By Sally Stephenson
As I left the warm comfort of the British shores, nerves rumbled in abundance. I had travelled to Thailand with the hopes of beginning a teaching career, finding a life outside of England, and searching for a place to grieve for my late father who had passed away eight months before.
The death of my father weighed heavy on my heart as I began a new life in Thailand and, in hindsight, I cannot help but wonder if it’s a reason why I was unable to make it work in the country. I have heard that Thailand is not designed for Western women long term in the same way it is for men. While I cannot come to a conclusion for this statement based on my own short experience, I can certainly say that I found life in the country tough.
I had decided to leave after only a few weeks in Thailand, a decision that could be said to be premature, that I didn’t give Thailand enough of a go but I know who I am as a person and what I could handle and I knew that Thailand was a place that wasn’t somewhere I could live. The language barrier proved too much, along with the heat and food. In all vanity, I couldn’t get used to where I was working and the conditions I was working in. All in all I became overwhelmed and wanted to be back in a culture that was familiar.
I decided to apply for a visa to New Zealand. I had taken part in an Australian working holiday, had a wonderful time in 2008 and thought I’d have a similar experience in Aoetearoa. I booked the visa, received it in a couple of days and ended my contract.
I still had a month on my lease before I could leave Thailand for the start of my new journey in Auckland. I visited friends in Pak Chong where we spent much of one day hitchhiking through Khoa Yai National Park. I went to my first football match in the Buri Ram province and danced at a football game with a sixteen year old lady boy. I went back to Bangkok and saw the Safari World and tourist attractions of the big city. Then I was off for a week in Australia.
Leaving Thailand wasn’t without its dramas. I had no tourist visa for Australia when I arrived at Bangkok, and the airline would only check me in as far as Kuala Lumpur. Thanks to staff at Air Asia who got me on the flight to Sydney. I even passed through immigration without even being asked for a visa! (I had applied for one at Bangkok airport so my guess is it went through while I was still travelling). Getting to Australia was an overwhelming relief, seeing English everywhere was extraordinary and even going to the supermarket and seeing western food again was a joy. My week readjusting to Western life in Australia was a stark reminder that I am not the type of person who is able to live a life in a foreign speaking country. I like familiar comforts and things that I know well. Choosing to end my time in Thailand was by no means an easy decision. It was admitting defeat and admitting that I couldn’t succeed in the country. But, by owning up to these failings I found a wonderful new life in New Zealand and out of the flames of failing came success that I couldn’t have imagined.
That’s the thing about travelling: you can’t always plan what will happen. You can’t always predetermine how you’ll react to something until you’re in the situation. I enjoyed Thailand much more as a tourist than I did as a teacher. I enjoyed the work environment of a familiar culture much more than one that was incredibly foreign.
While I do think of travelling back to South East Asia, it will be as a tourist because there’s one thing that I will take from my time in Thailand – that the people are friendly, the culture is rich and there’s a whole other world to be discovered for those willing and able to embrace everything that it has to offer.
Since 2007, Sally has lived in Australia, America, Thailand and New Zealand. She currently writes fiction and non-fiction while training for a career in Project Management. Her tales span the course of all of her travels and more information and blogs can be found at her personal site: http://www.sallystephenson.com/.