American Expat Living in Thailand - Interview with Austin Bentz

Published: 9 Jul at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Thailand
As you may have deduced from his blog title, Austin is a white guy. He's originally from California, but beyond than that, he is a traveler, eager to see all corners of the globe, curious to see how the rest of the world lives. Change can be both exciting and terrifying. But like his grandfather once told him, “Nobody grows within their comfort zone.” This year, he'll write about his adventures, impressions, successes, and challenges of living and teaching in S.E. Asia. He'll be brutally honest (sometimes to a fault), and he can’t wait to share the experience. Austin Bentz's expat blog is called White Guy In Thailand (see listing here)

Here's the interview with Austin Bentz...

Where are you originally from?
I grew up in California in the Los Angeles area (San Pedro) and spent the past 8 years going to university and living in Santa Barbara, California.

In which country and city are you living now?
I'm currently living in Hua Hin, Thailand, which is about 3 hours south of Bangkok. It is dubbed "The King's Beach," as the royal family vacations here. For the first 5 months of my time in Thailand though, I was teaching at a boarding school in Lam Narai, which is a tiny town smack in the middle of the country. You know it's small because there's one stoplight and onlY 2 7/11s.

How long have you lived in Thailand and how long are you planning to stay?
I have been in Thailand for about 9 months now and I don't plan on leaving anytime soon. As much as I miss my family back home, I love it here and am nowhere close to being ready to leave.

Why did you move to Thailand and what do you do?
I left California for several reasons. I graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2011 with a degree in sociology and not much idea of what to do with my life. After a couple years working in the hospitality industry, I decided that living in Thailand would never be something that I regret. I came to Thailand through a education company that placed me in my teaching job. After teaching high school for one term, I now work for the company I originally came to Thailand through and now teach the TESOL certification course.

Did you bring family with you?
Although I came out here by myself, I quickly established a new family of friends who I met while completing my TESOL course which I took during my first month here. I haven't felt like I've been on my own ever since. Now I just need to convince my family back home to come and visit!

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
It was challenging at first. Navigating the language barrier and differences in culture are always interesting, but in a place like Thailand where everyone is always smiling, it is not nearly as intimidating as other countries I've visited. Plus I've learned to embrace the stares I get from locals for being a large, 6'2" white man with a bald head and glorious beard. After 9 months, I've managed to pick up a decent amount of the language and locals are always impressed to here"falang" (white person) speak Thai.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
My situation was ideal because my first month here I was living in a dorm set up with 100 westerners taking our 120 hour TESOL course. We all split up and went to our teaching jobs after that, but we make it a point to all get back together as often as we can to catch up and swap stories.

I have made some Thai friends and I look forward to making more since I no longer live at a boarding school and my Thai language skills are slowly but surely getting better.

What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Hua Hin in an amazing spot, its a small town with a big town feel to it. It has a couple great night markets chocked full of cheap eats and cool stuff to buy. Monkey Mountain is another cool place to check out where the monkeys run wild. Keep your belongings close though, monkeys feel they look much better in our sunglasses than we do. Although I haven't been there yet, Pala-U waterfall is supposed to be awesome as well. There's 7 levels to it, just make sure to bring proper hiking shoes! The nightlife surrounding the Hilton hotel there is great too, and for those missing a taste of home, you can even get a fresh grilled bacon cheeseburger.

What do you enjoy most about living in Thailand?
It's the beautiful beaches and the cheapest and the delicious street food that hook you in right away, but it's really the people that make day to day life here the most enjoyable. Back home, you walk down the street and everyone is glued to their phones, paying no mind to anything or anyone around them. Here, being a westerner is such a novelty that people are constantly smiling at you and wanting to talk to you. I've taken countless photos with families who just come up and ask me to be in their picture with them. The land of 1000 smiles is really the perfect way to describe it here.

How does the cost of living in Thailand compare to home?
Cost of living is comparative to salary and lifestyle habits. For the most part though, everything is extremely cheap. You can find a reasonable single apartment for between $100-200 dollars a month and to pay more than $4 for a sit down meal at a restaurant is pretty rare. Yes you make less working here, but with the abundance of markets (and reasonable bargaining skills), you can get everything you need for very little. Of course big cities like Bangkok or Phuket will be more expensive, but it is still drastically less than back home.

What negatives, if any, are there to living in Thailand?
As it goes with traveling to any foreign country, navigating the language barrier can be difficult. You have to do a lot of miming and pointing when interacting with the locals, but Thai people on the whole are extremely accommodating and willing to help out travelers.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to Thailand, what would it be?
Keep an open mind. If you come to Asia and expect life to work exactly the same as it does back home, you will become easily frustrated. When it comes to dealing with culture shock, it is purely mental. If you start looking for things to complain about, you will have a bad time. But if you come here with an open mind and willing to embrace the differences between our completely different cultures, you will become a wiser person for it and gain a greater perspective on the world. When in doubt, just smile and people will do their best to help you out.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
The most difficult for me was living at a boarding school for 4 months. As much as I loved all of my students and the teaching experience, I was still the only westerner at my school, which was a 20 minute drive from the closest town (which still only had one stoplight). Loneliness is inevitable, but it is nothing that a quick nap and endless smiles around me couldn't cure. Plus as the only white guy at my school, I was a freaking rockstar amongst the students.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
I have heard from numerous people that the culture shock of going home is much more extreme than the culture shock of getting here. To be honest, I'm pretty scared of the first month or so of whenever I go back home. I've traveled for extended periods of time before, and upon returning home, everything seems so bland, and a little bit boring. However, one of the few things I do miss from back home is my family, so being with them will help ease the transition. Plus, I intend to smother myself in burritos and sandwiches for days upon days.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Keep and open mind. Be prepared to experience a completely different culture and be optimistic about it.
  2. Learn some of the language. As nice as Thai people already are, if they hear you trying to speak their native tongue, they will like you that much more. At the very least, learn how to say the numbers. They are surprisingly easy (and you'll get way better prices in the markets).
  3. Travel as much as you can within the country. And not just to the places you've already heard of (Bangkok, Phuket, etc). Those places are catered to tourists and you will experience very little of the "real Thailand" there. Get off the grid and embrace the adventure.
  4. Meet people! The best part of traveling is that you immediately have something in common with everyone you meet. Whether it's in a hostel, in a van, or standing next to someone in the market, chances are you guys want to do the same things.
  5. Eat! And not just pad thai and fried rice. Penang curry, green curry, ga pao, pad se ew, massaman curry, the list goes on and on. And try some weird" stuff! You may be surprised. I had a scorpion last weekend that was surprisingly phenomenal. And guess what it tasted like? High fives for those who said chicken. I've also had fried frog, which isn't my favorite, but still something I'll be able to say I've had for the rest of my life. When in doubt, just try to eat what the Thai people around you are eating.
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
I use my blog as a way to share my experiences, vent frustrations, discuss the differences in culture, post photos, and to avoid being "that guy" on Facebook constantly talking about his amazing experiences :) I am always brutally honest and what I write is what I feel. If anything, it is a social commentary on my overall experience of living and teaching english in Thailand.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
I respond to any and all comments on my blog and I'm happy to lend my 2 cents on all varieties of subjects.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingAustin Bentz is an American expat living in Thailand. Blog description: Come read about my experiences teaching and living in Thailand. I'll share my impressions, successes, and struggles, and I'll be brutally honest in doing so. What I feel is what you'll read. And I post lovely photos as well :)
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