My Expat Story: Kim Matthews
An Australian expat in Bangkok
At Global Living Magazine we want to connect with our readers. We want to know what you’re all about, what you love, where you’ve been, and where you’re going. The best way to do this? Hear it straight from you!*
Kim Matthews is a speech therapist and keen long distance runner. She has lived most of her life in Melbourne, Australia, however lived the last three years on the opposite coast, in Perth. At the end of 2015 she and her husband packed up and moved to Bangkok, Thailand, to experience a new culture and explore a country vastly different to Australia. Here is her Expat Story.
What is your favorite part of expatriate life?
New experiences: In the short time I have lived here I have discovered so much about the Thai culture and way of life. I have joined in Buddhist ceremonies, signed up with the local Muay Thai kickboxing club, and taken part in Songkran (the Thai New Year festival, which involves a city-wide water fight that you cannot escape from). I take mototaxis to get around, pause for the national anthem twice per day and buy food from local street vendors. Many aspects of my life have changed but it doesn’t feel extreme or unusual; in fact, it’s now just a regular part of my life.
New places: I love finding different restaurants, bars, attractions and holiday spots (I rarely like to visit the same place twice), and this is easily achieved in this amazing city. I can head to the beach for a relaxing getaway, or drive up to the mountains to remind myself what cold weather feels like. There are numerous countries only a short plane ride away, something that is foreign to us Aussies. The list of places I want to explore is never-ending, both within Bangkok and further afield, so I don’t think I’ll become bored anytime soon!
New food: who doesn’t love Thai food? Now I get to eat it all the time, buying fresh produce from the markets at much cheaper rates than I can back home. I have discovered many fantastic local ingredients and dishes and I am always exploring different restaurants – there seems to be about one for every person here in Bangkok!
What has been the hardest part?
Of course the language barrier is always going to be a challenge. What makes it even more difficult is that the Thai language has its own alphabet, which means I can’t read any printed material. This makes it harder to learn the language, as I can’t pair new words I hear with a visual representation of that word. I have found this especially difficult with food – either I don’t know what I’m buying, or I am unsure of what I am ordering at restaurants. Luckily for me English translations are becoming more common, although I still face barriers on a daily basis.
Where have you lived around the world? Favorite places?
I have only lived in two countries (Australia and Thailand) but I am fairly well traveled, having visited about 70 countries. My husband and I took a year off in 2011 to campervan around Europe, then six months off in 2015 to backpack through Central America. We love exploring new places and hope to tick a few more off the bucket list in our lifetime. We have loved something about every country we have been to, so it is impossible to pick a favorite.
Where would you want to move to eventually?
I have no idea where we will (or want to) end up. We just let life lead us in whatever direction it decides to takes us. We are very happy living in Thailand right now but who knows what opportunities might arise in the future.
What’s your sense of ‘home’?
Home will always be where my family is. For this reason, I have two homes – here in Bangkok, with my husband, as well as in Melbourne, where my parents, sister and extended family live. I don’t feel that “home” is so much about a physical location, but rather it is with the people that make me feel that I belong, where I am wanted and valued for who I am. It is where I feel safe, comfortable, and free to be myself.
What advice would you give to first-time expats?
Get online and do some research on things that interest you, whether it be sports, hobbies, food, politics, languages, etc. As soon as I moved to Bangkok I joined two Meetup groups and became involved with their activities straight away. Everyone was very welcoming and supportive, knowing first-hand the transition I was going through. They have been extremely helpful, providing me with advice, suggestions and even car trips. Meeting other like-minded individuals (both expats and Thais) in these groups helped me to realize that life can still go on as normal, and that I don’t have to give anything up just because of a change in location.
One other piece of advice: give it time. I was quite overwhelmed when I first arrived. I didn’t have my living situation set up, I hardly knew anyone and I hadn’t started working yet. I felt isolated at times and was constantly asking myself if I had made the right decision. After a few weeks that all changed and now I couldn’t be happier.
What has been the most helpful thing in adapting to your home abroad?
Besides joining the Meetup groups, the other factor that helped me to adapt was employment. I was a speech therapist in Australia and I was fortunate enough to secure a job in the same field in Bangkok before I arrived. Getting into the routine of going to work and doing a very similar role (with minor cultural variations) has assisted greatly with the transition.
Share anything else about your expat life that you’d like us to hear!
I am an active, fit person and particularly enjoy running. Once I landed in Bangkok I immediately joined the local Bangkok Runners running group. They took me out along several different running routes, informed me of upcoming races as well as provided advice about buying athletic gear and gym memberships. Within four weeks of arriving I was participating in a 50km trail ultramarathon, in the hot and humid conditions that Thailand is famous for. I managed to surprise myself (and many others) by winning the event in the female category. As you can imagine, I really fell in love with Thailand at that moment! Since then, I have run in three more events and been the first female over the line in each of those too, and once I was the overall winner! I have also been fortunate enough to pick up a fantastic sponsor, Runivore, who are a superfoods company based out of Taiwan. I have entered another 10 or so events coming up this year, all over Thailand, and hope to expand to more races across South East Asia next year. Opportunities like this would not have been available to me in Australia, and I didn’t know they existed in Thailand before I arrived. I wasn’t sure what would happen to my running once I moved to Bangkok but I have already had an incredible experience in such a short time. I guess that’s the message I want to get across: you never know what doors will open for you when you move abroad, so don’t be afraid to take the plunge, get out there and see what the world has to offer.
[Image courtesy of Kim Matthews]
*If you’d like to be featured on our ‘My Expat Story’ section, send an email to Alison at email@example.com and tell us about your experience as an expatriate by answering the above questions.
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