The feeling has been creeping on slowly like a cold for the past few weeks.
I’ve been trying my best to combat it. I’m taking regular doses of social events, drinking lots of classroom prep, and getting at least 8 hours of Thai commuting a night, but still, even through preventative medicine, I’m homesick.
I know I shouldn’t be. I have regular access to the internet, Skype, Whatsapp, and I’m sending postcards. But frankly, I’m beginning to wonder if my internet addiction is actually fueling my homesickness. I’ve noticed in the past few weeks that I’m spending more time in my apartment with my face glued to facebook or gmail or even the Huffington Post than outside making new friends. Today I saw an issue of TIME magazine for the first time since being here, and I gobbled it down like a sickly sweet dessert. To be honest, making friends takes work, even in one’s home country, and sometimes I just don’t feel like expending the energy to talk with more people. Some days, I’m really talked out.
Additionally, being here has made me much more aware of my Western-ness. I’m an English speaker, I thought to myself today, and that categorizes me in the eyes of so many people, most of whom are not (native) English speakers. Today, for example, I received this well intentioned but unsolicited advice from a fellow (Thai) teacher while grabbing a juice in between classes:
Be careful. Don’t go outside alone, because you know, Thai people, they kill foreigners.
I smiled politely and paid for my drink. Then I left, feeling confused as to whether that was a warning or a threat.
Things like this happen all the time–not quite to that extreme (and by the way, my experience with Thai people so far couldn’t be further from this apparent “truth”), but I’m often singled out for my foreignness. Most of the time I just laugh it off, but deep down, sometimes it gets to me that I’m judged for my appearance without people bothering to talk to me first.
Then of course, there is the whole language barrier thing. Suddenly, everything I studied in my history classes makes sense. On the one hand, I’m very grateful for the opportunity to feel like I don’t belong. In this day and age, with migration and immigration and asylum seeking abounding, I can’t imagine how confused and scared and misplaced refugees, migrants and immigrants must feel in any country other than their own. And on the other hand, sometimes it’s just plain irritating.
But I’m learning a lot. For instance, I know that I can successfully direct a taxi driver to my given address with the help of a GPS and a rudimentary knowledge of Thai direction words. I know that Thai people smile in all sorts of situations that I would normally find confrontational or irrational. And I know that when the power goes out, there’s nothing you can do but pray by the light of your cellphone.
But I’m still not really getting it yet. There’s still a million things about Thailand’s bureaucracy that don’t make sense to me, and I wonder if they make sense to anyone else either. And I still marvel at how the sky can just open up and pour rain sideways until the roads start to smell of sewage.
All this, and I’m only on month two.
I’m trying to find a way to wrap this up, but I’m not finished yet. I’m struggling to give myself encouraging words. How do you deal with homesickness? Does it help to talk to your family more or less? Does it help to get out in the real world, close the laptop, and go make a new friend?
Or does it help just to get a good night’s sleep?
I’d really love to know. For now, I’m looking forward to the upcoming break; hopefully I’ll finally get to go exploring.