I have wanted to do this series of blogposts for a long long time, but never got down to doing it. I have been in Thailand across 4 calendar years now, from 2009 to 2012, braving riots, military crackdowns, rowdy elections and catastrophic floods, evolving from a bare-handed single young man into a thirty-something year-old Daddy of the cutest boy on the planet. Although I do not have any significant achievements of note, just being here and surviving till now should have prepared me sufficiently well to give tips and hints on how to survive in a foreign land.
After brainstorming, I have decided to split this into 4 separate posts so as not to overwhelm anyone. All 4 points are VERY IMPORTANT, I will start with what I feel is the least crucial and end with most crucial. All points apply to EVERYONE planning to go to ANY country, but since I came to Thailand after spending almost all my 28 previous years in Singapore, my examples would be more appropriate for people who move from a more developed country to a lesser developed one.
The Stranger in Bangkok's survival tips in a foreign land part 1: Building a social circle
Now that you are in a foreign land, you need support. Regardless of how many expat dollars you are grabbing or how many staff you have in your office, you will need real, sincere care and support from the heart, from people whom you can call your friends, not your subordinates. Your employees can be the best from the land, but there is a limit to what they can do for you, because even if you open your heart to them, they might not open theirs to you. At the end of the day, you are a foreigner who has most probably been put into the company to watch over them. There will come a time where you realise that throwing money at people might not solve your problems anymore. This is the time when you need to be pro-active and build up your own social circle. This might not be easy, but remember one thing, that every bit of positive energy you expend for this cause is not wasted.
Tip 1: Join a Chamber
Join a Chamber? What Chamber? Simple. Expats from each country would likely have set up their respective Chambers of Commerce to link businesses from their homeland together. For me, I chose to become part of the Singapore-Thai Chamber of Commerce here in Bangkok. Through this organization, I got to know lots of people who have spent decades building up their success stories in Thailand as foreigners. There is lots to learn, lots to admire, and more importantly, lots of friends to know. You will also get to know legal advisers, headhunters, bank managers, property agents etc. who would pop out of nowhere in the future and solve your problems at-hand. You network is your net worth. This is a good way to start.
Tip 2: Keep in close contact with friends/friends' friends who happen to be here
Globalisation is amazing. I have friends whom I know who are now residing in Brazil, France, Sweden, USA, Mongolia, Laos, Netherlands, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand and even India. No matter where you are posted to, if you look hard enough, I am sure you will find a friend or acquaintance there, be it someone posted there, or some exchange student whom you studied with in the past. Track them down, link up with them and never break the link. Chances are, they will eventually become your best pals and your greatest support.
In your homeland, friends are taken for granted. You only go out with your best pals and leave the rest alone. This is due to the fact that we assume we could meet up with anyone anytime. Sadly, we end up losing touch with most of them, turning into strangers though living in the same city. In a foreign country however, you will tend to keep in closer contact with the few fellow countrymen you know (who else can understand you better than them?). When you feel lonely and helpless on a Christmas Eve, they will be the ones who show up at your doorstep with a roast turkey and warm your heart.
Tip 3: Find a church and stay there
Being a Christian, settling down in a church is like finding a second home. Having a place to worship the Lord every week is such pleasure, so church-hopping is a definite no-no for me. You can go to a few to have a look initially, but pray about it, choose one and stay there. There is nothing better than having fellowship with a group of God-loving brothers and sisters.
To sum things up, I would just like to emphasize that in order to survive in a foreign land, it is absolutely critical that you do your best to widen your social circle LOCALLY. True friends will not flutter around you like butterflies out of nowhere, and if they do, you would do well to stay away from them.
Be pro-active, whether this works for you is totally your own call now.