Fun fact: this is my first time going abroad for a period of longer than... three weeks? To boot, it's a country I've never even been to before, and I don't speak the language. AKA crash course in surviving for three months!
So, obviously, I needed to compile a list of "do's" and "don't's" when going abroad. There's a variety of other sites that can say what I'm about to say, but some people may get a laugh at my mistakes and subsequent triumphs.
- Bring your passport. Make a photocopy of it, too. Seriously. It is very, very likely that if you go travel and decide to rent something, they're going to ask for your passport as a deposit. One of the girls I met during a weekend trip to Chiang Mai is giving up her passport for four days because she and another girl are renting bikes. A photocopy is better than nothing.
- Bring some products from home until you know what the stores sell. I say this because I made sure to bring my own soap, shampoo, conditioner, and face wash. Because I can't read Thai, I don't know what's in any of the products. I don't even know their purpose 75% of the time. Get situated, then go hunting for morning routine stuff.
- Buy a dictionary. It's helpful. I've gotten through quite a few situations using my Lonely Planet Thai phrasebook.
- Fit everything into one suitcase. Bring a duffel or something as a backup for souvenirs. "But Jess!' you may be saying, "Not everything of mine can fit into one suitcase!" Make it. Wear the same thing a few times, if you've got to. Keep footwear to a minimum. Make sure your clothes can mix and match with other pieces. All of my stuff (including duffel bag) fit into a 25" suitcase. And trust me, if you don't bring an extra bag, thinking "Oh, I won't pick anything else up in the three months I'm living in another country!" You're wrong. So very, very wrong. I went on a weekend trip to Chiang Mai and I picked up souvenirs. And soap. Because I'm running out of soap.
- Get established before trying to get your life to some normalcy. I've been in Bangkok for two weeks at this point. I think I'm pretty fairly established, got a routine down, all that. Except you know what? I definitely need to go exercise. I'm going crazy just sitting still. If Southeast Asia is like East Asia, there are very few swimming pools and the gyms are few and far between. I like swimming and I hate running. I need to find a lap swimming pool, or, at the very least, a gym with weights and a spin bike. Fun fact: I saw a gym in the ridiculously large 8-floor mall.
- Walk around the city. Don't hide in your room. Explore a bit every day. Bangkok is massive, and there's still so much I haven't seen. I know, two weeks. But one of the teachers has been here for 10 months and he says he's only scratched the surface!
- For the love of everything you hold dear, do not just assume that because you recognize a brand, it's the same as back home. I went to buy toothpaste at a 7-11, and, feeling very awkward just sitting there staring at toothpaste, I quickly picked up Colgate toothpaste. Got back to my apartment to brush my teeth.... And found out it was salt flavor. I gagged and spat it out immediately. I've now mastered the art of brushing my teeth without getting anywhere near my tongue.
- Be shy of talking to the locals. I've been navigating something that's actually been a huge part of my life: I'm half-Japanese, so I always look just Asian enough or just white enough. About 60% of the time in Bangkok, people assume I'm Thai because I don't have pale white skin and I do look Asian. As a result, they talk to me in Thai. I then have to tell them "I don't speak Thai" in Thai. Sometimes I will use my really basic grasp of Thai to talk. Yesterday, i went to Chiang Mai's Sunday Walking Market, and had a really broken conversation in Thai with one of the sellers. I can't read Thai, so I asked him to read it out loud.
- Assume everything is backwards. Seriously. Recognize you are a foreigner in their land and their way of life has been that way for a while. There are, admittedly, some things in Thai politics and culture I don't agree with. I can't actually badmouth them because it's punishable by imprisonment. But with other Americans, in private conversation, we can talk about it. Never say it to their faces, because you'll be seen as presumptuous.
- Be afraid to eat the food. My workaround for this is not asking what I'm eating until after I'm done eating it. Otherwise, I'll never eat it, because it seems weird to me as an American. If you've got some dietary restrictions, my recommendation is learn the Thai word for it, or something like it, and learn to say "I can't eat -insert restriction here-." It'll help quite a bit.
- PET THE ANIMALS. I'm dead serious. In Bangkok alone I'll see an average of 10 cats and 2 dogs every day. They're all strays. I know, they're cute, I want to help them too... But they may be sick, have rabies, has who knows what. Be careful. Please.
I'm sure more do's and don't's will come up soon, but this is just a partial list of what I've experienced on my trip abroad.