Mark Newman

Older teachers and acculturalization!

Adapting to life in Thailand strategies for the older expat

So, you're here in Thailand - now what?

I'm using the word acculturalization because Joko used it in one of his articles and I want to appear clever like wot he is. Regardless, it's a good one to begin this article.

Over time, if you live here in Thailand for long enough, you'll eventually adopt some of the beliefs and many of the behaviors of the Thais that you meet, live and work with. You'll have to... because if you don't you'll go bonkers! That's acculturalization.

The speed at which you embrace these changes will vary enormously from man to man, but like the insanely noisy truck with the thrash metal speakers welded on to it, crawling slowly past my house on a Sunday morning, while I'm sleeping... (Deep breath, Mark!)'s going to happen eventually.

However, unlike most migrants around the world, our ‘acculturalization' is entirely voluntary. We can pick and choose which bits of Thai life we take on and ignore those nasty bits that we don't like.

Young people are crap!

A sanctimonious word about young people...

Young people who come to Thailand, come with unrealistic expectations and invariably fail to do what it takes to stay here. They are badly organized and don't think ahead.

They miss their chums and families. They get sick from the food and can't afford the hospital bills. They fall off their motorcycles a lot and they are shit with their money. They fall in love at the drop of a hat and get into all sorts of other kinds of trouble.

They don't see teaching English as much more than a holiday job or as just a means to pay for their excesses. They also have long hair and wear flared trousers... I mean, come on.

So, we're all agreed... young people are just crap, right?

Old people are crap, too!

But even us older chaps (are there any women reading this?) can make mistakes. I've seen too many older expats ruined by the drink. I've seen them assume the role of victim because of their own folly. Thais become the enemy and they recede into envy and bitterness.

In Thailand there is an army of dissolute, older men fighting off ill health and poverty. They drift from job to job, giving the Western world a bad name by getting drunk at the wrong times and stinking the place up with cigarettes, body odor and bad manners.

Success, thy name is caution!

But for most of us, age comes with its own set of skills which prepare us for the embrace of living in Thailand. The biggest and most valuable of these assets is caution. (Young people don't have a word for this.)

This abundance of caution enables us to make better decisions. We aren't quite so eager to jump all over that 30,000 baht a month job without reading the fine print first... or sign that apartment lease without checking to make sure it has running water after eight o'clock... or accidently jumping in the sack with someone who may have a sack of ‘her' own!

I've heard it said from employers that older people are set in their ways and find it difficult to adapt to new ways of living and teaching. Is this really true? Do people uproot from a comfortable life in the West and set up their tents in Thailand, yet not have the ambition and ability to learn some new tricks?

I don't think so and I think that employers are missing out when they make these assumptions.

And you can prove them wrong by applying in person for the jobs that clearly state that ‘only people under 30 need apply.' I've done it myself and it's quite a surprise (at first) how these little pre-determiners are bunged out the window.

No more, er... paperwork!

On arrival, the first lifestyle changes you make are practical ones. They come quickly out of necessity but are soon embraced with alacrity. Eating with a spoon and fork is the first thing. Making a mental note of where the ‘sit down' loos are, is a close second!

You'll get used to the noise in the shopping malls... the bizarre order that your food is served in... people stalking you in the electronics section of Tesco's... drinking beer with ice and lime... and squirting water up your bum!

Yes, from now on, you'll be using toilet paper to wipe stuff off your face not your arse!

You are changing your mind... don't fight it!

But, just as these physical habits take a permanent and instinctive hold of your practical wellbeing, there now comes the matter of the more mental assimilations. It may take a while - everyone is different - but these changes will happen.

Eventually, that family of ten precariously balanced on a tiny moped don't deserve to die horribly. The long, slow lines at the Macro checkout are an opportunity to check your email. Sometimes it's OK to get your soup at the end of the meal... just as you're about to leave.

Those Thai holidays aren't just cute anymore - they're important. Your co-workers are somehow a part of your ‘family' and you care about what they do and what they think. Your home country is drifting further and further into the back of your mind and Thailand is becoming your home.

Woah, there, Mark. Let's not get carried away!

Of course, you aren't Thai and you won't ever be. There are some things that are just too awful to ever consider taking a liking to. Those pink plastic things they call ‘hot dogs' will never be welcome on your plate. Washing your clothes by hand is simply too much manual labor to be a normal thing. Thai TV is just horrible horrible horrible. Soi dogs are dangerous, dirty and annoying and need a good kick every time you walk past one. Electrocution by night market is also something you won't adapt to, easily.

You'll have your own list of intolerables.

You're welcome... to stay!

For the older expat, life in Thailand can be magnificent. A well organized and well resourced expat can enjoy a rebirth in the ‘Land of Smiles.' All the changes that your life takes on over the next few years (both practical and philosophical) should be recognised, cherished and even celebrated.

Mark Newman

You might be interested in....

Over 40? Don't fear. Teaching in Thailand is still for you. - Moving to Thailand strategies for those in their mature years

Young teachers vs old teachers? - Which age group do Thai employers really prefer?


I am a fifty five year old female (in my haha year!) in my 4th year of teaching at the same school. I've seen the young ones come and go, most only last six months. Most of them are here for a working holiday but don't research enough to realize there are only two terms a year so not that much holiday partying time. Poor them.
I live in a small town but have a are so its easy to go away for weekends to nice places. Also , living in a three bedroom, two bathroom, large living space and kitchen, and small garden, all on my own for a whopping 5500 baht a month is something I could never afford abroad, that and the 3000baht I pay for rental on my car. Thais are happier to rent to a stable, long term tenant for less money when they have that security and knowing they won't wreck the place with parties.
I get so much more respect as an older person.
Why do I live in Thailand? Well, yes, there are things that I hate about Thailand but mostly I love it. There is no perfect country, all have their up sides and down sides. You have just got to appreciate what you have and enjoy it.
Ps I would love to do your cost of living survey, but I'm just so lucky I don't think that it is common place to be in my situation. Although I only make 32000 a month, with 9 hours extra tutoring a week I make an extra 40000, not a bad gig at all!

By Shireen fillbrook, Phangnga (22nd June 2017)

Great read Mark. Having migrated to Thailand for my ‘twilight years’ in teaching, it’s very encouraging to relate to your salient comments. It’s only been six months, but teaching in the UK seems like a distant memory. I’m embracing Thai culture with alacrity ;)

By Nigel Quinn, Thailand (28th January 2016)

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