12 months ago, I traded the stifling heat of Thailand for the leafy safety net of West London’s suburbs. I wouldn’t say I made a bad decision. But like many expats returning from a tropical paradise, all I can think about is what I left behind. And why I left it.
Coming home was the weary culmination of a year exploring Asia and realising just how ‘safe’ I’d been playing my life. My passport was stamped to shit, my visa was running out and everything about Asia was a million miles from the home that I considered my own.
It’s only when you’re clung to the back of a Cambodian tuk tuk as it cuts up a group of veering motorbikes that you start to think, “Jesus, London might be plastered in chavvy little shites, but at least it never put me through a real-life game of Mario Kart…”
It’s difficult to move to a new country. Especially when that country has such a unique and foreign culture, not to mention a whole new language. There are mistakes I made in Thailand that held me back from ever calling it home.
When you are disconnected from friends and family for the first time, you imagine what’s going on without you. You see the photos on Facebook, the news on the BBC, and you feel like you’re missing out on the lives of those closest to you.
It’s only when you get home that you realise the nature of the illusion. All that you’ve been missing is a semi-occasional ‘catch up’ where everybody shares how little has actually changed. Rarely is it worth waiting for.
It’s a year since I arrived back in London and the only noticeable change is my own rising intolerance to the mundanity of these same old empty streets.
I am paying £1500/month to rent a house full of shagged fixtures, albeit in an area with good schools and a reasonable commute to Central London. It would be nigh on perfect if I had to commute, or if I had kids. But I don’t, and I won’t, so what in the heck am I doing here?
That’s the question I’ve been asking. And that’s why I’ve decided to do the sensible thing… and move back to Thailand.
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may be starting to sense a pattern.
‘He gets bored, he bitches about it, he moves to the other side of the world, he rinses and repeats.’
That’s pretty close to the truth. But there are lessons I’ve learnt, things I will do differently.
Admittedly, breakfast on the beach in Koh Samui won’t be one of them:
So what did I learn?
Well, if you’re thinking of putting a boot through your apartment and escaping to a sunnier part of the world, these reminders will do you no harm.
Adopt the country as your own.
It doesn’t work otherwise. The reason I failed to settle in Thailand was because I never really tried.
I was guilty of treating it as an extended holiday rather than a permanent move. Small decisions like decorating my apartment, or buying new furniture would turn in to a personal revolt. I wasn’t fully committed, which is the equivalent of embracing a life in transit.
You need to put in the effort to make your home feel like home, not simply a residence where you’re staying for a short period of time. And if you work from home too, that means pimping out a proper office. Not getting by on the tiny bloody dressing table that serviced me in Sukhumvit.
Learn the language.
My target is to be semi-fluent in Thai (speaking it, not writing it) within 3 months of touching down. The difference language makes to your overall happiness is incredible. Not being able to communicate is a real pain in the balls. It’s like a wedge between you and the city.
Even though Bangkok is an easy place to get by without speaking Thai, it’s impossible to fully enjoy the quirks and sideshows if you can’t speak the native tongue.
I’ll be taking a year of language classes in Bangkok. It’s dirt cheap (only £500), and it gets me the education visa that takes care of another big stress…
Visa issues are a bitch.
Oh yes they are.
How do you settle abroad if you don’t know where your next visa extension is coming from?
It’s frustrating enough having to exit Thailand every 90 days to get a new visa, but the situation is even worse when you have no guarantee that said visa application will be accepted. I had my extension denied in Singapore and was forced to choose between an education visa, or returning to London. I eventually chose London.
If you’re going somewhere with the intention of settling for the short to mid term future (1-3 years), you better have your visa path mapped out like a hawk – or be prepared to relocate within 14 days and lose your existing deposits.
Make an effort socially.
When you relocate as a couple, there’s less pressure to push yourself in to social circles and get to know new people. You share experiences with each other.
While that is nice, I definitely want to spend more time meeting new people in Bangkok – and to network with the strong expat community. You’ve got to make friends and connections for any city to feel like home. As a couple, it’s easy to unintentionally insulate yourself from all the meetups and events that are going on around you.
This blog gets a ton of traffic from Thailand, so it’ll be great to catch up with a few more marketing scumbags when I get the chance.
If you miss ‘home’, visit it.
By speaking to a lot of expats you will notice a recurring trend. They move to Thailand, they move back home, and then they move to Thailand for good.
Sometimes this is down to visa issues, but more often it’s a case of homesickness followed by the realisation that home isn’t what it once was.
It’s not just expats that encounter the problem.
Even students who’ve enjoyed the time of their lives at University can suffer from boredom and unrest after returning to their hometowns. You learn a lot about yourself in the time away and when you return, you’re not quite the same person.
Often the place where we grew up isn’t the place where we feel we belong. But we’re always going to miss the friends and family that we associate with that place.
This time, when I’m feeling homesick, I’ve learnt enough to realise that I can fix it by visiting home for a couple of weeks and catching up with everybody. There’s no need to move back for good.
Nothing crazy or otherworldly will happen while I’m gone. It never does.
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