Living Abroad: Daniel & Reed II

This week, I’ll have them talk about their lowest and highest points during their experience, and what the implications were, if any.

Thanks for joining us for another week as we learn a little bit more about Daniel and Reed’s experiences abroad.

This week, I’ll have them talk about their lowest and highest points during their experience, and what the implications were, if any. If you didn’t see part one of this exchange, go take a look first: Living Abroad: Daniel & Reed I


As you know, I had my own experiences living abroad. My first month in Hanoi was pretty much consumed with finding a job.

It wasn’t enough to pay the bills, so to speak. I was doing that back home. I wanted to do something different. However, it can be a tough balance holding off on what is offered in preference for what you want. What you want may not be there after all…

Thus, I was interested to find that both Reed and Daniel cited their career paths as a major contributing factor leading to the lowest and highest points during their travel. I wanted to explore this more.

When thinking back on his career abroad, Daniel expresses a lucid, clear understanding of his successes and failures abroad.

I spent nine years working for United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education, as an Instructional Leadership Coordinator. It was my greatest success. [My family and I] got to know what it is like to be rich and live an enchanted life […] It is also my greatest failure because I let materialism control my life and I did not save any money from that time. I was making 120,000$ a year in Dubai. I saved enough to buy our farm in Isaan, but I could have been retired by now if I didn’t live in a Villa next to the Arabian Gulf and drive a tricked-out Hummer for nine years.

 

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The Hummer

While he concedes that he doesn’t “regret the Hummer” because it was the “best vehicle” he ever owned, he is also quick to point out why his greatest success was his biggest failure. Perhaps owing to the humility he learned from at one point having it all, he admits that nobody “cares if you wear a Rolex and drive a Hummer.

 

These days, Daniel opts out of caring what other people think, preferring, he says, to “take care of [himself] and [his] family.” To him, the whole thing was “a learning experience.

When asked about his successes and failures, Reed admits that he was motivated by his fear of failure abroad.

Failure to me would be having to go back because of lack of money or with nothing to show. This drove me to make sure that I succeeded and gave everything my all. There was a time that I was working 4 jobs 7 days a week so that I could afford to live here and still pay bills from back home. But I didn’t want to go back home.

He continues, owing his greatest success to a position offered to him by an Export company in Hanoi, as Marketing Manager. Having a stable job wherein he could make connections “paved the way for many of [his] successes” abroad.

For Reed, however, his job at the Export company, would eventually lead him to a period of intense worry as he left to pursue the possibility of starting his own company.

[…] I freaked out and was questioning everything. Is this a smart move, should I just go back to the US and make more money there, how can I get my girlfriend a visa there… I was so freaked out I even emailed an old client in the US about job opportunities. I mulled it all over and realized that I would regret more not taking a chance with starting a company here than if I just went home for quick money.

 

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Reed’s girlfriend, Ly

Like Daniel, motivated by the need and desire to support his family, Reed had other motivations. “I had met the girl of my dreams.” Together, they created @HanoiHandbook, a resource for travel in Vietnam, which they still run.

 

Reed closes by admitting he is “sacrificing things like financial security” by living abroad, but his desire to “shift [his] career” into a new direction motivates him beyond that.

One of the last questions I asked Daniel and Reed has to do with hindsight. I asked them to think back on their first weeks abroad and think about what advice they’d give their eager, uninitiated selves.

Reminding us of the very real phenomenon of Culture Shock, Daniel’s advice is to go out and “make friends with the locals as soon as possible.”

I don’t think its day 1 that you have to worry about, it’s more like day 29 when home-sickness and culture chock set in. Culture shock is very real and like any form of shock you don’t realise that you are in it. It can and will lead to depression, especially if you are prone to depression. Don’t worry it will go away.

As you will see when I explore Culture Shock in another entry, some get it early on, others, like myself, get it over a year into their travels. For Daniel, “six to eight months” is all he needed for “the chaos and oddities” to “become normal,” and allow him to “concentrate on living life.”

Reed highlights “keeping an open mind” during your time abroad.

Living abroad isn’t for everyone. I think the best thing is to be prepared but not over prepared. Living in a new country has a learning curve that can’t come from reading books or blogs you kind of just have to do it. So before you even get to day 1 make sure this is something you truly want to do and if it is just go after it, make it work […] enjoy the adventure. For me, I have enjoyed every second of it here and would say my quality of life [has] increased greatly […] but can come at a cost.


I wrap this up by confessing that I hope my readers benefited from these short exchanges in some way.

I feel that by comparing Reed and Daniel’s account, we can get a more holistic picture of what sort of adversities are faced living abroad. Moreover, we can see the motivations behind relocating one’s life entirely– and what keeps them there.


Next week, I will introduce two other individuals living abroad and explore their experiences. Additionally, I will continue to add to my Experiences in Thailand.

Expat Life in Hanoi, Vietnam

I know it’s been a while since my last post but getting situated in Hanoi was more work than I anticipated!

 

17622263_1578184102192947_1518307075_oAs some may already know, most expats living in Southeast Asia take to teaching as their primary gig. Unless you speak Vietnamese or are a musician, artist, or work remotely, there isn’t a lot else. Although I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of teaching kids, having no experience and always supremely hating speaking in front of groups, I knew I’d warm up to it with practice.

My first job was with Ms. Vân’s Outdoor English Club (OEC), which is a pretty sweet gig.

17157723_10208150386908356_4041139210502262024_oShe was a good boss– fair– who really cared about learning outcomes. Having studied abroad in Cambridge University herself, she had good command of English, real expectations, and had a constant stream of ideas. I would meet kids enrolled in the program at local parks, museums, and other outdoor getaways where I’d then lead a mix of games and crafts. The objective was simple: get these kids interacting with and using English in a fun environment, outside of the classroom. For me, this was great because I could build confidence interacting with kids and parents without the pressures associated with a classroom. Despite finding full-time work at a private school a few months later, I’d remain working with Ms. Vân until leaving Vietnam, almost two years later.

While working for OEC for 8-10 hours per weekend was nice, I began to run into some difficulty with the cover classes I’d get all over town.

For those who don’t know what a cover class is, it’s simple. Say you work teaching at a center but are sick. There’s a group set-up and ran by expat teachers; post in the group with the information, lesson plans, and materials, as well as the hourly rate. Boom! 21014127_10209435189587620_5766028895162967893_oNow you, the permanent teacher, have just set up a cover class for another expat. Basically, you’re a substitute. If anybody remembers how we treated substitutes in America, you can maybe see why it isn’t so fun. What I I found was that because of the money involved in English centers and ESL in Vietnam, a lot of centers are at-home, give little regard to true learning outcomes or objectives, and don’t provide the necessary environment for positive outcomes.

Working in “bad” centers can quickly suck the life out of you and cause you to dread going to work.

Because these centers don’t have no concern for learning outcomes as long as the cash keeps coming, I quickly  found myself feeling more like a babysitter than a teacher, lacking the framework for success. In Vietnam, they have a name for that: “monkey teachers.” It started to wear me down and eventually developed into a low-grade depression.

In fact, I contemplated taking the meager amount of money I had already saved and continuing on as a backpacker.

I told myself that I would wait it out, keep hunting for a good job– one that cared, regardless of their ability to pay the high wages typical of Hanoi (+20USD/hour). I told myself to ride the waves and reminded myself that life consists of ups and downs; all things arise, exist, then expire.

17571283_1578184012192956_191711479_oSo, what I did was submit my application to as many centers as I could, refusing to settle until I found one that worked for me. Eventually, I found an English center in Vân Quan, Ha Dong district. My demo lesson went well, the kids and staffed liked me, and the feeling was right– I could see myself working their. After a few weeks, I was offered to take on two more classes.

One year later, I’d find myself there in the capacity as Head Teacher working full-time and earning $25 USD/hour.

Below is a break-down of my biggest expenses:

Rent = 3.125 million VND/month+ 1 million VND for utilities (Roughly $190/month)

Motorbike = 300,000 VND/week or 1.2 million VND/month ($55/month)

 

Stay tuned for an in-depth breakdown of my costs in each of the four countries I visited.

 

Center of Gravity

I won’t even mention how fresh everything feels outside the confines of the apartment; the sea of motorbikes, chickens everywhere– living, dead, or somewhere in between– a symphony of honks, dogs barking, roosters crowing, and construction. So, if ever it feels like things have gone back to what they were, all the new things I am experiencing and will experience flood into my head. I welcome the madness that is Hanoi.

Today marks the end of my fifth day in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Traveling with limited funds has forced me to postpone my backpacking travels and return to a somewhat civilian life– at least in the sense of routines, a room to call my own, possessions beyond what I can carry on my back, etc. I can’t deny that it all feels a little contradictory. Originally, I set out on my journey to ditch the very things that I now find myself searching for in Hanoi: a job, a motorbike, work clothes.

While backpacking, I felt like a meteor floating through space. At times, I’d crash into something or the gravity of something else would pull me this way or that. I enjoyed having no plan. Now, as resident of Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, I found myself searching for the very things I ditched three months prior.

At first, I worried that life was doubling back on itself, about to revert to the status quo.

However, this wasn’t the case. Stepping outside my room on the fourth floor of a five-story house, everything felt fresh despite the pollution– the sea of motorbikes, the chickens and loud dogs, the labyrynthian maze complex within which our apartment was situated. So far, I welcomed the madness that is Hanoi. Amidst all of this, I was soon afflicted by the prospect of having to find a job in a foreign country. The beat of the new few days would consist of cover-letters, resumes, and demo classes.

This is a balancing act, albeit a new one in a very different environement. In trying to find balance. This is exciting as hell as it gives me the chance to pick and choose what I want in my life again.

All Things Arise, Exist, and Expire

Perhaps that look inwards is another goal in travelling to the more remote parts of the world.

Catching me off-guard, a stranger I’ve only known for two days noticed a sadness in me that goes unnoticed back home.

I was straddling a ledge on the roof of our hostel, smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer. The main street created a corridor that framed the sunset along the town’s main street. 16707386_10207937500506329_5323739127012508184_oI think it’s normal to feel highs and lows in life. I just get like this sometimes, I told her, throwing in a dumb joke about how I wouldn’t jump. She laughed and admitted that even if I jumped, the wires would brace my fall and I’d probably be alright. She left and I finished my beer. Strangely, I felt like crying.

 

 

 

Despite having so much time to myself while backpacking, I still experience many of the same negative emotions that I did back home.

Realistically, I feel these negative emotions are arising pricesely because I have so much time to myself. There is no distration to make me forget, to weed to numb the uncomfortable feelings I feel sometimes. 

In an environment without television, internet, or other distractions, one really has nowhere else to look and starts to look inward.

Perhaps that look inwards is a subconscious goal of travelling to remote parts of the world. With that increased inward gaze, one starts to be aware of things that was previously suppressed with distractions. Traveling in Asia has no shortage of distractions to the foreigner should they welcome it but can be equally distraction-free if you design your trip that way (no portable movie players, ipods, etc). This isn’t a 12-hour trip to distract yourself during, it’s something you need to interact with as much as possible and in as many ways as possible. In doing so, your interactions with travel will, in reality, be interactions with the self; the decisions you make, the people you seek out, and the way you hold yourself.

If at any time things get tough or heavy, realize a fundamental truth: All things arise, exist, and expire. Nothing is permanent. Things come in and go out. The thing that is liked just appears for a moment, exists, and expires.