I Don't Go Through Culture Shock Except When I Do
I’ve been warned about it since day one. Since before day 1. It’s inevitable they say. It happens to everyone they say.
I consider myself a somewhat traveled person. And yet I had never experienced culture shock before. Not when I moved to Italy- alone, jobless and homeless; not when I traveled through Europe or Asia or South America. I know it’s a real thing but I’m experienced and that shit doesn’t happen to me. It sounds like something weak. And I don’t do weak. I don’t like to admit that I’m sick, I don’t like to lose at even the silliest of games; I don’t go through culture shock.
But then I took my first solo trip to China. And holy shit- did I experience culture shock to its fullest extent. I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back- that’s exactly what it was. I was angry. A lot. At the smallest differences. I was so mad at the country and every little thing set me off. It was exhausting! Hate is such a draining emotion. China wouldn’t let up though, it refused to let my hatred win. The sites were unbelievable and the travelers that I met made it all worth it. But when I was alone, I was still irritated by every little thing China did. “Ugh. It rains in China.” “Ugh, I can’t believe that guy did that.” “Ugh. Why is this like this?!” When I finally came around during the middle of my trip- it was like the sea parted and everything opened up and became inexplicably beautiful. I was able to see the country for what it was and it was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen and done. I embraced the entire rest of the experience, frustrated with myself for having wasted some of it. But in the end it made it so much better. Having gone through the hard parts resulted in an appreciation that I never could have come to on my own.
And so now. Now I’m being hard core prepped to experience it again. I get to Thailand and I live in a bubble of farangs and friends constantly surrounding me and I am continuously warned that it will soon pop. There are people running around like chickens with their heads cut off about placements (and most of them rightly so), but I had no doubts; no fears; nothing! This was why I was here and I never second guessed it. As people switched around and started going off in their respective directions there was still some shifting happening. I began to think- should I have questioned anything? I don’t even have enough information to hate my placement, should that be a red flag in itself? The thought of going through those same awful feelings again is a dread that I can’t explain. Hating everything new and always being in a bad mood doesn’t sound like something I want to happen in a small town where everyone is apparently going to know who I am.
But I push those thoughts aside and I get here. My apartment is ADORABLE. It has everything I need and I love it. Somewhere I can really call home. The town has a scenic lake and a bike path for exercise which is perfect for me! The other English teachers are great and my landlady has been extremely helpful. On the first night, she takes us around the night market, showing us food and important shops.
And the panic begins. Of course, food would be my trigger. There is nothing that I want to eat. And I REALLY enjoy Thai food! But everything looks a little sketchy and there is nothing that I want. I settle on Pad Thai and it’s not very good. Later I try soup and I’m fairly certain I was ripped off for being a foreigner. Panic. Sheer panic sets in. Food is my everything. If I can’t find food that I enjoy, what’s the point, really? (But seriously.) I had this romantic idea in my head that I would become a regular at a small restaurant. I would eat there every day and the owners would get to know me. I would have a small Thai family and endless free food. We would trade English for Thai lessons and my social media game would SKY ROCKET with all of these cute pictures of this adorable Thai family. I would have stories for DAYZ about what they taught me and the hilarious things we experienced together.
Ok fine. So like, maybe I’m naïve. Maybe that was a stupid thought. But is that really so hard to imagine happening?
It snowballs from there. “Why am I here?” “What am I even doing? This is so pointless.” The terror sets in; the doubt; the hopelessness. Questions build on each other one after the next and it all leads down a negative road. Everything that I’ve been told is wrong. The town doesn’t pay attention to me. Nobody cares I’m here. Nobody tells me anything. I haven’t met anyone new. I don’t get my school schedule until I SHOW UP on Day 1 and I haven’t even been told what time to show up! Why does nobody care about these things and why is everyone else on Facebook so happy?! What am I doing wrong?! School starts tomorrow and stress of preparing to be unprepared is making me poop my pants. Which is not helping things.
This isn’t a story about how all of those thoughts came and went. There is probably nothing worse than reading a story about something you’re concerned about only to find that the author has solved their problem at the end. “I’ll never find love.” End of the story she’s married. “I hate my job, I’m quitting and taking a leap of faith.” Soon after they have landed some unfathomable dream job on an island. THAT ISN’T HELPFUL. BECAUSE I STILL HAVE THE PROBLEM. It’s not about how to cope and it’s not about how to overcome.
There isn’t much to do but wait it out. I’m thankful that this time around I know what’s happening and I don’t want to throw in the towel. But I don’t know when it will pass. And I don’t know how I’ll feel once it does. Most likely this will turn out to be the best thing I’ve done with my life so far- but the chance that that doesn’t happen is also a very real possibility.
For now, I just put on music and go to my happy place. I surf the internet and talk to friends. I’m not afraid to feel these things anymore. I refuse to feel guilty for being unhappy in a place that most people call paradise. Never feel guilty for how you feel. It’s how you feel. And no amount of thinking or hoping will change that. The most you can do is accept it, talk about it, and deal with it. Perhaps Thailand has been given unfair expectations. It has already given me so much and I keep asking for more. Maybe that’s me being selfish. Whatever it is, it has to run its course. I just have to have faith and keep going. If I don’t give up on Thailand, I know Thailand won’t give up on me.