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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Bangkok, Thailand

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What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Bangkok

Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

No cross cultural training was offered and this was a mistake!

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

The language here is Thai which is a monosyllabic tonal language with Sanskrit like characters. I did not speak it when I arrived but I have made an effort to lean which has been a worthwhile effort.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

Before I arrived I was pretty oblivious to culture shock. I thought it was something that may worry others but I was going to do business with local partners so it would not be a problem for me. Wrong!

How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

There is a great difference between my home country and Thailand and these differences were interesting and enjoyable. In the beginning there was not much business related culture shock and I think, in hind sight, that that was because my new colleagues were shielding me from it. They, like pretty much everyone else, were making me feel comfortable.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

There is no doubt that there are stages that we go through when dealing with any significant change in our lives and certainly this is true when it comes to cultural change. I think I encountered all the stages of culture shock but by this time my company had recognised what was happening and had contacted a company called Orientations (www.orientations.com) who were able to give my family and I insight into what was happening. This was a great benefit to us as they were able to guide us through the minefield of cross cultural exchange.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

I was lucky to be involved with a company that had the foresight to hire a cross cultural trainer for us. People from Orientations helped us to understand what was happening and put it into perspective for us. Even with the training provided by Orientations though I still made mistakes at work where it was difficult not to get angry sometimes when confronted by what appeared to be indifference but was actually cultural difference.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

I have come to learn that the Thais are a very forgiving people and that they will always deal with problems in a non confrontational and conciliatory way. But perhaps the thing I notice most is the Thai smile and of course the food :)

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

From a business perspective the most challenging aspect of Thai culture is the apparent lack of a sense of urgency. There is a Thai saying "mai pen rai" which loosely translated means something more than "it's ok, no problem". This relaxed and laid back attitude is perhaps the best and worst of the Thai culture

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

There are a number of cultural taboos that should be observed in Thailand. Luckily the people from Orientations told me about many of them but I still made errors. Perhaps the most common for me was the use of the "Wai" which is the prayer like gesture the Thai use to greet each other. I found that I was initiating this gesture with Thai people and as there are fairly complex rules about who should do this first and even how high the hands should be held depending on the relative seniority I cause much embarrassment to my Thai friends. Once again, Orientations was able to put me on the right track with this.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

If you are moving from a western culture to Thailand, or even if you are moving from some eastern cultures I strongly recommend that you get someone like Orientations (www.orientations.com) to help you with cross cultural training. My family and I found them to be immensely helpful from both a personal and business perspective. They have both westerns and local staff so they know what the problems are going to be before they even happen.

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