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Living in Bangkok, Thailand: An Expat Speaks Out

Alyssa Burkot graduated from Salisbury University, where she majored in international studies. She served one year in AmeriCorps after graduation and then moved to Thailand to teach English. She has been living in Mahachai, Samut Sakhon (about 45 minutes southwest of Bangkok) for seven months and will be teaching in Thailand for another full year.

Q: What’s one thing most tourists don’t know about where you live?

A: Most tourists don’t realize that Thailand isn’t all white sandy beaches and beautiful islands. The area that I live specifically is a suburb of Bangkok and is dominated by power plants and factories. There is heavy pollution and months where I don’t see blue sky. It definitely was not the ideal picture I had in my head when I first moved to this country.

Q: What’s the worst culture shock you experienced as you settled into your new home?

A: Not knowing where anything was and not being able to ask where to find everyday items was the most overwhelming part for me. Simple things like taking a bus or other public transportation proved to be a daily challenge until I could correctly pronounce where it was I wanted to go. Thai is a tonal language, so you could be saying the correct word but with a wrong inflection, and every Thai will look at you in complete confusion. I was also taken aback by how obsessed Thais are with looks and appearance. They have no problem telling someone that they are fat or ugly. To Thais this is not mean but just an obvious fact.

Q: Do you find that living in a foreign country makes you a better traveler when you visit other places? If so, how?

A: It definitely makes you a better traveler. You learn to become more patient and accepting of people and situations. The biggest thing that living here has taught me is that there is no reason to worry or make a big fuss about a situation because it will always work out eventually.

Q: Which tourist attraction in Thailand is the most overrated, and where should travelers go instead?

A: Patong, Phuket, is in my opinion the most overrated attraction in Thailand. Phuket is undoubtedly beautiful but has become a bit of a tourist trap. If one is looking for a beautiful tropical island a bit off the traditional path, I would recommend Koh Lanta. If you’re looking for a less touristy destination in the north of Thailand, I would recommend the beautiful Pai.

Q: No one should visit Thailand without tasting ________.

A: Som tum and khao neow, as it’s called in Thai, or papaya salad with sticky rice in English. It’s unripened papaya with dried shrimp and peanuts and chilis with fish sauce. It can be as spicy or not spicy as one would like.

Q: What’s the toughest thing about being an expat? The most rewarding?

A: One of the toughest things for me as an expat is the Thai language. Getting simple everyday things done can be very difficult or time-consuming if you cannot speak at least a little Thai. That said, learning and speaking Thai has been really rewarding for me. It shows the Thais that I am interested in their country and their language, which is often overlooked by the everyday tourist. The excitement and joy they get when you can speak Thai is very rewarding.

Thai people are some of the most friendly and welcoming people I have ever met throughout all of my travels. I would say the biggest reward of being an expat here is how welcoming, friendly and beautiful this country really is and how much it has to offer. I feel so lucky to be able to call this country home.

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