6 Lessons I Learned While Teaching in the “Land of Smiles”

February 16, 2015
6 Lessons I Learned While Teaching in the "Land of Smiles"

Traveling has always been a part of my life. Throughout my travels in Europe, I was exposed to a variety of cultures, met a range of interesting people, and had many eye-opening experiences. I knew I wanted to live abroad again but I knew I didn’t just want to travel, I wanted to be a part of a community and immerse myself in a new culture. It was simply a matter of where, when and how.

On my 25th birthday, after working as an educator in New York City and before heading to graduate school, I decided to move to Thailand to teach English. I got a job teaching at a small, government school in Sukhothai, a rural town in Northern Thailand. Sukhothai translates to “the dawn of happiness,” and is known for its beautiful 700-year-old ruins and its historical significance as the nation’s first kingdom.

I’ve been living in Thailand for a little over three months and I’ve learned how to catch cockroaches, protect myself from mosquitos, eat extremely spicy food, successfully ride a motorbike, and even speak a bit of Thai.

The most important things I am learning, however, are the lessons that are more widely applicable. Here are six things that I’ve learned while teaching in Thailand:

6 Lessons I Learned While Teaching in the “Land of Smiles”

1. Expect the unexpected

During our orientation day in Thailand, we had a culture class, and the first thing our instructor told us was that Thais do not plan, so we shouldn’t expect to either. After living here for three months, I have definitely become a more patient and flexible person. Things change last minute all the time, and although it was frustrating at first, it has allowed to me to let go of expectations and the need for control and simply let things happen.

6 Lessons I Learned While Teaching in the "Land of Smiles"

2. Slow down and find inner peace

Thailand is a very spiritual place; about 96% of the country is Buddhist. There was something fascinating to me about Buddhism, so I wanted to learn more and embrace my spirituality in a different way. When I first arrived, I started accompanying my Thai coworkers to temple. They taught me how to kneel down in front of the Buddha, pray, and make offerings to the monks.

Now, I find myself driving my motorbike to temple after school just to sit in front of the Buddha. Life in Thailand is a lot slower than life in New York City. By taking some time to stop, think and pray, I have found many moments of peace and solace.

3. Live with “good hearts and many smiles”

When I asked one of my students to describe his country, he said, “Thailand has good hearts and many smiles.” Thailand is known as the “Land of Smiles,” and in my time here, I’ve learned it lives up to its name. From my students, teachers, neighbors, and even strangers, I have found that Thais are some of the kindest, friendliest and most open people I have ever met.

Every single time I smile at someone, he always smiles back. If I am lost or need help, sometimes I don’t even have to ask; someone will just show up by my side.

4. Be selfless

I am always in awe of how helpful my students are to each other. They encourage, support, and help one another if one of them is struggling. During one of my first classes, a student stopped working on an assignment to help his friend who did not understand. I stood there watching them, taken aback by the child’s kindness and patience.

This 9-year-old boy taught me a lesson of selflessness, of putting another person in front of yourself even if it sets you back a little. Although I am teaching them English, I have a feeling they will end up teaching me more than I will teach them.

6 Lessons I Learned While Teaching in the “Land of Smiles”

6 Lessons I Learned While Teaching in the "Land of Smiles"

5. Build a puak

Thai culture is centered on community and family. During our orientation week, our instructor explained to us how important it was to have a puak in Thailand.

A puak is similar to a network–people who will be there for you and will have your back no matter what. In my three months, I have built a great puak consisting of coworkers, neighbors, and some local townspeople.

They have really gone above and beyond for me; they’ve driven me to distant places, helped me with paperwork, taught me how to ride a bike, and made me laugh when I was having a bad day. I don’t know where I would be without the amazing people I have met here.

6. Mai pen rai: don’t worry

Even before I arrived in Thailand, I learned the popular phrase, mai pen rai, which translates to “no worries” or “it’s alright.” It is used very often and in a variety of situations. Most recently, my coworkers repeated this phrase as they combed my hair and picked out lice. I was freaking out, but they laughed and helped me take care of it, and by the end of the day I was lice-free.

Because of the no-stress, worry-free attitude here, I am learning to live in a more relaxed way. Perhaps it is because the Thais have faith that everything will work out, and it usually does. Perhaps the lessons I am learning are ones that I cannot learn anywhere else.

I’m being challenged physically, emotionally and mentally, but I am also coming to love a different country, culture, and group of people, as well as myself in it. This truly is the “Land of Smiles,” and I cannot imagine being anywhere else.

6 Lessons I Learned While Teaching in the "Land of Smiles"

6 Lessons I Learned While Teaching in the “Land of Smiles” Related Reading

Living in Northern Thailand: The Real Deal with Laura Lopez-Blazquez

Have you traveled to Thailand? How was your trip? Email us at [email protected] for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.

Photo credits for 6 Lessons I Learned While Teaching in the “Land of Smiles” by Laura Lopez Bazquez and Unsplash.

About Laura Lopez-Blazquez

Laura Lopez-Blazquez is a Cuban-American, Miami Native who has spent the past 7 years living in New York City. She is all at once an educator, artist, writer, and avid coffee drinker. Her belief in the healing power of art and travel has led her adventurous spirit to live Germany, Spain, Italy and currently: Thailand. In this most recent stint overseas, Laura can be found teaching English while jet setting throughout Southeast Asia in search of good hearts and many smiles.

2 thoughts on “6 Lessons I Learned While Teaching in the “Land of Smiles”

  1. Juraporn Butera (Kru Pueng)
    August 27, 2015

    I’ve just got a chance to read your articles as u know email is hardly used for me in todays as it is a place to keep notifications from facebook. ^______^
    That was so lovely writing and it was a very useful information for foreign teachers and tourists. Miss ya..Laura.
    All the best.

    • Laura Lopez-Blazquez
      August 27, 2015

      Kru Pueng!Thank you for your kind words and support. Miss you too, I hope all is well!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *