Expat Interview With Alana - US Expat Living in Thailand

Published: 30 Apr at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Thailand
Alana is a twenty-something traveler trying to figure out life one place at a time. Originally from Seattle, she’s been living, teaching, writing and traveling in Thailand and Southeast Asia for the past two years with no plans to ‘settle down’ anytime soon. Check out more of her stories, photos and experiences of what it’s like to be a young expat in Asia on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. You can also find Alana’s travel tips on one of the largest women’s travel sites, Wanderlust & Lipstick. Alana's expat blog is called Paper Planes (see listing here)

Meet Alana - American expat lin Thailand
Meet Alana - American expat lin Thailand

Here's the interview with Alana...

Where are you originally from?
Seattle, Washington.

In which country and city are you living now?
Chiang Mai, Thailand

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
I’ve been away from home for about two years and living in Chiang Mai for about a year and a half. I never thought I would stay this long but am finding it hard to leave!

Why did you move and what do you do?
After living and traveling abroad for a little bit after college, I knew I wanted to spend more time living in another country. For two years I stayed at home working and saving before making the change. Initially I came over to Thailand, got my TEFL certification, then traveled through Southeast Asia before coming back to Chiang Mai to teach English. Now I’m figuring out what’s next…

Grand Palace Bangkok
Grand Palace Bangkok
Did you bring family with you?
Nope –I didn’t have any family or friends able to make a long term move/commitment to traveling and I wasn’t willing to wait around in hopes that someone might make the leap with me.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Overall it was pretty easy. Of course there were some low or frustrating moments, but for the most part I really enjoyed and relished in the change of scenery, weather, culture, language and people. I had been drained with my work and situation at home - coming to Thailand was exactly what I needed at that time. It shook me out of my funk and I felt like I was actively participating in my life again instead of just going through the motions. Because the excitement and positivity of the overall change I really enjoyed the transition period rather than finding it difficult.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
This actually was one of the only things I found frustrating and sometimes disheartening. Chiang Mai is pretty small and has a large expat community, so I thought by working at several places I would surely meet people (both expats and Thais) that I connected with, but actually I didn’t find it that easy. For about the first nine months I felt like I had met many people living here, but really only one or two real friends that I enjoyed spending my time. I was fine doing things on my own, but confused as to why it was so difficult to truly connect with people.

Now while I definitely have a better group, I still don’t have many Thai friends. There are a number of barriers that are difficult to cross. Interestingly enough, I’m dating a Thai, but other than that, my social circle is mainly expats.

Khao Ka Moo Chiang Mai street stall
Khao Ka Moo Chiang Mai street stall
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
I love all the outdoor markets, eating at street stalls and simply being able to ride around everywhere on my motorbike. The area surrounding town is beautiful, filled with hills, jungle and rice fields, and I could never get tired of going out for a drive or day trip.
What do you enjoy most about living here? There’s a sense of freedom and the idea that anything is possible. Things usually aren’t as rigid as back home and people can use their resources more creatively to create a life they want. Part of this comes from the lower cost of living that many expats are used to, it frees up a lot of time and energy when you don’t have to worry about money and can still live comfortably, but also the rules are often more flexible here. Everything is about negotiation instead of set expectations. That can take a bit of getting used to, but it also opens up possibilities.

How does the cost of living compare to home?
The cost of living in Thailand compared the States is much, much less. My daily needs are rarely more than $10 - I’ve been completely spoiled with cheap accommodation and good food.

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
To get home it takes between 24-30 hours and one expensive plane ticket. It also can get really hot, something that I’m still not completely used to coming from the Pacific Northwest, and the mosquitoes never seem to stop biting!

Longtail boat on Chao Praya river - Bangkok
Longtail boat on Chao Praya river - Bangkok
If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Realize that things don’t work here like they do at home. Once you’re able to accept that things will go more smoothly.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
I think just the usual – I’m choosing to be here, but that also means I’m choosing to be away from my family and friends who have always known me. I’ve missed plenty of weddings and special dates that I definitely would have attended if I had been in the U.S. There’s always a trade off.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
In ways I think returning home in the future will be more difficult than when I moved here. When I came to Thailand I had no expectations, but I will going back home. That combined with the fact that I’ve now seen so many more ways people live their lives, I think it will be difficult returning to a place that is relatively the same as I left it, when I’ve changed so much.

Lanterns during Loy Krathong Chiang Mai
Lanterns during Loy Krathong Chiang Mai
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Be patient – Things will go wrong, you won’t understand what’s happening around you and will get frustrated, but if you’re patient everything ends up working itself out.
  2. Ask for help – Chances are there are plenty of expats who have been in your position before with the same questions, problems or frustrations. There are a ton of Facebook Groups made up of expats living in Chiang Mai where people post everything from questions and concerns, to new apartments and special event information. If you ask for help, you’ll probably get it and save yourself some headache for trying to figure things out on your own.
  3. Learn the language – I’m still shocked about the number of people who live here who can barely even order food. It’s embarrassing. Even if you don’t have to use the native language to get by, still try. You’re choosing to live in the country, and a country’s language and culture are completely intertwined. Knowing how to speak and read the language around will open up your world and understanding of the place.
  4. Limit your tie with ‘home’ – It’s important to keep in touch with people and happenings back at home, but if you spend too much time trying to stay connected you’ll miss out on your current life.
  5. Make local connections – It sounds obvious, but isn’t always simple to do. However, the sooner you’re able to make connections and build relationships with those in your new community the better. Having someone to turn to who knows the area better than you is invaluable.

Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
Paper Planes is a travel and expat blog geared toward twenty-somethings wanting to experience the world beyond their own front door. I focus on everyday living, culture, language and long-term travel as well as provide a resource for newer or solo travelers (particularly women).

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
People can reach me via Facebook and Twitter, or contact me via my blog.

Alana blogs at http://www.thepaperplanesblog.com which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. Paper Planes has an ExpatsBlog.com listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Alana, please also drop her a quick comment below.

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Comments » There is 1 comment

JR Riel wrote 11 years ago:

Great interview! I enjoy reading your blog, Paper Planes, so it was refreshing to get more background info about your adventures from another site. Keep on living the adventure!

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