Both Liz and I have recently returned from a 16 month Career Break travelling in South East Asia and teaching English in Vietnam. For the most part we lived and worked in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) and took regular trips throughout the region.
During this time we got a real sense of living in in a foreign land, we had neighbours, a landlord and work colleagues. We were known in all the local shops and restaurants and even the market traders stopped trying to over charge us when they realised we were there to stay. In retrospect we gained so much more from our daily dealings about everyday things than I think we could ever hope gain as a tourist. To support ourselves; we taught English, and to be honest, we probably learned much more from our students than they ever learned from us.
During my Career Break I have trekked through the paddy fields of Sapa, explored the ancient ruins of Ankor Wat, watched the sunset over Hong Kong and shopped till I dropped in Singapore. I also made friends for life with my Vietnamese colleagues and students. What led me to do this?
At the age of thirty eight I had spent many years working in the corporate world as an office worker. As you may know, the office worker is a species that usually comes with the trimmings of a mortgage, a pension a car loan etc etc. You get the picture. A nice safe life where you enjoy a glass of wine after work with friends, go to dinner parties and shop for shoes.
When I first met Robert, I had never considered a Career Break, instead, like many of us, I had been raised by my parents with a moral of work all your life and your reward will be a good retirement. This is what my father believed, and he passed away shortly after retiring at the age of 65. If you have dreams, then better to live them now whilst you can and not wait like my father did.
You may have many dreams that you cannot achieve while working in an office. One of my dreams was to travel and live abroad. I had only lived in three places in my life, Nottingham (where I was born), Hertfordshire (where I went to University), and London (where I live at the time of writing this). There was a whole world out there and I had not lived more than a couple of hundred miles of where I was born.
With all my corporate baggage; I was full fear about leaving my nice safe world and stepping out into the unknown. How would I pay my mortgage and fund myself, would I be able to get a job when I returned, especially in these difficult times? These were just some of the worries that kept me awake at night.
The reality is, I had nothing to worry about. I rented out my flat through an agent who took care of everything during my absence, I trained as a TEFL teacher (teaching English to people whose first language is not English), I earned a decent wage in Asia teaching English and I started a new job within a few weeks of returning to the UK.
On top of being able to return to the UK without the loss of what many see as the holy grail of being a home owner, I am now earning a lot more money as a contractor than I did as a permanent employer and my eyes, mind and heart are open to many things that they were previously closed to. I am currently planning my next trip for when my current contract ends.
I believe my career break has changed me for the better. I have a better understanding of other cultures, my mind is no longer closed to possibilities and I don’t consider a designer handbag as a must have accessory….however since being back I do have an ever increasing shoe collection…well, every woman needs a vice.
Unlike Liz, I have travelled extensively through my work in Film and Television. In addition to spending time “On location” around the world, I spent a lot of time living and working in both the USA and Africa.
I enrolled in a TEFL course in London prior to departure while Liz continued at her work and she took a similar course when we arrived in Vietnam.
The biggest surprise to me was how much we both enjoyed teaching. The children were such a joy to work with that at times it seemed criminal to call it work. Not only was I being well paid but I was also awarded “Teacher of the Year” for which I received a weekend at a 5 star resort. Friends and family still have difficulty believing this one until I show them my certificate.
As much as I love visiting new places and meeting new people, one of the biggest attractions to me was the daily sunshine. I don’t know about you but I’ve never been a lover of our Great British weather, living abroad certainly brought out the sunnier side in me. At first it was quite disconcerting to see everyone walk around all day with beaming smiles, it just wasn’t natural to be so happy. So very different to peoples expressions as I travel to work on the Underground. No prizes for guessing which I’d prefer.
As much as I thought I’d miss family and friends, technologies such as Skype and Facebook ensured that we were always in regular contact and thanks to MoonPig, even birthdays and Xmas were easy. In short I thoroughly enjoyed our time out and my only regret is that I hadn’t done it sooner.