Tag Archives: culture shock

I almost didn’t survive my first day on my own in a foreign country

16 Apr

I didn’t think I would survive my first day on my own in a foreign country.

I woke up nauseous, dehydrated, and overwhelmed. My first thought was to get water, so I took a cold shower to try to shake my nerves off, and went downstairs to ask where I could buy some. The young girl at the front desk didn’t speak much English and pointed me in the direction I should head. I swallowed hard realizing that this was the first time I was in a country that I didn’t speak the language, and that I was alone. I mentally prepared myself to wander in the quest of water. The sun threatened to reign down past the overcast at any moment so I didn’t have much time. What if I fainted? Would I be robbed? Licked endlessly by the adorable but filthy stray puppies that littered the streets? Is this how people got rabies?

I headed down the unpaved road and found a small shop immediately adjacent to the hotel. I sighed in relief. I wasn’t going to die. Not like this.

The shop owner nodded and greeted me with a “Sawa dee”.

“Water?” I asked, wondering if I should have practised my miming skills.

He reached into a fridge and pulled out a water bottle. I inspected the label and the lid remembering that in Slumdog Millionaire foreigners were scammed by the locals who would refill old water bottles with tap water and reseal the lids. Sure, I found water with ease, but I didn’t want to end up with salmonella or e coli.

The bottle looked legitimate enough.

“How much?” I asked

“5 baht.”

I reached for my wallet, watching everyone from the corner of my eye. Not that I would know what to do if they actually pulled something. But I just wanted them to know I had my eye on them.

“I only have one thousand baht”. I pulled out the note. The storeowner starting laughing and peered into my wallet but all I had in there was American and Canadian currency and a coin from South Korea that I wasn’t sure he would take. He continued to laugh and spoke in Thai which made me uneasy. I wanted to tell him that when I got to the airport the exchange counter was closed and that I had to use an ATM. I didn’t know the machine would spit out a single 1000 baht bill. I didn’t even know those existed. But I didn’t know how to say that or how to mime that so he would understand.

A young boy came to me and took my note and disappeared into the back. I stood, unsure of what would happen next. Is that how easy it is to get robbed here? Someone comes to you, you give them your money, and they walk away with your money? He returned shortly after with change for me. I counted the change but had trouble because the bills were so new to me. I stuffed the foreign bills and coins into my wallet and ran back to my room with my water.


After I was hydrated enough I felt ready to search for food. Food under 995 baht, of course. I was still anxious about being in a new place and I didn’t entirely trust my sense of direction (how do you say “help I’m lost and sweaty and hungry” in Thai?) but I told myself I had to be brave and couldn’t live in the constrains of my room forever.

So I headed towards the main road and wandered yet again. I passed by some non-Thais (i.e. white people) and wanted to jump onto them and beg them to be my friend and save me but I restrained myself. I also stopped myself from running into the first Starbucks I saw and I think I deserve a lot of credit for that. I found a 24 hours café called Tom n Toms and headed inside. (I now realize that this café is the Thai equivalent of Starbucks because it was pretty pricey compared to other places).

I ordered a ham sandwich. I don’t like ham but it was the only thing I recognized on the menu and figured I was falling below my needs for protein after 22 hours of travelling. I took my first bite and wanted to vomit. I was still nauseous and uneasy. Is it too late to get on the next flight back home? I asked myself. I put the sandwich down and took a sip of my overly sweet iced tea which literally shook me.

Tom N Toms

Diabetes iced tea and untampered water

And then something remarkable happened.

Beyoncé’s Single Ladies came on the café radio and I felt a sudden sense of relief and calm. I knew that song! (and most of the dance moves from the music video, shhh) Beyoncé reminded me to be courageous and fierce -just like her alter ego Sasha Fierce– and that the world isn’t that scary of a place. She reminded me why came to Thailand in the first place.

Thank you, Beyoncé, for saving me. Is there anything you can’t do?

beyonce pad thai

Beyonce pad THAI! Get it, get it?!