I arrived in Thailand in August 2017, and spent the first week in the outskirts of Bangkok, as I was more than happy to stay out of tourist traps and the backpacking flow. I decided to lodge in a room near to the Airport Rail Link near to Hua Mak station, which became both a humbling and rather insightful experience.
As an expat now living in Bangkok I knew absolutely nobody. I didn’t know how to order food apart from saying, “I’m vegetarian”. “Do you have any vegetarian food?” If I left the comfort of my air conditioned room to take a walk, I was absolutely lost and worried about having enough water while walking around the city.
These seem like strange and primitive fears when I think about it now, but I can honestly admit that I was feeling very out of place in my first week here.
Embrace change for personal growth
The comfort zone https://www.instagram.com/p/BvOK5-_grXi/ had been fully exited and I was officially in a place where I was feeling like I needed a familiar cup of tea and someone to talk to, face to face, in my native language, or at least Spanish.
At the same time, however, I felt tremendously lucky, to see how many people are destined to live in unfortunate circumstances, with few opportunities.
To be born in the UK has afforded me the luxury of a solid education and a desire to learn and travel, where I can expand my mind. So many people on our planet are not born with such luck, for which I have become spiritually and eternally grateful.
Travel is the best education
Having such a supportive family is certainly one of the reasons that compelled me and has enabled me to focus on a career in education. I have always wanted to give back to others who are not as fortunate as myself. I have the teacher gene from my mother’s side but unfortunately not the finance skills from my father’s.
Before coming to Asia and Thailand to continue my career in education I had spent 12 challenging years in Spain and I never thought I would come to live in Thailand, never mind studying Thai in Bangkok, as my third foreign language. I absolutely love it, although learning a new alphabet is a great challenge and whenever I try to speak Thai the natives think I’m funny, as I don’t generally pronounce the tones so well.
One of the most important factors of self-development, when learning a foreign language is not just to try and learn new vocabulary and grammar in order to make oneself understood, but also to deal with the ridicule and humiliation when you are trying to get your ideas across and others may laugh at you.
It is a truly humbling experience to learn a foreign language, but as a teacher of English it’s paramount for me to also be humbled and become a stronger empath, to always try and understand first hand the frustrations of learning, from my students’ perspective.
I had certainly felt comfortable in Spain, but I was feeling too comfortable. I knew the language well, and most of the streets in the city but it had become predictable and boring. I was starting to actually feel sick of seeing the same neighbourhoods and streets. I think that’s when you have to decide to make a change.
I was not growing and my mind wasn’t stimulated. Opportunity wasn’t happening the way I wanted it to.
Learning the Thai language to settle in Bangkok
In order to grow you have to be open to change and humility but I also believe one has to take action and make opportunities happen. Learning a new language is certainly an activity that falls within this experience and so, as I decided to revisit Thailand and start my new life and career I started learning Thai, as much as possible, to help myself prepare before moving to Bangkok.
Are the British lazy linguists?
From my personal linguistic perspective, as a sign of respect and certainly to make life easier, it’s a high priority to start to learn the native language of your new home. I have never understood English expats who could not learn how to say pleasantries such as “Please” and “Thank you” – but then again, I have always been fascinated by languages, so I have natural curiosity.
At the end of the day I do believe that it also comes down to respect. The British tend to think that their mother tongue is far “superior” than other languages and are often spoiled by the amount of foreigners who visit the UK willing to learn English, and so apathy and laziness tend to supersede the need to empathise with the speaker, who is trying to survive.
I would happily even speculate that speakers of foreign languages have stronger emotional intelligence than those who do not choose to step out of their comfort zones to challenge themselves linguistically.
Many thanks for reading.