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20 pointers that acquire readjustment when you return to the UK from living in Southeast Asia

1. You can talk to someone and they understand every word you say

No more Google translator. No more sign language and dramatic impersonations to find what you’re looking for in the shop. It’s all a little too easy, actually. I’m finding that I miss the ‘lost in translation’ phase, which always made the day that little bit more comical. You actually had to work at having a conversation with someone if you were ever to make friends outside the expat community.

2. You can eat almost anything with little or no anxiety of being on the toilet 1 hour later

Everything I ate in Asia was said with a prayer in hope that I wouldn’t be rushing to the nearest toilet 30 minutes later. I love that continent more than anything, but their hygiene can be diabolical. Your immune system soon adjusts and you will begin to live your life more in open spaces than the bathroom. Now I’ve returned to the UK, I’ve found that my stomach has had to readjust again due to stodgy foods and calorie laden meals. A few stomach aches here and there, but that’s probably down to my food ingredient intolerance, not the cleanliness of prepared food. Of course, you’re always prone to food poisening wherever you go but in comparison my stomach is a lot happier here.

3. More choice of clothing due to a contrast of temperatures

It’s magical. I can go to my wardrobe and there’s a contrast of garments ready for the taking. Tops, Shirts, Jumpers, Knitwear, Tights, Trousers, Jeans, Skirts, Scarves (!!), Coats, Jackets…. You’d be lucky to last a whole day in a T-shirt and long trousers in Asia due to their high 30’s heat all year round. It’s made fashion quite exciting to look at again and made putting outfits together quite fun! Although, I have had to learn how to dress myself again…. A bikini and shorts just won’t cut it here.

4.The streets seem far cleaner than they ever did

Street sweepers, recycling programs, weekly rubbish collecting….this country has it going on. I can walk down a pavement and see barely any litter, for there’s someone who’s employed to make sure that it stays that way. We’ve been trained at a young age to dispose of our waste in a typical fashion to suit what kind of rubbish it is. If someone litters on purpose or doesn’t clean up after themselves, it’s normally considered selfish and ignorant. In Asia, it can be the opposite and it’s rare to find a block of streets that don’t scream ‘CLEAN ME!’ when looking at them.

5. You can watch TV programs and understand what they are talking about

It used to be a weekly giggle to flick on the Thai television channels and try to guess what the drama was about. Now it’s as straight forward as flicking the ON button and not moving for three hours due to a House of Cards binge.

6. The water is softer

My hair is officially growing back. When I first went to Southeast Asia I had the fright of my life looking down in the shower realising I was losing half my head down the drain. The water is brittle and hard, causing your hair to thin very quickly. After asking a few other expats, it became apparent that it’s normal and if you ever do move back to your own country – it will come right again. I’m glad to say it is.

7. Back to a knife and fork, not fork and spoon

I’d like to say I’ve readjusted to this oh-so-English way of eating with utensils, but I haven’t. At first, it seemed so wrong to not be cutting meat with a knife but sooner or later you become accustomed to it. Most Asian dishes involve rice or noodles, which means a spoon makes your life a lot easier. Now I’m back on British turf, I haven’t actually mastered the art of using a knife and fork again. I love a good spoon.

8. Google Maps is now an unused application

I’m sure if I moved to an unknown city – Google Maps would be my friend again. However these days it is officially an unused application on my iPhone. We are no longer best mates. When I lived in Bangkok, I solely relied upon it to get me from A to B. No asking people in the streets for directions (language barrier) and no reading directions on official websites (different language).

9. You can drink tap water again

It took me a few days when I returned to realise that I can actually drink from the tap again. The average bottle of 1Litre-bottled water in Southeast Asia costs the equivalent of £0.15p. Bottled water in the UK is now a staggering margin of between £0.80p – £1.50p. Tap water, please…. thank you!

10. Withdrawal of money from bank accounts with no transaction charge

Unless you have an advanced bank account overseas that entitles you to free withdrawals (when in reality you will pay for it one way or another through monthly charges to actually own the account), you will be well aware of the transaction fees you face should you want to pour money into the Asian economy. The average fee would cost £3.00 meaning that you would have to withdraw enough to help you survive and have a good time before withdrawing again! Now, I can wonder down to any ATM machine and withdraw money freely from my account with no fees at all. I’m still not any richer though……

11. You don’t have to rely on just social media and network data to communicate with people anymore

If I wanted to speak to someone on the other side of the world, I would solely rely on social media to keep me up to date with what was happening in their lives. Love it or loathe it – I think many people can admit that platforms such as Facebook are invaluable when there isn’t much time to speak in real time due to conflicting schedules and time differences. Now I am living in the UK again I can actually call people and hear their voice down a mobile phone – which is surreal. Hello world.

12. Long evenings

The sun would set at roughly the same time. Every day. This means you would know how many hours in the day you would have to get things done before the sun would set, doors needed to be locked and the ghouls of the night would appear. Just kidding. But it does make the world of difference having that little extra light in your life for half of the year. Not only do you feel like you have more time in the day, but you get to watch beautiful sunsets sometimes as late as 9.30pm at night.

13. Miserable faces

It’s the reason I left, and it’s the reason I would leave again. When I moved to Asia, I couldn’t get over how happy everyone was. Just walking down the street you’d see groups of friends and families all having a day out together, taking selfies with ice creams and laughing at everyday scenarios. In Eastern culture, there’s always a silver lining to the problem you are facing and Asians expect you to find it – not talk about how depressed you are 24/7. If I walk down the street in the UK, I don’t get one smile (unless it’s from men who think I’d be interested in claiming their number…..) and rarely hear a friendly ‘good morning/evening’ from strangers. People are overworked, tired and grumpy because of the demand from this country. You can’t blame them, but it would be nice to see some vibrancy for life once in a while.

14. Skin is immaculate due to the lack of insect repellent and sun cream

Everyday I would have to apply sun cream and insect repellent to my body in fear of skin cancer, sun burn, mosquitoes and creepy crawlies. It’s not a nice job and not something you want to do every day – but needs must. One of the benefits of living in the UK is that mosquitoes only generally appear in the countryside, summer evenings and around rivers whereas creepy crawlies don’t have a big enough bite to run you any real risk. In conclusion, my skin feels super soft, and my pores are quite clear. Hurrah for rain and bunny rabbits.

15. A variety of shoes, not just flip flops

High heels, low heels, courts, flat boots, high heeled boots, dolly shoes, converse, Dr. martins…. Understand where this is leading? Similar to the clothes situation, in Asia it would be flip flops or… flip flops. Now I have to choose what to wear in the morning.

16. Fluctuation of food prices

GONE are the days of 50p street food that would fill me up until the next day. This is probably one of the main issues that has affected me – the ability to afford feeding myself. I’d be able to go to a fairly nice restaurant in Central Bangkok and order a starter, main and dessert as well as drinks, which would come to the equivalent of £10.00. You’d be lucky to get one meal for this price on an evening out with your friends in the UK, which means being considerate with your money to be able to afford the finer things in life – if you can.

17. Alcohol spirits are cheaper

I used to think Alcohol in the UK was expensive – wrong. So very, very wrong. In Asia I learnt not to drink due to the expense of a gin & tonic or an imported cider. I don’t love alcohol enough to drink what’s cheapest (for your information, Thai beer is exceptionally cheap) therefore I had to learn to adjust not to expect a ‘few cheeky ones’ on a Friday night. The reality is that my body is probably a whole lot healthier for it, and I managed to save a lot of my money due to the lack of expensive nights out in A-class clubs. These days when I order a spirit from the bar, my mouth doesn’t droop as much when I hear the price and I’m pleased to say it hasn’t made me go on a massive bender, either.

18. You already regret wishing it was colder when you were in hotter climates

As the old saying goes – you always want what you can’t have. When it’s 38 degrees in your teaching uniform, writing nouns on a board with sweat dripping out of every pore you have; you wish for a nice cold breeze to flirt around you. Sometimes you even wish to be teleported back to freezing cold temperatures just so you have the option to warm up with a coat and scarf. If you’re in an environment with no air-con in Asia, it’s safe to say you will suffer and melt onto the floor – one limb at a time. Now I’m back to a cool 16 degrees in late September, I long for the sunshine upon my face and for the tip of my fingers and nose to be warm again. C’est la vie.

19. A friendly greeting every morning

‘Get shit done as quickly as possible and don’t you dare complain’ is what I consider the UK to stand for. You’re lucky to get a hello vocally, or via text message when someone wants to speak to you about something. It’s an issue I’m having a hard time readjusting to when I’ve spent the last 16 months being surrounded by happy people. I would go into work each morning in Thailand, to be greeted with a smile as well as a hello, regardless of what had happened the day before. Here, you’re lucky to get either before someone tells you what they want as well as the correct answer they’re looking for to their inquiry.

20. Transportation

This week I’ve lost 2 lb alone from the amount of walking I’ve been doing because I refuse to pay the prices for local transportation. The days of trips to the opposite side of the city costing just £1.00 are fading from my memory rapidly. You’d be lucky to cover 2 miles in the UK for under £2.80p – and that’s a public bus. Don’t get me started on taxis, train tickets and flights. I am definitely feeling worlds apart right now.


A part of me will always love the UK for its changing weather seasons and iconic sense of humour. However, upon writing this conclusion it scares me that I paused for a good 5 minutes to try and work out what I love about being back here. So, I find little to claim about my love for this country of origin. I can’t help but feel my lifestyle here is limited compared to the developing country I found myself falling in love with. Only time will tell as to whether I completely readjust back to the British environment.

Profile photo of Emma Van Looy

Emma is a mid-twenties Theatre graduate with a wanderlust that lovingly haunts her. She left the UK in April 2014 for a 16 month adventure to Southeast Asia which included teaching English in small organisations as well as international schools. She has returned to her home country to be with her family in the hour of need, but is pretty sure she'll be off again soon!

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