Updated: Jan 16
Immersion and learning is one of my favorite and most thrilling parts of travel. In my times of travel I have learned to go with the flow more and embrace local life, such as saying yes to homestays. This is how I got to learn Thai better and live with a Thai family.
I have reached a really good point in my Thai language skills for being in Thailand just a year. You might be asking “How have I managed to learn when I teach all day?” My short answer to you is immersion. I seek out and am willing to practice my Thai with others. I spent some time living with a Thai family and additionally have spent a significant amount of time in a more rural town in Thailand.
I lived with a Thai family for nearly two months. This situation was a win win for the Thai mom and for me too, because we got to have a language exchange everyday. The family was not your typical Thai family, but rather a non married mother and her son, some stray cats, her German boyfriend (who may or not be a real thing), and then two English teachers living there; one being me and the other my previous coworker from Austria.
It is not typical that expats and English teachers live in home stays like how you can do in other countries, but it just happened. Basically what happened, is I was searching for an apartment or accommodation for my recent move to Koh Samui. I just went door to door walking around the area I wanted to be in. I searched on Facebook market and tried to meet with the landlords. My coworker had been doing the same and this is when we had ran into the Thai woman whom we would soon both be living with. She had her own petrol stop, motorcycle renting service, and travel advice. We had figured by the sign that she is someone worth talking to. We had communicated in Thai and English and she had asked what we were doing walking around. I think it had helped that I had practiced Thai with her and my coworker said I have a Thai boyfriend. So she was well impressed. We told her that of course we needed a place to stay and have just moved to Samui. We kept on conversing and before we knew it we had moved in to live with this Thai family.
What is it like living with a Thai family?
Living here for two months I got to learn more about how Thais live and what home life is like. All day my coworker and I would teach, but we were always the last ones up in the morning. Thai people seem to wake up right at the crack of dawn. The mother and the son would go on their way to school and the mother would do her errands, laundry, what have you. The Thai mom would come back to the house to work her shoppe which is an all in one location. The house had three stories and the living room was also her office and place for customers to ask her about any of her three amenities: petrol, motorbike, and travel advice.
In the afternoons, everyone soon would all come home for the day and often customers would be in the living room area inquiring about monthly motorbike rentals or wanting to receive travel information and assistance. The son always seemed to be gaming or if not gaming would be eating and chatting with his school friends, and of course tiktok. The mom was a character too, a feisty one and loved to gossip. Thai people don’t generally cook often, as street food is more the style, but there were some occasions where she had fired up the wok and made some Thai food.
The Thai mom always would ask “are you hungry“, “have you ate”, “where did you buy that shirt”, ”you sleep okay” things like this. Something that makes me laugh is how this one time she asked me if I was hungry and wanted to eat and my response was yes. I had thought she had meant she would be cooking for me, she had done that before, but her response was “go eat then, go leave, you are hungry. Why are you talking to me.” Thai people will always ask if you have ate, but it doesn’t translate to I will make food for you. In other cultures if you ask this, it means you will be hospitable and make food or offer them something, but that doesn’t apply here.
Learning Thai about Thai life
Living with a Thai family you are bound to compromise or clash. My coworker and I had to learn to live more of a Thai lifestyle and got to experience how home life is like.
1. No shoes indoors.
Of course as with all Asian households, take off your damn dirty shoes! This wasn’t new to either of us, but to the people coming into the shoppe they always had to be reminded.
In Thai households, there is a shrine to respect the Buddha and the spirits in the home. I have seen the shrines all over in Thailand; they are on the streets, in shoppes, and can vary from small alters to big and intricate with many flowers on display. I had a shrine in my own bedroom and had learned to get used to it. The Thai mom would give the offering to the different shrines throughout the house with bananas, incense, and drinks usually. Other offerings can be foods, flowers, candles, and gifts. Often in the morning, I would wai to the Buddha and pay my respect for the day. I would do this to the shrine in my room and the one in the living room.
3. Respect the Buddha
Of course I knew its very important to respect the Buddha, but I was unaware of what that really meant. I got scolded and learned not to do it ever again, but I had sat and faced the Buddha with my feet pointing towards the shrine and was greeted with shock and shame from the mother. I apologized for my ignorance and later realized I should have known that. I just wasn’t being cognizant about where my body was in relation to the Buddha.
This one I can’t go into too much detail, since I cannot understand the prayers. However, the thing I remember most about living with the Thai family is the prayers and the smell of incense. If they had a bad day it was a lot of prayers and incense in the home. The mother would do a special ritual for the time of the moon phase too, I noticed that the mother would pray longer on full moon phase.
5. Embrace the Thai heat
Thai people are well used to the heat and do not use the air conditioner often. Some households won’t even have one. They use fans, many fans. It got so hot in my room and I had trouble getting used to this, as I always grew up with full blast a/c for the hot humid Midwestern summers. Of course she gave us the option to use it sometimes, but we couldn’t have it on during the night.
Thailand has been so many unpredictable adventures for me and living with a Thai family was a cultural experience I cherish a lot. It really showed me what a Thai family lives like and just how to live more like a Thai. Learning Thai and practicing with her was very useful and just a unique experience.