Central Plaza Pinklao is a shopping mall on Borommaratchachonnani Road in Bangkok Noi District, Bangkok, Thailand

FAQ for Living Abroad — Thailand Edition

Before coming to Thailand, I didn't do much research on how life  there would be because I did not want to arrive with any particular expectations in mind; I wanted everything to be a surprise. 

 

 

June 17, 2020
• by
Jeremiah Teems-Robinson

My name is Jeremiah, and this semester I am participating in the Marshall International Exchange Program at Thammasat University. This blog post serves to explore and debunk stereotypes people may have about living in Thailand.

The collapsible information below serves to provide answers to important questions that any student may have about the Thailand experience.

Stereotypes and Misconceptions 

Before coming to Thailand, I didn't do much research on how life  there would be because I did not want to arrive with any particular expectations in mind; I wanted everything to be a surprise.  As  a result, coming into this program, all I had to base my  thoughts on were preconceived ideas. For example, I thought that  Thailand would be a very rural environment, that there would be a small population of English speakers, that it would not be as safe as the U.S.,   and that it would be an extreme culture shock between I and the native Thai people.

Reality

Although  there are rural parts of Thailand, most of them are not in Bangkok. Bangkok is the most populated city in Thailand with the most metropolitan regions, filled with hotels, apartments, restaurants, street food, night markets and shopping centers. Within these shopping centers are multi-layered, humongous malls that include some of the most well known fast-food chains from the U.S. (e.g. Dominoes, McDonalds, KFC, and much more).

After the three months that I lived in Thailand, I can say that there are many English speakers there. Even though most of them exhibited a beginner’s level of understanding, it was enough. Even in the other provinces that were not as industrialized as Bangkok, there were always one or more people that could speak at least a little bit of english.

In terms of the culture shock,  one prepares themselves mentally, and understands that engaging in the language  boundary  is a big part of the journey long before they submit the application. Therefore, once you arrive in the foreign country of your choice, you just adapt and become more comfortable as your time abroad goes on.  For me personally, I found that there was a bigger culture shock between myself as a U.S. student, and students from other "Western countries",  like the UK, Spain, and the Netherlands. In hindsight, I thought that we would have more in common, but there are just as many differences amongst Western students’ personalities and habits,  as there are to the Thai students. When making international friends, just keep an open-mind to everyone’s different backgrounds, and be cognizant of their traditions.

FAQ

Explain the differences between Chiang Mai, Bangkok and Phuket?

Bangkok is the hub of business, the expat community, and city life.

Phuket has a lot of tourists destinations, but they are more spread out throughout the province because some are on nearby Phuket islands.

Chiang Mai is good for religious sightseeing, and seeing exotic animals. This is because the terrain is more mountainous and full of forests, while Phuket is more beach-like with higher temperatures and aquatic life.

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Cost of living differences?

Thailand is very affordable, the exchange rate 1 USD = 32 Thai baht (constantly in flux).

Cooking at home is not very common, most apartments do not come with a kitchen. Therefore, constantly buying street food can become a costly expense if you eat a lot. Money goes far, but stay cautious of  your own spending habits. 

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What is the acceptable attire in Thailand? Would you say they are more conservative or liberal?

Based on my own,  and my classmates’ general observations of people, and how they were looked at by Thai people, women tend to dress more conservatively, whereas men are allowed to dress more freely. For instance, a lot of the women in my classes would say that they would regularly notice older Thai women staring at them for having their shoulders exposed. So if that will bother you too much, that may be something to consider. If not, then that is fine as well. Who cares what they think. 

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What serves as the normal modes of transportation around the city or country?

The normal modes of transportation range from public buses, taxis, Ubers, metro systems and train stations. Their version of Uber is called Grab, and you can access it through any App Store. Transportation is extremely cheap/affordable, and personal drivers can be hired easily.

The terrain in Bangkok slightly unleveled for walking, remain cautious. 

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What did night life look like for you?

Bangkok is the best place for nightlife due to its large expat community. Some ethnic festivals even take place to celebrate other cultures.

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What did the expat community look like? Were there any hubs you could go to to meet other foreigners?

The expat community is very large and there are many ethnic groups that are integrated into Bangkok society. Check out the Sugar Club for the Afro-Thai experience.

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As a person of color, how do you feel you were generally received during your time in Thailand?

I felt that I was generally received very openly, and that there were very few instances of ignorance. 

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Is healthcare affordable?

Medicine is very affordable at pharmacies, and illnesses can be easily treated (look to USC ISOS INSURANCE to see what it covers).

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What would you say are some of the greatest social differences you faced in Thailand?

In Thailand, the greatest social difference was understanding the importance of  language tones and inflections because they have different interpretations within the Thai Language. Thai people generally ignore or find humor  in foreigners who try to speak Thai.

Also, be aware that Buddhism is very tied into social norms/expectations. Respect is emphasized in greetings, and there is higher expectations for the way you address government officials.

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What did you dislike the most about Thailand ?

The humidity was daunting,  the mosquitoes loved me, and there was limited access to places to play basketball.

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What did you like the most about Thailand?

The things that I liked the most about Thailand were the food being phenomenal, the people were extremely friendly, and most things were inexpensive. In addition to such great accommodations, I loved how  in Thailand there was a high accessibility to a variety of activities to participate in. Any thing you can think of doing could be reached through any type of transportation.

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