Photo Credit: EzraZonia O’Neal | Instagram: @_godbodye_
The Black Expat: Why The Universe Called Me To Teach In Thailand
EzraZonia O’Neal Morris grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where the only traveling experiences he had included family trips to Sea World and Busch Gardens in Florida. Now, the 27-year-old lives and teaches over 9,000 miles away in Bangkok, Thailand.
Travel Noire spoke to EzraZonia about his move to Bangkok and what made him choose Thailand to call home.
“What better way to learn how things work but through the youth,” he tells Travel Noire. “The universe called me to Thailand. I’m glad I answered back.”
Between the great food, cheap currency exchange, beautiful scenery, and enchanting culture, Thailand is the Land of Smiles. When he needs his locs retwisted or cocoa butter, he hits up his black expat family in Bangkok. Meeting kind-hearted people, like the non-English speaking Thai man who helped fix his motorbike on the highway, was a regular for Morris. But life in the city has been what he calls “an interesting dynamic.”
Being black in Thailand means standing out in a crowd, sometimes receiving stares and unapologetic comments. Morris recalled seeing promo ads for skin whitening cream at the airport and being denied jobs because he was black.
“I’ve been denied jobs because I’m black and there was no shame in telling me so. People stare at me, sometimes it’s unapologetic. I’m still kind of getting used to it,” he said.
The first few months were a bit of a challenge for Morris. It wasn’t easy adapting to a new culture, especially when it came to the language barriers and finding vegan alternatives amongst Thailand’s carnivorous culture. He became vegan two years ago after watching documentaries like Netflix’s The Game Changers and reading books by Dr. Max Gerson about healing from diseases through plant-based diets.
“In Thai culture, meat is a big staple in their diet,” Morris says. “I had to learn the language and where I could eat. Now there’s a lot more western influence, so vegan spots are popping up everywhere.”
Most traditional Thai dishes include shrimp, beef, chicken, and pork. Morris was able to find vegan alternatives for all of these meals and others. He frequents vegan/vegetarian-friendly places like Chaingmai Cafe in Bangkok and Rasayana Raw Food Cafe.
Although he spent summers volunteering at Special Kids: Camp Ability camp with his mother, Morris didn’t initially intend on teaching formally. Yet, his family and friends always thought he was a natural at it, and helping others.
Morris currently teaches listening, speaking, and writing at a school in Samut Songkhram, just an hour south of Bangkok. “I always try to mirror the teachers that had the most influence in my life and incorporate my own style.”
For him, teaching was a way to exchange cultures and learn the Thai language. His favorite moments are spent with his students, and from the looks of his Facebook page, his students seem to truly love and appreciate Mr. Morris and his attention to being there for them, whether that means simply listening or talking to the students about self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
“For me, teaching is an avenue to get settled into living here. I choose to teach to exchange culture, language, and learn the mindset of Thailand and the people here,” he said.
Last month, he was able to introduce his family to his new home in Thailand. They spent the day visiting iconic temples such as Wat Arun, Wat Pho, and backpacker hub Khao San Road. Then his family took a train ride to the ancient city of Ayutthaya and hit up the Samut Songkhram train market. Before ending their vacation, Morris and his family relaxed on the quiet island of Koh Mak.
In his spare time, you can catch Morris at the Erawan Waterfall, visiting wild monkeys at Khao Yai National Park, cooling off from the heat in the mountains of Chaing Mai, partying under a full moon on the island of Koh Chang, or whale shark diving at Koh Tao.