Farang Friendly: On Privilege
"Ah, you are English kru [teacher]?! I am looking for someone to teach me English; I want to get better — maybe online?” a taxi driver says to me while I’m on vacation.
A white, American expat says to his five-year-old, half-Thai daughter at the grocery store, “wow, Ellya, look! Someone for you to practice English with! Why don’t you introduce yourself?” Five minutes later he follows up with: “we’d like to take you out to dinner sometime, so she can practice her English; she will send you an email” *hands iPad.*
“Oh, okay, okay, so Kru G at Sunflower School. I will remember you; will you remember me?” a taxi driver from my local area smiles. A few weeks later, students bring me this message:
There’s an undeniable privilege that comes with being a native English-speaking, white person. Opportunities throw themselves at you, such as these examples above. It becomes increasingly apparent in smaller, more frequent, everyday examples in Thailand. In Bangkok, its surrounding areas and touristy places, signs commonly feature English. Many malls are ‘farang' friendly. In my experience, local people show additional warmth once they learn that you’re an English teacher here and not just a tourist. Aside from this, I can get away with speaking very little of the native tongue while being able to function just fine. Sure, a lot of this is Thai culture being friendly and nice. It’s what this culture is known for, but it’s also intermingled with the combination of racial and linguistic privilege that English-speaking white people innately get.
This innate privilege is how I was able to get a job like this so easily. It’s how I (like all others from CIEE) now have a pool of opportunities* to choose from when applying to future jobs.
"Requirements: citizenship of an English-speaking country, bachelor’s degree from a university, TEFL certification is a plus." — the majority of ESL teaching jobs out there
*See: Dave's ESL Cafe
Like, are you serious? Because I’m American and graduated with my bachelor’s degree [not in education], I’m qualified to apply for this? I shelled out less than $300 to get a TEFL certification online, so now you’re more likely to hire me?
Oh, but it goes beyond this.
When you’re white, you stick out here. This is why I get random opportunities — for teaching and other things — just in passing, such as with the examples like the taxi drivers and the family at the grocery store. It’s because I’m blatantly farang, so people rightly assume that I am an English speaker. English is spreading across the globe like wildfire. Many people want to learn or improve their English skills, so opportunities for work in this field are abundant. The way that the opportunities find you is THE definition of privilege.
Here’s my point: This is a great opportunity to grab ahold of. You open a whole world of possibility — to live an international life for as long as you want and to continue to have more and better opportunities — by taking the first step by going abroad with a company like CIEE. However when you do, count your blessings because you have an unfair advantage. Take the opportunities you are graciously given and focus on how you can share or enhance opportunities with people who don’t have the privilege that you do. Strive for equality, not martyrdom or a superiority complex. Humble yourself. Each time I feel myself yearning to complain about something, I stop and count my lucky stars in order to recharge and recenter my perspective. I’ve been challenged with maintaining this practice during my semester in Thailand, but equality and understanding a culture’s relative perspective are so, incredibly important. This is what Thailand has taught me.
Comment with questions or insight!