Cultural Life

Choosing to live in a different country that is full of new sights, sounds, tastes, and smells is a significant endeavor. While it will undoubtedly be a life changing experience to live in Thailand, it is important to be aware of the effects that living in a different culture can have.

At first, you will probably feel very much like a tourist enjoying all these new things and feeling full of energy to see it all. After a few weeks, however, you may find yourself with less energy and even less enthusiasm. In fact, you may feel somewhat disoriented, as the new things change from being exciting to seeming strange and different.

Culture Shock
This feeling of disorientation, of feeling somewhat lost and alone, is called culture shock. This is a very natural phenomenon that can be expected when a person moves suddenly from a familiar environment to a new setting where such things as language, food, clothing, and even manners are very different. Recognizing it will help you to understand what is happening and hopefully overcome it more quickly.

There seem to be four distinct phases in culture shock. The first phase is Excitement. This can also be referred to as the Honeymoon Phase. Everything is wonderful and mysterious and there is no end to foods, places, and cultural norms to be explored.

Excitement Phase
After the Excitement phase, you may find yourself with less energy and perhaps more interested in seeing a movie or reading a book than in going out for a walk. You may find yourself thinking more about home and making comparisons between your home and Thailand. You may also feel lonely away from your family and friends. This is the next stage of culture shock referred to as Withdrawal.

Withdrawal Phase
During the Withdrawal phase, you may find you have even less energy. You want to sleep all the time or eat even when you are not hungry. You may find yourself withdrawing from people and activities around you. You may even begin to glamorize your own country in your thoughts, remembering only the best things about it.

You may find yourself getting irritated over minor things, things that never seemed to bother you before. As you think about the comparisons between the two countries and their peoples, you may find yourself making value judgments, being critical because Thais do not do things the way you do them, when your way is obviously better. Problems, disappointments, and internal conflicts, along with feelings of sadness, depression, anger, hostility, or rebellion often characterize this stage.


Adjustment Phase

You can decide when to end culture shock. When you can come to the realization that you are a foreigner spending a short portion of your life in Thailand, that you are not Thai and do not have to act just like Thais do, you may be coming to the end of your culture shock. You will find that you have settled into your new routine and are more confident in dealing with your new culture. You will have learned to accept many of the cultural things and behaviors that bothered you before and will feel less isolated. 


Enthusiasm Phase

The final phase is known as the Enthusiasm phase. In this phase you feel much of the excitement that you felt at first but now will feel much more at home. You will enjoy being in the culture and function well. You will even find that you prefer some of the cultural traits in your new context over your home culture. You will also find that you have adopted certain behaviors from your new culture.  

Here are some thoughts to help you as you navigate these phases: 

  1. Keep your perspective. It is not just you - many have suffered these same feelings. Evaluate your expectations. How realistic were they? Sometimes we imagine that there will be nothing but good in our experience of Chiang Mai and Payap, but everything comes with its own problems and difficulties.
  2. Go out. Take the initiative. Learn the language. Local people may not reach out and pull you into the happenings and culture of Chiang Mai. It will be up to you to find friends, clubs, associations, and groups to get involved with.
  3. Keep an open mind. Do not judge what you see as right or wrong, but rather try to see it as simply different. Try to understand the variety of behaviors that you observe. You certainly do not have to participate in something with which you disagree, but do learn to understand it.
  4. Realize that you will often be treated as a stereotype. Foreigners everywhere are treated (at least at first) not as individuals, but as representatives of groups to which they are perceived to belong. Try not to let this discourage you. Avoid becoming angry with people who are, after all, just acting like people. And remember that you have your own stereotypes about Thais that you might wish to examine more closely.