To most, Southeast Asia could be considered the land of culture shock. There is no place more different in culture and lifestyle than the other side of the world, Thailand. Even menial tasks become a shock to the senses, an adventure, simply something new. It’s truly a scary and wonderful kind of feeling.
Living in Thailand the past several months has had me ride through a rollercoaster of shock and awe that I never expected. It was a constant state of relearning how to do basic tasks in a wholly new environment, in a different and complex language. Yes, there were times where the shock was probably too much and I would hole up in my room wishing I didn’t have to invent hand signs to order the food I wanted or bargain for the smallest thing. But I wouldn’t have asked for a better experience.
The first several months were the definitive months for culture shock. I was in this new country where I didn’t speak the language and was unaccustomed to the significantly different style of education my host university operated on. Street food became my new dinner, water became a commodity on reserve, air conditioning became my new best friend and motorbikes my ill-favored enemy. I even found myself speaking far less with my stateside friends and family than I hoped. I loved the newness of my new world but found myself anxious and nervous much of the time. It was something I had expected, in a sense, but not at this magnitude.
But, as my first semester of study came to a close, I found myself growing accustomed to the Thai lifestyle. I could speak the language a fair amount, had made a handful of Thai and international friends and generally felt comfortable.
The second semester would follow and sometime during the 8th or 9th month of my time abroad, I came to the realization that I had become more than comfortable in my new lifestyle. Without sounding too sentimental or hyperbolic, I felt at home. Whether this feeling came from a good working knowledge of the language or the new friends or what have you, I can say that I began to feel just as at home in Thailand as in Kentucky.
In all, I believe that culture shock is a phenomenon that needs to be experienced and is a building block of any study abroad. Sometimes it may feel terrifying but eventually it becomes a lovely part of the new life and should be cherished. As I look towards the next month and my subsequent return to America, I hope to be able to experience the same shock upon my return.