First Time Foreigner—Reality Check From Across the World

culture shock

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Over 24 hours of traveling time, 14 hours of time difference, and 7,917 miles later… I had finally landed in my new home—Thailand!

This move brought about many new firsts: first time leaving America, first (extremely) long plane flight, first real jet lag experience, and first time being a foreigner.

Having lived in California my whole life (and only traveling to a few states around the U.S.), I have never known what it was like to be a “foreigner”.

The moment I arrived at my hotel in Lat Krabang, Bangkok, Thailand—I knew right away what this felt like.

Lat Krabang is local city on the outskirts of Bangkok, near the Suvarnabhumi Airport. There are “touristy” areas in Thailand where you can find many foreigners and English is both spoken and used on street signs, restaurant menus, etc., but this was not one of them. The staff at my hotel only spoke Thai, the signs on buildings, street signs, and restaurant menus were written in Thai, and about 99% of the people I saw were Thai.

Cue the culture shock—I was officially a foreigner.

Out of my Comfort Zone

In all honesty, I was really overwhelmed by this.

California is a state with a vast blend of ethnicities, so it wasn’t like I was unfamiliar being surrounded by a multitude of cultures; but being in a new place—where you look different than everyone else and don’t know the language of everyone else—was a totally new level of discomfort. A discomfort that quickly turned my excitement of moving to a new country into a fear of this unknown place.

Have you ever experienced a time in your life that was so uncomfortable and so unfamiliar that your fear was greater than your power to push through?

For those of you who’ve had this experience and chose to push through, you may have learned that extraordinary things happen on the other side of your comfort zone—and this was exactly what happened in my situation.

Embracing the Change

I remember finding a café where I got my first Thai Tea (which was freakin’ amazing and has since become my obsession). I remember aimlessly walking down the street for hours and running into my first night market, absolutely stunned by what I saw. From food to clothing to electronics—this outdoor market had everything you could imagine (for ridiculously cheap prices compared to the US dollar).

I reveled in this experience as I walked up and down the aisles of the market. I was still the only foreigner I saw (literally). I still could not read the signs or identify the food that I saw or understand what any of the Thai people were saying to me; but suddenly, I no longer felt uncomfortable.

I bought a huge plate of something I did recognize—shrimp—with the head and tail on. As I sat at a table and began savagely eating my dinner, I observed my surroundings. I watched the Thai people interacting with each other. I listened to the sound of hundreds of motorbikes driving in and out of the parking area. I smelled the aroma of Thai food, and I watched the sun set over the colorful tents and neon lights of the market.

In this moment, all the firsts I experienced (both “good” and “bad”) collided to create one unforgettable memory that marked the beginning of my new unknown journey. 

What I Learned

The word “foreign” translates to mean “strange and unfamiliar”, and my experience couldn’t be summed up in any other way. I knew that traveling to a new country…for the first time…alone…would be hard. I knew there would be times of discomfort, confusion, and doubt; but I didn’t expect it to hit me so fast; or have such a profound effect on me.

The experience of being a foreigner for the first time gave me a huge reality check. 

It opened my eyes up to the variety of people and cultures in this world and showed me just how big the world is. It gave me compassion for anyone who has ever been a foreigner in another country and felt uncomfortable. And it ultimately taught me that change is uncomfortable, but the resistance to it is the only thing that actually hurts us—while on the flip side, pushing past your comfort zone gives you growth beyond measure.

Moving across the world and having the experience of being a foreigner for the first time gave me this moment of clarity, but you don’t need to pack your bags and move to a new country to experience this yourself.

Try and identify an area in your life right now where you may be hiding in your comfort zone, and take a dive into the unknown waters of change to see what is waiting for you. Let go of resistance and adopt persistence as you are faced with challenges in life that make you feel uncomfortable. And don’t let your fear of the unknown keep you in the known.

(P.s. If you do want to pack up your life and move to a new country—I support that too! Shoot me an email and we can talk business.)

Open mind, open heart,

Sierra Nicole

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