Coming Home; The Biggest Culture Shock of them All

I’m now back home after what was an amazing, life changing experience in Thailand. I know that the people I met will be friends when I come back to San Diego for school and the life lessons I learned will stick with me forever.

After starting the program in Chiang Mai, we spent the remainder the last 5-6 days in Bangkok. Bangkok is, as my former JMS teacher would say, is an “entirely different animal.” Bangkok is much more populated than Chiang Mai and a lot more busy.

Every night the city streets would be bustling with street vendors and tuk tuks and taxi drivers.

“It was amazing all of the minuscule details you notice when you’re not running through your day, planning the next five steps ahead of you. “

Our tours were amazing, we visited many temples like Wat Arun (pictured), the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho and The Golden Buddha. These temples felt like another world. It was almost like being in Alice in Wonderland when exploring the architecture and intricate designs of every building.

We also visited a few malls in Bangkok. The highlight of visiting the mall for me was seeing a McLaren display on the sixth floor of the mall.

It was bittersweet to realize that the trip was coming to a close. I became really good friends with many people who were strangers at the beginning of the trip. Together we experienced so much: tears, laughter, adventure and unfortunately elephant poop.

When traveling abroad, a lot of people take note of the culture shock they face when they reach a certain destination.

In Thailand, as I expected, not every toilet worked perfectly and there were cockroaches and other bugs that I had never seen before. But the physical aspects of Thailand weren’t a shock to me. The culture shock that I really faced was how their society worked and the concepts of karma and mindfulness that stem from Buddhism.

In America, or at least where I’m from, everything is so go go go go go. You have to go to work, go to school, be on time and plan your entire life out until you die. It’s like a race of who can get to the top without dying trying first. People work so hard to gain material items and many don’t take a minute to pause and think about what really matters.

In Thailand, I was able to observe people during their daily lives. One time we were at a massage shop where ladies would just sit outside their store and hang out until a customer came by. No appointments needed.

When we were at the mall, people would relax and let their children play rather than being a helicopter parent.

Even at restaurants guests are able to sit and chat at their table as long as they want — you have to ask for the bill instead of having it handed to you after taking five bites of food.

The Thai way that I observed is so much more “go with the flow” than so many American societies.

This really made me stop and think and reflect upon my life. Am I doing what is best for me or just what everyone expects of me? Am I doing things that truly make me happy? Am I taking time to breathe?

Meditation and breathing exercises were another practice that we learned during our study abroad program. One afternoon — one of my favorite assignments — we walked around a park and merely observed in silence. It was amazing all of the minuscule details you notice when you’re not running through your day, planning the next five steps ahead of you.

What the day at the park made me realize is that I know that where I’m from is just as beautiful and intricate. It’s only that I don’t take the time to notice it when I’m home because I’m too busy worrying about things that don’t actually matter.

That’s why studying abroad is so vital. You are able to take a break from your current situation and really look back and reflect on what you’ve been doing in your life and how you can change it for the better.

Even on the plane ride home, I noticed myself trying to plan out when I’ll see my friends, when I’ll see my parents and when I’ll apply for my job. But then I realized I was planning and not living.

In Thailand I learned how to live in the moment. Even if it takes a while I’m trying to adopt these practices into my lifestyle at home as well.

So no, some bugs and only eating noodles and rice for three weeks didn’t bother me. But learning how to breathe, live and forgive changed my life forever.


Sofia Bert is a second year journalism/public relations major. She is traveling to Chiang Mai and Bangkok, Thailand on the College of Extended Studies program Intercultural Communication in Thailand.

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