A One Way Ticket To Culture Shock



So, I moved to Thailand, and it turns out, no matter how much research you do, there is nothing that can prepare you for life until you get out there and live it. Especially when you move abroad—and on the 13th of March 2013, I boarded a plane with a one-way ticket to Bangkok.

I had no idea what to expect, but I was excited to be starting this new chapter. Only, when I went to bed last night, I had no idea that the emotions waiting for me in the morning wouldn’t be those of excitement… I woke up feeling anxious, depressed, irritated, unhappy and angry. I felt totally disconnected from my body, my mind and my surroundings, and at 8 am in the morning it was a lot to take in. It wasn’t until it was pointed out to me on Twitter, that I realised I was suffering from culture shock.

Culture shock is defined by Wikipedia as the “personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country or to move between social environments.” When I first thought about moving to Bangkok, I knew it may be stressful and I definitely knew that it would be different. After all, how could it not be when I was packing a suitcase, hopping on a plane and leaving everything I’d known behind. But what I did not know, nor expect, was the reason behind my culture shock.

You see, I’m not homesick. I don’t want to return to England just yet (Sorry Marge!). It’s not that Thailand doesn’t have proper Cadbury’s chocolate. It’s not even the language barrier. It’s because I don’t have a job. I know! I was just as surprised as you.

But because of that tiny little detail, I’m struggling. You see the thing about jobs, is they’re a great way to meet people and give routine to your life. And I miss that. I miss having a specific reason to get up each morning. I miss having the opportunity to meet and interact with new people, and (occasionally) I miss doing the actual work.

Now, if you’re reading this and muttering under your breath “find a job then, duh!” I know that finding a job abroad isn’t technically difficult. You can put yourself out there, apply and interview. But actually getting the job, is a little bit harder.

For example, I had an interview last week which went really well. The company liked me, I liked the company but visa requirements got in the way.

You see, I’m currently in Thailand on a tourist visa and the company said that they couldn’t hire me until I had my one year visa and my work permit sorted. Ok! I know I’m planning to stay here, so I’ll just apply. Easy.

Or so I thought.

It turns out that in order to extend a Tourist Visa into a Non-immigrant B Visa (one year visa) you need to have a job lined up, and a letter from the company saying that they’re going to employ you once you have your visa. Once you have your visa, gaining a work permit is easy—but only if you have a degree. If you don’t (I don’t) then getting a work permit is a touch more difficult—with your fate of staying and working in the country legally, pretty much dependent upon the staff’s mood that day.

Now, a lot of companies will sort this all out for you. But the company I was applying for, was not such a company. They had no desire to help, not even to write the letter of potential employment. So after gaining nothing but a headache I decided this particular job wasn’t for me and went back to the drawing board. This happened another two times.

So as of today, I’ve decided to take a TESOL course to give myself a leg up in the teaching industry. Teaching is one of the few jobs foreigners are allowed to do in Thailand, and as all of my qualifications and work experience are in Childcare, it seems like it could be a pretty good fit.

Making plans has already made me slightly more optimistic about my future here, but it isn’t instant gratification. I adore what I’ve seen of this country so far, and I don’t regret my decision to move here for one second. The sun is warm, the people are friendly and honestly, I don’t think even rehab could break my iced milk tea addiction.

But it’s times like this when you realise how alone you are. Life abroad feels like a constant challenge, one that plays havoc with your emotions, and whilst there are many many highs, when the lows hit, they hit hard. And my girls aren’t in the same timezone, so b*tching about it is even harder. Especially because it’s not something that everybody understands.

When I last cracked the timezone challenge and was able to reconnect with my girls, I tried to discuss the way I was feeling, and it was tricky. Because to them, I’ve moved abroad, to a country filled with sunshine and good times. Which, to a certain extent, it is.

But this isn’t a holiday that I’m returning from in 2 weeks. There aren’t unlimited Pina Coladas by the pool as I get a tan for the first time in my life. I have moved here, and I need to be able to financially support myself—so struggling to get a job is a bit of a barrier to that.

And the girls didn’t understand that. Which is fair enough. I wouldn’t if I wasn’t living through the frustration either. So it is definitely not their fault that they didn’t hold the answers I was looking for. Feeling exasperated, I logged onto Twitter for a bit of a moan. 

Create tweet.
“Without goals, I feel so lost.”
Send.

I didn’t actually expect anyone to reply, but somebody did.
And that somebody was Anna.
A fellow expat living in Bangkok.

She replied saying that she too found it difficult to move to Bangkok and to go from working as a high-paced lawyer, to not working. We talked for a bit, and it felt great to find somebody who knew what I was going through. I was not alone. Anna introduced me to a great network of expat women, who were each understanding of the emotional roller coaster that came with life as an expat.

Whether it’s from moving country or moving neighbourhood, change can be difficult. I have no idea if doing a TESOL will fix the culture shock or the despair I feel from not currently having a career. But I guess we’ll find out!

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