1. The vast majority of people don’t speak English
So this was a shock for me, because all I heard before I came here was, “everyone speaks English!” I was going to teach young kids, who “already know basic English,” and I was going to “help them become fluent.” I just have to smile looking back on my naiveté before flying here.
2. You will encounter a squat toilet
I knew these existed, and I was mildly prepared for them, but let me tell you: it is quite the learning curve. There are many different types of toilets in Thailand, and you can usually guess what you’re dealing with based on your surroundings before you even go in the bathroom. That being said — never assume; I have been surprised more times than I’d like to say. I am lucky to have a western toilet in my apartment, but my school only has squat toilets.
Most of the squat toilets will have a bucket of water, and you will dip the cup/bowl into this, and then pour the water in the toilet to flush. Sometimes western toilets will also have this flushing method.
Pro tip: girls, if you’re wearing pants… best hold it.
3. You will find a lizard in your bathroom
You get it: bathrooms, in general, are questionable.
4. You will find bugs* in your food
This one is pretty self explanatory. At first it will scare you, but then you will realize you’re really hungry, and you’re spending 70 baht on this chicken fried rice, and if you show the waiter they will stick their hands in your food to pull it out then walk away, and they will expect you to continue eating. My personal advice is to just pull it out yourself, pretend it didn’t happen, and move on.
*other items I’ve found in my food: hair, grey mystery meat, bones, shrimp shells… you will get over it because 9 times out of ten the food tastes delicious.
5. You will sweat more than you ever have in your life
Coming from a true blue South Carolina girl, I have never… NEVER… experienced this level of sweat. Every day is a new record. While the temperatures and humidity are pretty close to SC summers, there is no escape. 90% of places you will be on any given day don’t have air con, and if they have fans there’s a 50% chance they work.
Luckily, my classroom has plenty of fans, but when you are a dancing monkey for 30 kindergarteners– they only help so much. I’m in the process of training my body to not need air con, but let me tell you, it is an up hill battle!
6. You will be confused
Thailand is synonymous with mass chaos. The rules of the road are “there are no rules,” and Thai time is a very real thing — meaning, wear a watch if you want to be disappointed. The only way to figure out what’s going on is to realize that literally no one knows what’s going on.
The truth is, Thais operate on a different system than westerners. That is not to say it’s wrong, it’s just different — and that’s okay.
7. The people make the place.
While some days I ask myself what the hell am I doing here, and wouldn’t it be easier to just be at home where it’s fall and my body is in safe climate controlled rooms, and in restaurants with FDA grades on the windows… I’m actually in love with this place. Every person I’ve met has been so friendly, Thais and expats alike.
The people here are emotional and spiritual; they are linked to the ones around them in a way that is not found at home. While there are benefits to a western, individualistic mindset, there’s definitely something to be said for the opposite of that. They care deeply for the contentment of others and don’t sweat the small stuff. Thai people are determined to not get stressed out, and they’re successful at it!
One of my favorite Thai phrases is “mai pen rai.” It is probably best translated to English phrases like “you’re welcome” or “don’t mention it” as a response to “thank you.” However, mai pen rai can also transcend to a deeper meaning that is hard to literally translate, but would probably be best said as “no worries,” “everything is okay,” or “it will all work out.” It’s like the Thai version of Hakuna Matata.
Found an ant in your food? Mai pen rai.
A lizard crawled over your foot in the shower? Mai pen rai.
You sweat through three different outfits today? Mai pen rai.
Something didn’t go according to your plans? Mai pen rai.
Hey, you’re in Thailand — mai pen rai!