My Thailand Experience
Let me start off by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this site. Too bad I didn't discover it before I went to Thailand on vacation. However, I managed in Thailand just fine.
I am a black male in my early 30's who recently returned from vacation in Thailand. My friends and I stayed in Bangkok, Pattaya and then Ko Samet about a month ago; it was my first trip out of the States. My friends who went with me are all white, except one who is Taiwanese. They all had been to Thailand several times prior to our trip together and LOVE Thailand.
I also want it to be known that I am a college graduate with a degree in English and journalism from Western Michigan University. Currently, I live in Los Angeles and I am a talent executive for a major cable network.
My overall experience in Thailand was a positive one. Upon my arrival, I immediately jumped in feet first and started trying to speak Thai, which I noticed surprised some of the Thais I encountered; my friends had armed me with the basics.
I felt most of the Thai people were very friendly at restaurants and other business establishments, except at one of the money exchange centers near my hotel in Bangkok. The woman was completely rude and barely looked at me, if at all. Moreover, when I was in Ko Samet I definitely felt the hesitation and/or fear of dealing with me by some of the Thai people, even at restaurants, despite their smiles. I felt like my friends were paid attention to more than I was at restaurants, in terms of being served, but that is certainly not relegated to Thailand. In most situations, I never felt like I was being directly discriminated against, but I did encounter several situations where some of the Thai people were not necessarily friendly or open. However, I can't say nor want to say it was 'racism,' even though it could have been. It's easy to jump to those conclusions, but I think we must all be careful before making snap judgments.
At 5'11, 195 lbs, shaved head and tattoos one could say that I stood out from the rest of the Thai crowd. Heads often turned as I walked down the street. I met a young Thai female in Ko Samet who told our native Thai friend that she had never met a Black American before. I wasn't too surprised, but then again I was. Clearly, I was the fish out of water and truly felt it, but I was also completely fine with it because I noticed right away that Thailand is a very complex culture. Thus, I felt it imperative for me to shed my American skin i.e., judgements, closed mindedness and my American values. Before I traveled to Thailand, I read that the country is very complex and Americans in particular have a difficult time understanding Thailand's nuances.
Needless to say, I had an amazing time in Thailand. It was a trip that has forever changed my perspectives and ME. I am looking to return to Thailand and travel within the next year or so. I am looking at teaching in Thailand, in particular Bangkok and have already started researching different teaching programs. I have also been reading some blogs written by former Black American teachers in Thailand. I must say, some of the stories/experiences were not as positive as I expected.
Since reading some of the blogs I have more than a little trepidation about teaching in Thailand on a long term basis. Some of the former Black American teachers wrote about being outwardly discriminated against, the difficulty of being hired, finding a job, etc. I certainly don't want the added stress of prejudice and discrimination when I'm in another country. Trying to re-acclimate to another culture in another country is stressful enough.
I am fully aware that negative perceptions of Black Americans, stereotypes and flat out racism reach far beyond North America. We Black Americans can not escape our badge of color. We have not only had to carry, but also endure the burden of European colonialism. And it doesn't help that such negatives stereotypes are played out daily on multi-media platforms which are broadcast all over the globe reinforcing fear and hatred towards Black Americans. Most of the time, these images are the only interactions or experiences other cultures have with us.
To anyone that reads this, I am wondering if someone has any insight into perceptions of Black Americans in Thailand or have heard any stories? Also, if someone could shed any light on teaching in Thailand or certain programs that are reputable? I would like to sign up through a program as I fear the task otherwise is a little overwhelming. I am looking for a program that would help me with job placement, housing and health care.
Thanks so much for reading and good luck.
That you are black will sadly mean you get worse treatment in Thailand from some people. That you have a shaven head and tattoos (I'm presuming these were on display and not hidden) will make things a little worse.
My first piece of advice would be to cover the tats. That will help.
As far as teaching goes, well, I would try and get some other sort of job first. Teaching in Thailand results in endless frustration and the ultimate realisation that the only way you can survive is to cast aside your principles and lower your standards. Sadly, I speak from experience.