Since beginning this trip, I’ve found myself comparing culture shock to a suppository. Sometimes it’s just a tough pill to swallow, and it won’t go down, so you have to find other means of adapting.
From living in a dirt poor community in Thailand to practically playing charades everyday to communicate with my host parents, I can easily say despite all my traveling experiences, this culture shock has been by far the hardest pill to take. It may sound a bit dramatic, but it’s a challenge I have to overcome everyday. So let me immerse you in a few of my sometimes wacky, always confusing, moments that have made this trip as difficult and amazing as it is.
By far, the most difficult obstacle to overcome has been the language barrier. I live in a community that speaks little to no english, and my Thai skills aren’t too hot either. Nearly every attempt at communication is a long, drawn-out game incorporating gestures, facial expressions, and sometimes weird noises. Giving up is not an option either.
Remember when you were young and played “telephone” and laughed at the ridiculous miscommunication? That’s basically my life all the time. Except this game of telephone makes my day to day decisions for me.
One of the strangest experiences I’ve had so far was spurred by this friendly childhood game. One afternoon when I was in pain, I tried to attempt to tell a co-teacher that I wasn’t feeling too well. Next thing I know, she told my host mom who told another teacher who came up to me telling me we were going to the hospital. No matter how hard I tried I could not explain what was going on with me.
It was pretty simple. I had a UTI, which is common when backpacking and practicing bad hygiene, only made worse from the intense bouts of humidity. To my co-teachers though, I was dying. So we took a trip to the hospital waiting for hours for a simple lab result and a couple pills. Wallah.
This is just one of the many instances where I wound up misunderstood and frustrated thanks to a language barrier that is my life. I do have to admit though, sometimes it works in my favor, such as when I know I’m not allowed to do something but I do it anyway and just confuse people by speaking English until I get my way. That’s just between you and me though.
Thankfully, with time, it’s become easier to adapt to this barrier, especially with my host parents. The more time I spend with them, the more we can communicate effectively, and the more comfortable I become. Saying goodbye to them is going to nearly kill me.
In the beginning though, reaching this level of comfort seemed impossible. Especially while also trying to adapt to an impoverished environment.
Upon arrival to my new home in Thailand, I knew things were going to be different. Not nearly as different as they were though. For example, bathing myself every evening with a bucket of water, and sharing a queen bed with my two host parents at night. It was one hell of a hard adjustment. And throughout it all, the scorching summer heat and humidity only made it worse.
I almost wanted out in the beginning, but I decided to look at this as an opportunity to grow. Now, here I am today six weeks later realizing how privileged my life really is at home in the States, how much I actually take for granted, and how happy my life is here even if I’m living broker than broke. It’s as if this pill that I couldn’t swallow down actually cured me of some of my materialistic attachments, making me mentally stronger.
Keep in mind though, you gotta take the good with the bad. Luckily for me,
when my bad days hit I had plenty of creature friends to comfort me. I’m not sure why my host parents have so many animals around the house, but their presence is one provides me with much needed affection.
These past six weeks I’ve been living with two pit bulls, three sugar-gliders, one cat, two ducks, three birds, one cobra, twenty-six pythons, two squirrels, one civet (google it), to many rats, innumerable amounts of geckos (if you can even consider that a pet), and a monkey.
I know, it overwhelmed me at first too. But when it’s the only form of love you can get, aside from my host mom who’s a big hugger, you’ll take it.
Like taking a suppository, adapting hasn’t been easy. But, it’s been well worth it. I’ve changed and grown so much as a person, and learned things about myself I never knew before.
Learning to love and be loved by a family whose language and lifestyle is opposite to my own has shown me that compassion has no cultural boundaries. Not even the differences between our upbringings can hinder the bond we’ve created. Trust me when I say it’s going to be a tearful goodbye. But I know even worlds apart, I’ll always have a place to call home in Thailand.
Originally published July 26, 2017 at sunflowergypsy.com.
Photos courtesy of Ashely Lipasek.