Actually, in a surprising turn of events, and with the help of my besties and mom, I decided to take the offer and stay longer. I’m really glad that I made this decision. Just as I had reevaluated my life back home, I did that in Thailand too.
When a room opened up in an amazing house, I took to opportunity to grab it even though I was going to wait another month due to money issues. Boy am I glad I did. I love my new house. It’s such a breath of fresh air compared to the teacher housing that felt like some sort of weird jail. I mean, we weren’t even allowed to hang things on the wall. Talk about depressing. I’m also very happy with my move to teach MEP and to work with younger kids. This is way more my forte. Now, I have my class completely under control with my management systems and I also get to teach absolutely adorable 4, 7, and 8 year olds in my 2 different classes. Some new people have moved to Surat Thani that I find myself really getting along with, and because I’m just happier all around, I’ve been more social and willing to let people in.
What do you think, have I complained enough for you? I’ve always heard that if you say 3 negative things about something, then you’re just whining. I feel as though this essay is full of negative thoughts, but I find it’s important to know that it’s not easy to make such a life altering transition. I guess the moral of this story, if you want to call it that, is that no matter how unhappy you are, you are your own person and can turn it around no matter what. There’s never anything holding you back, and if you think there is, it’s all in your mind. I still struggle with home sickness, but not as bad as before, but I’ve done a complete 180 since moving here and now I am better able to enjoy my surrounding, my friends, and my time here in the land of smiles.
Catherine, aka Catty Thailand, aka Catty T, aka Catty, aka Cat, aka Rainbow Bright, grew up in Memphis, Tennessee and likes the fact that she is from the South. After graduating from grad school, she decided to take herself abroad (after a summer of music festivals including Burning Man), and moved to Thailand to teach. This is where she resides now, living, learning, and traveling (not to mention partying) in the land of smiles.