You know the saying “the hardest part is getting your foot out the door”? Maybe that’s not the absolute correct phrase, but I’m sure you know the sort of cliched motivational phrase indicating that the hardest part of any given task is deciding to do the task or getting started. I’m here to tell you today that everything you’ve ever gathered from such sayings is emphatically incorrect. Deciding that I wanted to leave the country for a significant amount of time is one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made. In fact, it’s not so much of a decision as a compulsion.
But I’ve been compelled to do things before that I’ve failed to accomplish, most notably studying abroad and moving to San Francisco. Study abroad didn’t happen because I let myself get discouraged by an administrator who didn’t know me, San Francisco didn’t happen because of logistics. I drove away from school in Massachusetts with the intent of arriving in California after a pit stop in Austin to visit friends and family, but by the time I had arrived I was broke. I needed to find employment in Austin, and a life followed quickly thereafter.
The logistics of moving abroad are enough of a hurdle to keep most sane people from even attempting it. When we first started looking into overseas living options over a year ago, what we heard from others and from the internet was a loud, obnoxious cry to TEACH ENGLISH! This is apparently THE method for twenty-something Americans to leave our shores and support themselves.
Neither Andy nor I have taught in a classroom. The closest I’ve gotten is giving trainings to heavy-duty equipment salesman on using government emissions reduction programs, which, while kind of fun, cannot be even close to conducting language lessons for a classroom of people whose language I do not speak. Nevertheless, we looked at options. Most of the opportunities in South America seemed to actually require teachers to PAY to teach. Several organization in South America offer other employment choices for gringos, but those require one’s Spanish to be polished, not rusty and forgotten in an old box somewhere. Small islands offered good positions, but we wanted to be somewhere that could serve as a base for additional travel, and those seemed rather isolated.
South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan had the best teaching opportunities easily available. We ruled out South Korea, mostly because my sister lived there for a while and truly wasn’t impressed. Though she came back home bearing gifts of imitation designer handbags and products featuring quaint misuses of the English language, her stories more revolved around the stenches, the not-quite-rightness, frustration and a bit of isolation. Though this was just one person’s experience, and an experience centering on a military base at that, I decided I wasn’t passionate, despite Andy hearing quite different anecdotes. South Korea does have one of the most established, best paid programs for Americans wanting to teach English. You probably know someone that has participated and loved it.
Japan’s programs at first appealed to us greatly. Andy and I spent a wonderful, yet very short two weeks in the country in 2010. The teaching program paid a decent amount, though Andy decided that if we were to go, he would seek different employment using his programming skills. The culture of the teaching gig seemed quite in line with the mainstream Japanese employment culture, requiring enthusiastic devotion to the job that is decidedly not in line with American views of work-life balance. While I truly believe this is a culture in which I could happily participate, it wasn’t the experience we were both going for in terms of having the flexibility to travel and indulge in our touristy sides. Later, the whole Fukushima Daiichi thing happened, which probably means Japan is more desperate for teachers than ever, but less of a choice destination. Lastly, Japan is incredibly expensive. We ruled out the Eurozone for this reason as well.
Taiwan seemed like a good option, and I would encourage any seekers of adventure to check out the opportunities available. The island is safe, cheap, and in proximity of many other countries to explore. It seemed as though part-time teaching work would provide one with enough of a salary to live and travel. I even started to put together a GoogleDocs PowerPoint slideshow thing about the benefits of the position and the country, when Andy came home and asked, “Why don’t we just do Thailand?”
His research showed that: 1) Thailand is obscenely cheap and 2) lots of other things that don’t really matter as much as Thailand being incredible affordable. The cost of living and quality of life intersect in a beautiful way, and the location is perfect for trekking around Southeast Asia. By simply refusing to use my savings for practical things like buying a new car or fixing my teeth, I would be able to afford life in Thailand for a good while without having to work. We booked a ticket for a trip to scope it out while researching the visa process and the nitty-gritty details that would make it doable.
In the meantime, life happened. I changed jobs in pursuit of more near-term quality of life standards, informing my new employers that I had a two-week international trip coming up. Andy’s company started taking off. Our lease neared its end. We decided to take that ticket and make it happen right away, and make it happen based on the savings that we already have. I’m giving my three week notice at work today.
We have enrolled in a Thai language academy where we will learn primarily written Thai. The Royal Thai Embassy in DC currently possesses our passports, letters of acceptance, and visa applications which they are presumably using as ingredients for bureaucratic magic that will result in the formulation of 90-day educational visas that we can renew three times. On December 7th, we will arrive in Bangkok, where we have a hotel booked for a week in the Silom district. On the 14th we will travel to Chiang Mai, where we plan to stay indefinitely, taking Thai classes and living life.
Getting to this point of certainty has taken 18 months of saving money, weeks upon weeks of research and planning, thousands of dollars, anxiety-riddled sleepless nights, and dozens of incomprehensible language-barriered emails, with plenty of heavy-lifting still to come. We finished the “getting started” part months ago and have been slogging through the bloody logistics of leaving, a trying test of nerves that has ultimately lasted longer that we even plan to be abroad. At this point, I’m more than ready for the adventure part–the payoff. Perhaps those old cliches are really warning us about the inherent time-sink and headache of bureaucracy when trying to pursue our goals, not just the decision to act.
Hi! I'm Susan, and this is my travel journal. You can read more about me here.
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