US Expat Living in Thailand - Interview With Jessica

Published: 4 Jul at 3 PM
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Filed: Interviews,Thailand
With a slight case of insanity and spirit of adventure, Jessica left her life in NYC to live as an expat in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Besides being often confused for a Thai, this Asian-American gets to experience a unique side of Thailand with her job in an NGO focused on indigenous and hill tribe child rights. Her adventures have taken her cliff-diving, live shrimp eating, waterfall climbing, surfing, trekking, watergunning and a ton more. The anticipation for travels to come and her easy-to-laugh personality make the culture shock of transitioning to Thai life not so overwhelming. She's a-lovin' Chiang Mai, so check Jessica's expat blog called red mud stain (see listing here)

Meet Jessica - US expat in Thailand
Meet Jessica - US expat in Thailand

Here's the interview with Jessica...

Where are you originally from?
I'm from the California Bay Area, USA.

In which country and city are you living now?
Now, I live in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
11 months out and at least another year and a quarter to go!

Why did you move and what do you do?
So many reasons why I moved: to leap out of my comfort zone, to get away, to meet new people, challenge myself living in a vastly different culture, work in international development, do what I want in life, ride a motorbike, do things differently - et cetera, et cetera! Why Thailand specifically? Princeton in Asia, a fellowship program in the States, secured me a position with The Life Skills Development Foundation, a child rights NGO based in Chiang Mai. With the Foundation, I work on child rights policy and consult on advocacy strategy.

35km bike ride with Spirit Frame Cycling Group
35km bike ride with Spirit Frame Cycling Group
Did you bring family with you?
All alone!

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
At first, it was not much of a transition. When I arrived, it seemed to be very similar to living in San Francisco, just with a Thai twist. At about month 6, culture shock took a big crap my happy little paradise. I came here thinking I could beat it (because I had lived in Nepal 4 years ago) and that I prepared myself enough to avoid it. Nope. It was not only the big cultural differences that frustrated me (as I knew those were coming), but it was more so the little things threatening my sanity. I'm fortunate enough to have other expat friends to vent with and while I am more at peace now, there are some things I cannot bring myself to understand - both about Thai and American cultures. This world does some things wonderfully, but a lot of it is just absolutely non-sensical, which is why I love life.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Meeting people is one of the easiest and most rewarding things about living as an expat. I think I have more Thai friends than expat only because I live in a local area near work, but there are well-known "expat bars" and other hangouts all around town. I've always felt at ease introducing myself to other travelers, Thais and expats here because Chiang Mai is generally a friendly place with countless talented and inspiring people.

Friends eyeing the cuisine- beetles, crickets, worms, yum
Friends eyeing the cuisine- beetles, crickets, worms, yum
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Get into the budding art scene! Whether that be photography, canvas painting, graffiti, DJ'ing, theatre, dancing or tattooing, go for it. Being such a university town, Chiang Mai is buzzing with up and coming artists and creative thinkers. The most interesting Thais and expats I've met are in some creative field and will be happy to bring you into the scene.

What do you enjoy most about living here?
Again, it's all about the people. I find travelers tend to be very unique, quirky, intellectual and witty. It is easy to get into meaningful or just plain fun conversations with genuine characters - maybe it's because we're all sweaty and smell bad so no one cares to put up a front. Within all this social-ness, the network one creates is amazing! It's not hard to find yourself in a conversation with a world-renowned [insert occupation] and suddenly become friends with him/her.

One of my favorite things here is going to the post office! Odd, yes. Everyone hates the PO in the States - waiting forever in long lines, rude postal people and overly bright fluorescent lights - well, in Chiang Mai, the PO is friendly, quick and air conditioned. The postal guys and interns are really funny too!

How does the cost of living compare to home?
The basics of living are cheap cheap! I pay less than $100/mth for a room as big as my whole $1650/mth NYC apartment. You can eat meals for $1 and fly from North to South on $50. If you're retiring here, you'll love it. On the other hand, if you make a local wage like I do, the cost of living is about the same as living in any other major city. In Chiang Mai, a $5 meal will be expensive and shopping at an H&M is out of the question.

On our way to the hot springs in Pai
On our way to the hot springs in Pai
What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
Pollution is awful. There are no restrictions on vehicle exhaust, so sometimes I end up driving straight into clouds of black smoke. The burning season is 5x worse.

Another thing that bothers me is that there are no nighttime Thai language classes and tutors are expensive! I can't just leave work for 3 hours a day.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Don't try to buy a random Asian-looking girl you see on the street. She may not be Thai and I'm 99% sure if she isn't soliciting you, she's not a prostitute. Too many of my Thai girlfriends and myself included have fallen victim to this assumption, and it gives Western men a bad name.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Adjusting to the office culture has been the most difficult challenge by far. Respecting hierarchy, accepting micromanagement, and succeeding with very limited resources are just a few of the things making me appreciate home.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
After I returned to the U.S. from Nepal about 4 years ago, I felt empowered to make positive changes in my life. The new perspectives and confidence I had gained catapulted me onto a different path in life and I've loved every moment. Because of the changes within myself, however, I did end up naturally drifting away from some of my best friends. While sad, it is inevitable and not necessarily a bad thing. I made brilliant new friends and took risks and adventures with others I never may have before. Repatriation is uncomfortable, but if I can survive the transition to a whole new country, then I should be able to get through the reorientation period.

The jumping picture of happiness near Lod Caves, Pai
The jumping picture of happiness near Lod Caves, Pai
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Learn Thai, at least conversationally
  2. Get out of the city and hang out with locals at local Thai bars
  3. Eat a lot of mangoes and mangosteen
  4. Go on a date with a Thai person
  5. Experience Songkran and go crazy - shoot Thais, expats, kids, grandmas and cops (with water, of course!)

Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
My blog is basically my public journal. Organized into sections, I write about my work in human and child rights, travels, random adventures, personal experiences, favorite hidden getaways, best food, and artsy inspirations. Plus, there are photos to represent it all!

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
My contact info is on my blog :D

About the author

Expat Blog ListingJessica is an American expat living in Thailand. Blog description: A Thai NGO gave me the opp. to research social issues, travel across tribal regions & converse with intl leaders - all while based in Chiang Mai. This is my life - the beauty, struggle, culture shock & adventure - in the charming city of CM
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