Monday, September 2, 2013

Bread and Butter

[Note: when I use the term “foreigner,” I mean people from outside of Thailand who speak English fluently]

My daily life has changed significantly from what it was when I first came to Ubon. In my first two months, I didn’t have my own transportation, I was nervous to go around on my own, I didn’t have any young foreign friends to talk to or hang out with, and I essentially spent a lot of time getting comfortable being on my own and finding entertainment in the very, very little things in life (example: going to Tesco to get groceries or doing laundry was labeled “weekend activity” as opposed to “errand” or “chore”).

I am so thankful that I was on my own for my first few months, because it really forced me to push back against the boundaries of my comfort zone. I pushed myself to make friends with Thai people, I learned some of the language, and I gained a lot of confidence in simply going out and making things happen for myself that I wanted to have happen. After all, I chose to come to Ubon—as opposed to a foreigner hub like Bangkok or Chiang Mai—so I would be forced to get out on my own and figure things out for myself. At first, I even shunned other young foreigners and felt a bit territorial about Ubon. I didn’t want others to come, let alone a slew of other young women who graduated from UVM just like me. I wanted to avoid falling into that hole of only hanging out with people who only looked and sounded like me. I used to think, Why do people go abroad only to hang out with people who are from the same country as themselves? Doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of living abroad?

On a weekend trip to Ayutthaya
Now, I understand. No, it does not defeat the purpose of living abroad. No, it’s not “cheating” somehow. The reason people do it is simple: in many countries—Thailand being Exhibit A—if you didn’t interact with people who spoke your language, you wouldn’t be able to have a deep conversation with anyone. Imagine, living without the bread and butter of daily interaction! I did it for a while, and definitely grew in some ways because of it, but luckily this is no longer a problem I face. After my first few months, I was joined by a few other young foreigners, then some more, and now there’s an awesome group of about 7 young foreigners that I hang out with, and I absolutely love it.

It happens...
Having close friends to go to a coffee shop with, to share dinner with, and to go out on the town with has been awesome and refreshing. However, it goes beyond that; being able to share an experience such as living abroad with people who I can identify with on multiple levels has helped me process a lot of things about what I see and experience in this culture, and also a lot of things about myself and how I, as an individual, see and experience the world around me. I still highly value the friendships I maintain with local folks, but it makes a big difference to be able to converse with people who grew up in the same culture as I did. I can react to discovering a boiled chicken foot in my soup or being served pig colon, and people understand where I’m coming from; I can sympathize with the exasperation of my vegetarian friends at being offered shrimp or fish balls, again, as an appropriate alternative to meat; and, importantly, I can express my frustration with things in the Thai school system, and be perfectly understood.

I have come to see that it’s important to interact with everyone, whether they’re from your culture or not, and anyone can help you to broaden your worldview, not just people from the other side of the world. Sharing an experience like living abroad only serves to broaden and deepen it, and I am so thankful for those who have shared, and will continue to share, this experience with me.

What a great group! Here, at a floating restaurant on
a Saturday afternoon trip to a lake nearby Ubon.