A Different Kind of Culture Shock

April 24, 2013
I was born in Thailand. Thailand is where I feel at home, where I feel comfortable and confident. I am used to jumping on to a song taow (red taxi), squeezing in between two strangers and hopping off at the mall. I am used to bargaining at the market to get a shirt that I like, or ordering pad thai from the venders along the side of the road. The smell of smoking muu pbing (pork on the grill) and the feel of the humid heat is normal. I automatically take off my shoes when I walk into any house, including my own. I love telling bilingual jokes and I am used to the surprised looks I get from the Thais when I can speak fluently, because they don’t expect a blonde white girl to speak it. In Thailand, I am the one who is different, the one who doesn’t fit in, the American in the sea of Asians; but feeling different feels normal.
Every two years my family goes to America for the summer, and every two years my world is turned upside down. I look up and see the exhaust trails of the jets way up above me in the sky.The air seems lighter and it smells like pine trees, all the buildings are huge and clean and air conditioned. The prices of everything are three times what they were in Thailand, but there is Dr. Pepper! And Bluebell Ice-cream! And Capri Sun! And clothes, electronics, toys, bedding and everything you could imagine. People have million dollar houses, multiple flat screen TVs, and pools in their own back yard. I am amazed and horrified at the prices of food, because in Thailand, I could get a full meal and a drink for about a dollar. Kids here have their own ipads and iphones. I am awestruck at it all, but the biggest change for me is the people. There are white people everywhere. I am not tall but average, my blonde hair is no longer out of place, and speaking English no longer draws looks. I am normal. I should feel comfortable, I’m not out of place anymore, nobody is looking at me, but I feel like they are. Now I feel out of place and different. I’m not used to the boisterous laughing, or giving people handshakes and hugs when I meet them for the first time. I don’t know how to put gas in the car. I get looks when I have trouble figuring how much money to pay, because I am not used to the currency, or when I miscalculate how much I have to pay because i forgot about the tax. I know different music, different places, different celebrities, and different fashion. I can’t relate to these people who have never left their town or city.
Still, there are quite a few perks about living overseas. I get to meet people from all over the world, and I know how to adjust to different cultures and places. I have so many opportunities that I would never have in America; I have ridden elephants, I have best friends who are Korean, and Australian, and Lisu. I have been places most people see only in geography books. Still, being so different makes it hard to know who you are. I’m not Thai, but I am not American either. I am a mix of both cultures, a third culture kid.

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