a story about bad grammar and non-existent punctuation and my TEFL adventures
In 2003 I was happily living the TEFL teacher/adventurer lifestyle in Thailand, when a funny thing happened. Time passed. Suddenly it was 2005. The devastating tsunami had come and gone, Asia had been hit by bird flu, and Snoop Dogg was still dropping it like it was hot. I had been living in Thailand for 2 years. It had gone by so quickly yet it had taken so long. So confusing, I didn’t know how to feel about it.
But there came a day, a day like so many others, when I finally realised what was going on with me and my head finally realised what my heart had been trying to say for quite a while. It was time to go. It had been coming for a while and it was probably obvious to anyone who saw me lose more and more of my will to live every time a new class jumped around on the red, blue and yellow floormats, but it only made sense to me when I found myself crying in the school bathroom during third period one Tuesday. An embarrassing hot mess.
Thinking back, I can now see that I was exhausted. Like so many others who have experienced this, I had no idea how broken I was until I literally could not hold myself together anymore. While I know burnout is nothing new to the teaching community, I think teaching in a foreign country can take it to the next level.
There are actually 4 stages of culture shock and if we look at them here then maybe you’ll understand what I’m saying:
Stage 1: The Honeymoon phase
Thailand is AMAZING! The weather is great, the food is fantastic, the people are so friendly. It’s so wonderful being in a place where no one knows you or even understands you – you can reinvent yourself! My job is so rad – these kids are all so cute!
Stage 2: Shock
Thailand is great, but it gets a bit hot sometimes. The food is ok – there’s a lot of rice though. And sometimes people are a bit too friendly – why do they always want to touch me? Why do my kids have to be so up in my face all the time? Why can’t they speak English yet? I miss South Africa. PROUDLY SOUTH AFRICAN! I go to all the sports bars and watch rugby with other South Africans and I am so happy I can speak to people in English and I don’t have to shout at everyone to shut up all the time.
Stage 3: The Adjustment phase
I’ve been here a while now and things are good again. I’ve made some Thai friends who are teaching me to speak Thai, which is a beautiful language. I’ve been to a few really awesome places, seen some amazing temples. It’s still unbelievably hot and the streets are still kinda smelly but I have a great lifestyle. Who else gets to take a motorbike taxi to work?
Stage 4: Acceptance or Acculturation
I now speak Thai. I can spot a tourist a mile off and I laugh at them as they drink a bucket of whiskey and wonder why they are so drunk. I happily eat streetfood and I’ve forgotten what cheese tastes like. When someone takes a photo I have to supress the urge to hold my fingers in a peace sign. I love most things Thai but this place is not home. I miss home.
Add to that 24 months of hard work and hard play and I was done. As much as Thailand had become a part of my self, it was time to pack my bags and eat airplane food.
*There is actually another stage of culture shock: re-entry shock. But that’s a whole nother story…