How I Turned Being Lost In Thailand Into Something Positive


‘Twas the year of 2007 and I had just graduated from high school and I was off to my third continent and fourth country to live in (Vietnam). My dad was already in Vietnam because he had to start work and me, my brothers and my mom were in Nigeria because my brothers and I had about a month left in school.

 As the moving day drew closer, my excitement escalated and I would go over the itinerary multiple times. We were laying over in Doha, and Bangkok before we would eventually land in Hanoi, Vietnam. Total flight time- about 23 hours. Total ACTUAL time almost a week (we would stay in Thailand for four days). 

Long flights don’t bother me; to me, they are just a chance for me to catch up on movies I haven’t seen yet or read books I haven’t yet read yet. Only drawback is the neck pain that comes from sitting down for so long.

Anyway, so moving day came and we hopped on the plane and made it through Doha without any problems. Our next stop would be Bangkok. By the time we landed here, we were ready to jump into the shower and freshen up because it had been almost 2 days before we had had a real shower so we were excited that someone was going to pick us up from the airport and take us to a physical home where I could eat some Nigerian food.

Ah good ole Nigerian food...I was salivating at the mere prospect of diving into some eba and pepper soup with okro and maybe some goat meat and chicken (Nigerian delicacies).

We waited at the terminals for someone with a “Rockson family” sign to beckon us over to him/her and wait we did. One hour turned into two. Two turned into four. Four into eight. You get the point.

Panic started to set in and the reality of being in a foreign land where we didn’t speak the language with barely any money and no food began to creep in our minds.  “Let’s take turns going back to the terminal and checking on those signs” I said to mom.  "OK" she replied while trying to call my dad with the pay phones available at the airports.

So my younger brother and I took turns while my mom stayed with my youngest brother then we would rotate shifts. We couldn’t get through to anyone over the phone.  Meanwhile we creatively found a way to rinse off our bodies with the sinks in the airport. (Don't ask).

Finally the next morning came and I told my mom that we couldn’t wait anymore. I said we should find a way to get to the Nigerian embassy and so we did just that but it wasn’t easy. Flagging the taxi was hard but communicating to the taxi driver was even harder. An onlooker would have thought us to be overly excited mimes or breakdancers with the way we were making hand gestures.

Essentially we were playing charades in a foreign country.

All we wanted the taxi driver to do was take us to the embassy but it took longer than we expected to get our message across to him or any of the taxi drivers that we came across.

Finally one taxi driver could understand a few of the english words we were spewing out and not knowing whether he fully understood us we hopped into the cab just happy to be leaving the airport. While on the road, my mom, my brothers and I remained vigilant trying to spot the Nigerian embassy as if we knew what to look for.

But after what seemed like an hour or so, almost simultaneously, my mom, my brothers and I said something to the effect of “there it is!” once we spotted the green white green colors of our flag.

We paid off the taxi driver and thanked him profusely with head nods and smiles and proceeded to knock on the gate. After about five minutes, someone opened the gate for us but he was hostile towards us because he thought we were illegal immigrants. We finally showed him our passports and his hostility changed to excessive apologies as he quickly realized he and his colleagues were supposed to pick us up from the airport the previous day! Another lost in translation moment there.

Needless to say, we made it to the house of the Nigerian family we were supposed to stay with and I got my Nigerian food, a shower and some sleep on a real bed. I also got to take in the beautiful skyscrapers of Bangkok and erase any bad taste I had had about Thailand. My only regret? I never got to taste any real Thai food! So I am definitely going back!

This experience taught me a valuable lesson and that is when communicating across boundaries, never give up trying to find common ground. My family and I went into full survival mode and we knew that we had to find our way out of the airport because no one was picking us up so we made extensive efforts to reach out and eventually it paid off.

Today's leadership lesson has to do with the ability to communicate. As TCKs you are going to find yourself in foreign territories and uncomfortable situations more often times than not but it is important to put yourself out there as much as you can. The more you do it, the more comfortable you get and the more at ease you will be so put yourself out there!

Global leaders know how to communicate well and effectively with all sorts of people.

Tayo Rockson

Tayo Rockson is a storyteller, cultural translator, and brand strategist for change-makers on a mission to use his difference to make a difference.  He is a 4x TEDx speaker, the CEO of UYD Management, and the host of the As Told by Nomads podcast. In addition to that, he's been named a "Top 40 Millennial Influencer" by New Theory magazine. His book Use Your Difference To Make A Difference is based on how to connect and communicate in a cross-cultural world.

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