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What It's Really Like to Live and Work in Thailand

Colin Tsoi

It's not all cocktails and beaches. 

This has to be it. This has to be my all-time low.

I think this to myself as I lug my stained comforter onto the balcony of my hotel, not mentally fit or physically strong enough to deal with the fact that I have just defecated all over my bed.

This is only after having dealt with a high fever and chills that shook my entire being, even in Thailand’s suffocating heat. It only seemed fitting that I should die right there, in that moment, when I uncontrollably destroyed my comforter in front of a near-stranger, my roommate who had only been assigned a few weeks prior.

Blood poisoning, they said—or so I think. You don’t realize the extent of a language barrier until you are in a hospital trying to figure out what it is exactly that is making you sick. Mystery injections, unruly bowels and fevers that crept up at night only to break hours later encompassed my day-to-day life. This was only one of a series of unfortunate events that made me truly consider finding a cheap flight home, or, at the very least, acting unruly in such a way to be deported and hey, then it would’ve been free.

My TESOL instructor informed us that our teaching careers in Thailand would not be one decorated with photos of us in our bikinis holding a fruity alcoholic beverage lying on white sand. He couldn’t have been closer to the truth.

I came to Thailand to try and do good by somebody—anybody. It felt as though no matter the hardships I endured in order to do this, sadness and tragedy were always lurking. Around the corner, on bus 356, at the market tucked up next to a dirty vendor, on the street where two motorcyclists lay dying, in the machete that almost killed the bartender across the street from my hotel; I could not escape it. I found myself rushing home to get lost in my book I had brought for my travels, and that too, fictional and all, was descriptive enough that I found myself in tears over both the people who existed in my life and even the people who didn’t.

I could feel my throat closing.

I’m sitting at my kitchen table. I’m sweating profusely as I truly try to encompass all that is Thailand, including its heat. There is a shy knock on my door. I throw pants on that have been on the floor for quite some time now. I slide the lock vertical and swing the door in to find two Thai women standing in the corridor. In their hands are a small cake, one lit candle and chocolates that spell out my name. They begin to sing happy birthday in English. I have just turned 23 hours earlier. I have only met them once in the elevator.

I must pick and choose my battles. I can be overjoyed by the women who celebrated my incredibly close call with a very lonely birthday, but I cannot save every rotting dog I pass on the streets. I cannot do anything for the strippers who dance lifelessly on stage. I cannot give any more money to the man who has been immersed in flames and sits on the overpass every day, arms outstretched with melting eyes. I can’t do any of these things.

What I can do is soak in the relentless heat my friends back home long for as they endure cold winters. I can relish in every moment I spend surrounded by people who cannot understand me, connecting in meaningful ways that far surpass something as seemingly useless as conversation. I can laugh with my students as they laugh with (at) me, and I can enjoy every minute of a job that is actually fun.

My TESOL instructor informed us, day one, that our teaching careers in Thailand would not be one decorated with photos of us in our bikinis holding a fruity alcoholic beverage lying on white sand. He couldn’t be closer to the truth. Instead, imagine yourself amongst strangers and trash; swallowed in a pulsing heat that makes your heart pump fast and your hair have trust issues with your face. Imagine being surrounded by kids who need you, but they just don’t know it yet. There have been classes I have left wanting to fall off the second floor balcony in which I teach; there are also classes I want to hug every student and tell them how amazing they are (but don’t touch their heads; it’s very disrespectful).

Though I’ve only been teaching in Thailand a whopping three weeks now, I can say this. Thailand is not what you see in the brochures. Brace yourself for the good, the bad, the ugly, and most importantly, the beautiful. Don’t get swept away on what you think teaching abroad should be, but rather, be prepared for something better.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Kelly Iverson

Although Dorothy was quite content, Kansas was no place like home for native Kelly Iverson. After studying abroad, she returned with an itch for travel no amount of scratching could alleviate. She lives in Bangkok, Thailand, where she teaches English.

Website: https://www.facebook.com/KellyJIverson/

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