Interview with Expat Focus
Expat Experiences – Thailand with Samantha Pryor, Bangkok
This interview was originally published on ExpactFocus.com, here.
I’m Samantha Pryor, a Psychotherapist & Hypnotherapist, originally from the UK.
I relocated to Bangkok, Thailand in November 2010 to support my partner who had taken a 6 month secondment here. We were due to go back to the UK after the 6 months was finished, but we both loved it here and he was lucky enough to get offered a permanent job so we decided to move here permanently.
Well, after the initial 6 months I went back to the UK to sort out our lives there; we had a lot to pack up and I had planned 3 months to complete everything as we had a dog and 2 cats that would be coming to live in Thailand too. However, I soon realised that I didn’t want to be in the UK without my partner for that long, so I did it all in 6 weeks. It was a very emotional time, being away from my partner, packing up our lives in the UK & sometimes questioning what we had decided to do.
I have a 93 year old grandmother in the UK, telling her our plans and leaving her behind was probably one of the hardest decisions.
How did you find somewhere to live?
Once we had made the decision that we were going to stay in Bangkok, I started looking at property immediately. It’s not easy & a bit of a minefield initially. But luckily we found a really lovely local agent who took great care of us & would pick us up to view properties. We did find our original ‘dream’ house with her & were all set to move in on my return from the UK once renovations had been completed. However, it wasn’t to be, as whilst I was in the UK the Landlord decided to rent the house to someone else – we hadn’t paid a deposit yet & the contract was in the process of being completed. We were both devastated and my partner had the task of finding us a new place to live (as my return flight was booked and my arrival imminent) whilst also trying to focus on a new job; it wasn’t easy for either of us and Skype became a wonderful media for property discussions!
When a colleague of my partners found out what had happened to us he introduced us to another agent who was just brilliant. She listened to what we both wanted & found us the perfect house first time! I didn’t see the house until I returned to Bangkok (except for 2 photos!) and fell in love with it.
We have been in our house 1 year now and the landlord continues to be very supportive and helpful when we have any issues – during the 2011 flooding situation they were very concerned about our safety throughout and delivered sandbags when there were none available in Bangkok. Our agent has continued to be great and helps as an intermediary between us and the landlord if we have any issues. It’s been very comforting to know that we have such great support, especially when renting a property.
Are there many other expats in your area?
No. We live in a very Thai neighbourhood, which is exactly what we wanted. There are lots of gated complexes in Bangkok, which can be good for security but can also isolate you from the experience of living here. Our neighbours are far better than any security guards! Our house does have an alarm, but we have never felt the need to use it. We live in a very safe soi (street) and the locals all speak to us (in Thai and English) so we feel very comfortable here; this is home.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
Thai people are really lovely and when you make the effort to speak their language they love it (and you!) for making the effort. However, initially they can be quite scared of farang (foreigner) because we can be difficult to understand, whether speaking English or Thai, which can be frightening for them. I can appreciate this more since learning the language and being very proud of myself for speaking in my best Thai when asking for something, only to be met with a flurry of Thai words I don’t understand! But when I explain that I only speak a little Thai, they talk slowly and we get by in a mixture of Thai and English. Taxi drivers are my best source of learning and they love it when they know I can speak a little Thai as they always seem to want to teach me more! A taxi journey can be very exciting as we talk about the football (the Thai people are ardent followers of English football) food and weather.
What do you like about life where you are?
Wherever I am I will see something that makes me smile and remind me why I chose to live here. Just yesterday I saw 3 things in about a minute that had me chuckling to myself and thanking the decision we made. Bangkok is a very exciting place to live and I have seen and done things here that I would never do anywhere else. I also love the food and the great diversity of places to eat and drink; whether you want to eat street food, Thai or western, budget or hi-so or visit one of the many sky bars, there is so much choice!
What do you dislike about your expat life?
It can disconnect you from your family & friends in your ‘home’ country as it’s very difficult for them to understand what it’s like living in another country, especially when it’s somewhere that’s considered a holiday ‘hot spot’ that most people would dream of living. When you’ve made a choice to move and maybe things aren’t going well that day, it can leave you feeling really isolated and feeling far worse if you feel that you don’t have anyone to talk to. There’s an unspoken pressure that your ‘new life’ is supposed to be perfect, but life’s not like that and sometimes that can be hard to remember and for other people outside the situation to understand.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
Convenience! Bangkok is really very convenient compared to the UK. You can buy anything you need and eat anywhere you go as restaurants and food stalls litter the streets. The transport here is fantastic with so many options, it’s fast and reliable (this cannot be said for public transport in the UK) and very cheap. I can hail a taxi, bus, mototaxi or tuk-tuk anywhere in Bangkok and there will always be a way of getting to where I want to go easily and quickly.
How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?
That took me some time and was an initial frustration of mine, but that would happen anywhere when you are learning to live in a new place. In my home country I knew exactly where to go when I wanted a new sofa, pair of shoes or a t-shirt, but Bangkok is so vast that it took time to negotiate the various shopping malls and areas to find what I wanted. Sometimes that can be half of the fun, but when it’s hot it can be very tiresome and boring (I sound so spoilt!!) But now I have some great places to shop and actually don’t enjoy shopping in the UK as much anymore.
What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
I always loved Thai food, or what I thought was Thai food, in the UK. Living here though has made me realise that what I had been eating was not authentic at all. I still can’t eat anything that’s too spicy and do not enjoy feeling that my mouth is on fire (as has happened on far too many occasions!) but I can eat food that is a little spicier than I would have been comfortable with before moving here. I love Som Tam (which isn’t any good unless it’s spicy!) and Tom Yum. My absolute all time, comfort food favourite is fried rice with shrimp, but that has its downside as it can be fattening if you too much unfortunately. And sticky rice and mango is an absolute must!
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
My main advice would be to find that something that gives you a purpose. Being a supporting partner is difficult and can leave you questioning “What About Me?” In my first six months here volunteering gave me a reason to be in Bangkok as well, not just for the fact that I was supporting my partners’ career, because honestly it wasn’t enough for me; I didn’t want to resent him for having a great career and opportunity because I didn’t.
I often wonder if I will ever be lucky enough again to have this opportunity and freedom to spend time on developing ‘me’ and often suggest to clients who feel ‘stuck’ to think about what they would really like to do in the future. This may involve studying or training to accomplish something you have always wanted to do and will put you in a position to think of your own career potential.
Also, just because you have left your home country and maybe your own career, doesn’t mean that you don’t have anything to offer in your new place of residence. There aren’t always many options for supporting partners to find employment (in Thailand companies only like to employ Thai people) but there are other opportunities. Think about how you felt relocating to a new country and what help was missing when you needed it; could someone benefit from your support or knowledge?
What are your plans for the future?
To continue to develop and establish myself and my counselling practice within Bangkok so that I can be of assistance to a wider group of people.
I have also recently become aware of the online support for Expats within various websites and blogs which I have started writing for, alongside articles for my own website which I plan to make available to Expats worldwide.
I am also planning to start a support group for Expat women from the beginning of 2013.