As Todd and I continue to settle into life in Bangkok, we’ve been contemplating the idea of community. By community, I essentially mean groups of people who are willing to invest in one another’s lives beyond the basic “fun to hang out with” level, be it in the form of family, friend groups, or the more official churches/other organizations. Many of our friends in Calgary were asking the same question, and it’s been percolating in my brain for some time. It has resurfaced in Bangkok as we contemplate a very different social landscape than what we left behind.
Bangkok – and perhaps any other place that has large numbers of expats – is a city that people are constantly entering and exiting. This trend is no less true in the microcosm of Todd’s school. International school teachers are a highly transient group of people, and the majority leave when their contract is complete. Reasons for leaving vary,* but the result is the same. Every year many arrive, and every year many leave. Perhaps I am speaking too soon, but I think this leads to a socially tenuous atmosphere – every year the social dynamics shift in unpredictable ways. If I were a long term teacher, I’m not sure how much effort I would put in to making friends with new teachers who will most likely leave in two years.
We have started attending an international church in Bangkok, which has been a good place to connect with others. However, this setting has largely the same issues as the school, albeit on a lesser scale. Many of the congregants are Thai and don’t have plans to leave Bangkok. There are others, though, who are in the city for undetermined lengths of time. Missionaries are another notoriously transient group.
It sometimes feels complicated to interact with other expats in Thailand. I find myself analyzing others, wondering how long they will be here. Based on my conversations, I know that I, too, am being analyzed in terms of my staying power. There are also our own feelings of transience to consider – how long do we want to be here? How does this city fit into our life plans? How much should we invest?
Sometimes my head wants to explode from all this analyzing. At the core, however, I believe that having community in the place that you’re living is important. I don’t think that a limited time-frame negates the need to invest in others, and to have others invest in you. I’m wondering what a community of transients looks like.
* American teachers receive a tax exemption that expires at the end of two years – if they stay past two years, they have to pay a pile of back taxes.