Dear Future Peace Corps Thailand Volunteers,
You may have found the Facebook group* already and had some of your questions answered. You may not have found it, and are heading over there right now to get your questions answered. I’ll wait here for you to come back. You may have seen the common response from those of us that are currently where you will be of “Don’t worry; just relax; enjoy the States!”
I know what you are saying to yourself when you read that, because I was saying the same things this time last year; “How the hell can I relax and not worry when my entire life is going to be changing in like 100 days?!?!” And I will grant you that. So I’m not going to tell you to jai yen yen (that’s how you say “chill out” in Thai, and you will probably hear it a lot, so really those responses are just preparing you for Thailand anyway).
But here is what you can do. You can go out and eat all of the cheese. You aren’t going to find much of it here, and when you do it will be a splurge that is completely worth the change in bowel movements. Drink your favorite beverage. Be it your friend’s home-brewed IPA, a tall glass of lemonade or Diet Coke. You won’t find any of those here. Go eat a variety of ethnic foods. Thai people are not very adventurous eaters; you won’t find the variety of food options here unless you take a trip to places that farings frequent.
On that note, nod and smile politely when your friends, family members and strangers tell you about their amazing vacation to Thailand. And then forget most of what they tell you. Most of their recommendations are going to be out of your budget. And once you have one foot in Thai culture, if you do get a chance to visit those places, you are going to be looking at everything around you with a different set of eyes.
Practice pantomiming everything that you say. Sometimes, even when you think you are saying everything correctly, you have a tone incorrect and some Thai people will not understand you. Practice smiling whenever you talk. Practice smiling when you are bored. Practice doodling in your notebook; there will be lots of meetings that you don’t understand.
Get used to sitting with someone in silence because you don’t know how to say what you want to say to them in a way that they will understand. Get comfortable with understanding nothing that is happening around you. Get in the habit of buying trinkets or food to give to people whenever you go anywhere. Get ready to spend two and a half months being exhausted constantly because your brain can’t quite process everything that is happening. But don’t worry, you will have a reprieve at the end of Pre-Service Training because you will move to site and become truly immersed in the leisurely Thai life.
Practice being alone. I think it’s harder if you haven’t had a chance to know what it’s like to only be able to rely on yourself. But also spend time with everyone you love. Show them how to Skype and set up a clock on Thai time for them. Practice your sarcasm and gallows humor. It is often what gets you through the toughest days. But also, watch a lot of Three Stooges so you can develop a healthy appreciation of slapstick comedy and you can laugh along with your Thai friends at what they think is the funniest part of the whole movie.
Ride as many motorcycles as you can, because it’s forbidden by Peace Corps here. Appreciate the kindness of strangers, because it will help you survive here. Get to know your local store clerks and neighbors now, so you know how to have those kinds of conversations here.
Answering the same questions about Peace Corps now will be good practice for answering the same questions that Thai people always ask you. Get used to having a stock answer for people.
Remember all of the differences that make the US what it is. Chances are you will have to explain them to Thai people at some point.
Finally, get rid of all of your expectations. If you have them, there are going to be a number of times that you are going to have to lower them. But at the same time, you are going to be blown out of the water every time they are exceeded, because it is almost always in a way that you never could have imagined. Better to not have any at all so that you can marvel at everything.
I’m sure you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about this time next year. We’re all looking forward to meeting you in January, and we are all here for you. Until then, jai yen yen.
*Currently, PCV Thailand 126. See you there!