People’s expat careers or expat experiences begin at different touch points in life. Some move abroad after a second or third job when the opportunity arises, some start young and move abroad with parents as they relocate overseas, others are simply “third culture kids” who were born and bred in a foreign country. Wherever the touch points are, life abroad can be a character-building experience as this week’s guest blogger, Will Peach discovers…
Giving up on the UK even when times were good:
Hotfooting it to Vietnam
|Source: Creative Commons/ JensAar|
There are certain points in life where you may feel dissatisfied with your current surroundings and living in the status-quo. When I graduated from University, in the summer of 2008 before the economic collapse, I encountered one of those moments and decided to hotfoot it out of the fair Isles of Britain and fly half-way around the world in escape.
I guess, for me, it was a simple case of wanderlust and that curiosity to see more of the world - and that hunger for new experience - that led to the trip of a lifetime. Drawing me to Asia, and, more specifically, Vietnam, I landed in September (a mere two weeks after graduating) and began my life anew.
Little did I know, that my time in Vietnam would prove the making of me. It was there that I truly found myself and began to understand just who I was. It was there that I tasted the true benefit of travel, my perspective having widened for the better.
Not having much idea about what direction I wished to go in life at that point, I enrolled on a course studying for the CELTA (the prerequisite teaching English abroad certificate) at a Ho Chi Minh City-based school called ILA. There I undertook four weeks of intensive study, teaching for a few hours a week for the first time in my life and cramming every other spare second into assignments and trying to understand the formation of my own language!
Thankfully the same school took me on right after I got my certificate. Signing a year contract I quickly settled in the country’s expat lifestyle, hanging out in high-end coffee shops and shopping malls on my days off (of which there were plenty). I felt like a king living in my two-bedroom apartment in a residential block of flats in a great area of the city, exercising at a five-star hotel resort gym in the evenings. By Vietnamese standards I guess I was one!
For a twenty-two year old however, that life came too fast and, let’s face it, without a great deal of work or any real sense of having “earned it”. Pretty quickly it all began to feel “too easy” and a certain amount of guilt began to creep in. Exacerbated every time I’d pass through the streets and watch people working all hours of the day for so little, I began to think more about what I was doing there and more about where I wanted to go in life.
That’s when I made the decision to start putting my free time to more productive ends, beginning a course of self-study that, if you tie the ends together, leads up right to where I’m at now. Dedicating every second to studying, I began learning how blogs and the Internet worked and started messing around building my own and working with others to help grow theirs.
Source: Creative Commons/Many Moon
Off the back of all this, I managed to score a gig at one of Vietnam’s biggest expat-lifestyle magazines and started writing for them on a part-time basis as well as managing their online presence. Filled with initial trepidation, and not having a great deal of work-experience outside that of a classroom, I surprised myself by recognising just how diligent and passionate I’d become about working on such projects. It seemed that more doors abroad, being a big fish in a small pond, opened too!
Outside of work I also grew leaps and bounds. In the classroom I became a leader, growing out of my shell and holding myself with pride and confidence. My love for the country, for Asia and for travel, also grew to an unprecedented degree. Those initial fears - of the language, the culture, the feeling missing friends and family back home – all those that were so strong at the time – subsided and made way for a buzzing feeling in my stomach.
Every day I woke up feeling privileged and excited to step outside. Every day I marveled at something new, whether it was a sight or something learned from a conversation with a passing stranger.
Yes I was an expat, but I was also part of the country in my own way. How many of us get to truly experience that?
Needless to say the downfall of doing this while you’re young is that one is naïve and prone to bad decisions. Having travelled out to the country with my girlfriend at the time, come the end of our contract she decided to head home and gave me an ultimatum for doing the same.
Against my better judgment – and clouded by the youthful fear of being left alone – I followed her back and ignored and suppressed the true feelings in my heart. It was the wrong decision to make. My only real, and deepest regret. Coming back to London, we only lasted another few months.
Still it doesn’t do well to always dwell on the negatives. Right now I’m in the best shape of my life and only have this experience to thank for it. Having finally got back on my true path in the pursuit of language, travel and learning, I’m living in Spain, writing for a living.
I haven’t yet been back to Asia, but I know that it’s only a matter of time.
That risk I took way back then when everyone told me not to, it helped me to discover a whole new world. A new world where I became my own man. I discovered my own interests and lived every day full of life and enchantment with that which surrounded me.
It’s thanks to this experience that for the rest of my life I’ll be forever looking forward.
About the author
Will Peach is the site editor at GapDaemon.com, a gap year travel site for young independent travelers and also heads up a blog about living in Spain. He currently lives in Granada, Spain.