How You Can Live In Several Countries At Once

World Map & Suitcase

Are you the type who breaks out in a cold sweat every time they think they will settle in a country for the rest of your life?

Do you feel you want to run fast and far away when you envision staying in the same place forever?

Do you imagine living in different countries in your lifetime?

If you answer yes to any of these then you’re like me who face commitment issues when it comes to choosing countries.

Like jobs, I have tried my fair share of trying out different countries. I have already lived in five countries before my 30s and moved from one to another in 2 months. I have visited and even started the migration process for Australia and New Zealand (I’m even a licensed teacher in New Zealand).

Whenever I think that I was going to live in one country for the rest of my life, I get cold feet and my mind just shuts down. I start finding things wrong with the country (too boring, too far from everywhere else, too cold) and the prospect of being permanently chained to that feels like an irrevocable decision. What if I make the biggest mistake that I’m stuck with forever? The thought terrifies me (welcome to how everyone feels on their wedding day).

That’s when I hit upon the answer in the book The Renaissance Souls. In my previous post, I mentioned the book gave me hope in exploring all my career interests and still have a sustainable career. It’s for people who have a vast and bottomless hunger for learning different interests and cannot just hold on to one job for long.

This time I want to explore Renaissance Souls in the perspective of travel and living abroad. As free spirits, traveler love to flit from place to place. Ask any of them to settle in one place forever and they’d hoist their backpack and run for the nearest bus. Ask any expat if they’d be willing to live in their adopted country for the rest of their lives and see them hop on their bike and drive away.

Conservatives would say these people need to put down roots, buy a house and get a mortgage, pay their taxes and join the real world for God’s sake!

What if they don’t want to? What if they still want to look at the Swiss Alps when they wake up, learn tango in Argentina and study kung fu in China?

And that’s where I found the answer. Apply the Focal Point Sampler.

The Focal Point Sampler in the Renaissance Soul is a concept where a person chooses to sample three-four interests he would love to do now and do them. If he loves his sampler palate, then he can invest more time in them and commit. If he doesn’t like it, he can always switch to a new interest.

The same could be said if you can’t decide on settling and living in a new place the rest of your life (like climbing one career ladder forever). Try sampling two-three different places and then decide if you can live longer in one. Or try living in one place and once you’ve outgrown it, you can freely switch.

Here are some thoughts to consider for this experiment:

  • Have a purpose. Traveling around the place is vastly different than living in a place. Having a purpose helps in putting down roots and getting to know the community around you. Try volunteering for a cause, studying the language, doing a photography project, writing, doing a meditation course or a retreat. I studied Spanish for four months in Chile and got to form deep relationships with the people around me. Four months was enough of a commitment for me to know Chile wasn’t for me so I was able to move on.

 

  • One or two months will be ideal. Three days to one week doesn’t cut it. You must stay a little longer to put down a little bit of roots and deepen and get to know the people around you. Also, it’ll give you some time to know the place well enough to have a favorite restaurant, a hang out place, a go to place for friends and a routine that simulates you have lived in that place.  Sometimes you can even give them nicknames. In China, my friends and I have nicknamed restaurants like The Tofu Place, Muslim Noodle Place and Mr Wong’s Kitchen even though they weren’t the actual name of the restaurants.

This will be really difficult to do if you have a 9-5 job especially in countries that give really short annual leave like the US and Japan. But there are alternatives. What if you can take unpaid leave like my friend from Boston who took a whole month off for Colombia? Or my friend in Minnesota who struck a deal to do telecommute for 6 months and moved with his family to study Mandarin in China?

  • Have a home base. At that time when I was jumping from one country to another last year, I often had a base to go home to – the Philippines. A base is great to decompress and think about either continuing or trying out another country sampler.

In my case, since I couldn’t decide on a country, I’ve decided to do this Focal Point Sampler experiment and sample different countries in small bites. No commitment. Perhaps find a summer teaching job in Oman, rent a house in Madagascar for a month, study Italian in Italy. The list goes on. And perhaps one day I can finally decide to settle in one country for a year.

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A Year of Change – What Happens After Travel Part 3

 

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I was pretty excited as soon as I arrived in the land of Pho-Vietnam. I remember when I travelled to Saigon four years ago and wondered if Hanoi would be the same. Would it have the French style cafes shaded with clipped trees? Would locals laze outside and watch the world go by while they sip their intense coffee with condensed milk? Would people dine with French bread, a side salad of basil, mint, lime and a dash of chilli coupled with a nice steaming soup of rice pho? Would the streets be flooded with mad motorcycles running down every local to the ground?

Hanoi was that and more.

Hanoi was bad ass. It was the capital and cultural hub of Vietnam. It was the communist side during the Vietnam War, the land of the Viet Cong till they took over and reunited the whole country. There were more French style architecture, Chinese style pagodas and lots of museums to visit to your heart’s content. Being closer to China meant more of a Chinese influence and it was less Southeast Asiany than its Southern counterpart – Saigon.

 

Hanoi's motorbikes

Hanoi’s motorbikes

I got hired as a high school Business teacher in a school here. I was excited at the prospect of teaching something new, a field I learned so much in a short period, a field I was pumped to continue studying in. I was given the assumption that I would have 2-3 subjects in Business. I hadn’t taught high school before but was assured by the school staff that everything would be fine. Peachy keen.

It was not.

My first week they dropped the bomb I would teach five subjects at four different levels – 2 of which were in middle school. Middle school! I could’ve cried out loud. The last time I taught middle school was in China and I volunteered to teach children of migrant parents. I nearly got ripped apart by those brats. Kids are all cute outside, sure. But once that illusion is over, they turn into the most cunning monsters. They lie. They cheat. They try to deceive you and are often pushing their boundaries.

I protested that as a new teacher I couldn’t handle that many subjects. I was again assured that this was fine. I pointed out that I was promised I would be teaching mostly high school since that was what I was used to experience in China. Again, more assurances.

Later, the staff returned with sweet smiles and said they’ve considered my request and

have deducted one subject from my work load. I sighed in relief. When I looked at my subjects list, my heart dropped.

“Where are my business subjects? I thought I was hired as a business teacher. There’s only one.”

More sweet smiles. Surprise! You’re now teaching ESL.

ESL. The reason why I left China.

Hue - city of lanterns in Vietnam

Hue – city of lanterns in Vietnam

Perhaps I didn’t do enough research on how schools were like in Vietnam. The myriads of taxi scams should have been a dead giveaway. They lure you with false promises into that country. I realized later it was customary to draw teachers in with honeyed hopes only to trap them in a vicious tight spider web. That they should learn to gulp, resign and take what they can get is a necessity to survive in this country.

I couldn’t stand it.

This is the way we do thing. Bullshit. I hold people to what they promised at the beginning. How can institutions be trusted when they lie upfront and then say, “Oh, it’s how things work?”

So if I buy a product from a seller and was assured it would work, it should work. Not when I return a dysfunctional product only to have the seller give it back to me all smiles and say, “So I lied. It’s broken, actually. This is how things work.”

Welcome to China.

Thankfully my experience with schools in China weren’t like that.

I later learned the school I was in was one of the worst in Vietnam. That they are nothing but a 100% for profit school that even accepts students from the mafia. Their enrolment was down currently because a student drowned in their pool since no one was watching the kids. This for profit school is so stingy with their facilities that teachers get a limited stack of A4 paper to print and they have to bring their own markers and whiteboard erasers because classrooms don’t have them while charging students a big tuition. Classes were also wrongly re-assessed and given the wrong textbooks. Teachers and staff were overburdened with too much work. Also, they fire teachers at the parents’ whim – again a for profit strategy. There’s a malfunction in the product? Destroy the product. Customer satisfaction guaranteed.  They recently fired a good teacher because only one parent complained. The school did not even defend her.

I couldn’t stomach working for such a school.

They also pile heaps and heaps of bullshit on teachers till it’s beginning to reek worse than a dumping site. Not only do teachers have to juggle five to six preps, they have to prepare all lessons plans (in immaculate detail) and create weekly report for all their classes – including comments. All updated into the system every week. They are also required to attend every Monday assembly and listen with blank confused glassy stares while the principal drones on and drones on in Vietnamese and not one of us can understand it. Oh, there are also clubs, detention duty, extracurricular activities, two-three weekly coordinator meetings, one weekly staff meeting, parent teacher meetings, homeroom classes. Did I mention breathing is optional?

On top of it, I was added two more subjects (six subjects now!), warned that I might have one less Teaching Assistant as well as struggling seriously hard with teaching the kids. Not only did I have low level classes with behavioural problems, I was also teaching the worst class in all of the school. I was ill equipped – training wise. I could’ve tried my darnedest best but my heart wasn’t in it.

To put it simply, I don’t like kids.

Because of them, I did not just have one but several breakdowns during my first month in the most horrible school I’ve ever taught in my career. Shouting fruitlessly at 8th graders while they run around the classroom, all I could do was look at the ceiling and thought how much I hated my life at that very second. Each day was another day in the PolPot  Regime School. It was worse than not getting a job in Japan or Australia. Worse than being broke. Worse than my months long  depression in Chile. I was at the lowest point of my life and I don’t know if I could truly recover from it.

 

I realized that I did not want another day of this. That I did not want my career path to be teaching kids. That I am learning nothing. I am working towards nothing. My happiness will amount to nothing the more I slave at the Gulag mines. My relationships would become nothing the longer I neglect them. My time meant nothing when I spend most of it prepping and doing bullshit after bullshit work. That this sizeable amount of money was sucking away the very marrow of my soul till I am nothing but a shadow of a self.

 

The turning point came when we had a rehearsal assembly scheduled in the afternoon. All teachers must attend. We got an email saying it was cancelled. Hours later, my coordinator informed me in class that it was back on again but neglected to say if teachers still had to attend. I wanted to catch up on my ton of work so I didn’t go – not my fault I wasn’t duly informed.

 

The staff was mad. Mad that I did not stand in the shade on my ass for an hour doing absolutely nothing while students march around. Excuse me while doing some work of value than be present for presentation’s sake.

 

Now admin was on my case.

 

I knew then it was time to leave not knowing that the staff had other plans in mind, that they never intend for me to leave.

To be continued. Coming up next is the confrontation

A Year of Change Series

Part 1

Part 2

2013 A Year of Change – My Journey After Traveling Part 1

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In 2012, I made a decision to quit my job and move to South America.

I had a plan. My grand plan was to study Spanish, find a writing/teaching job and live there for a year then get my Masters.

As usual, life had other plans for me. I disliked living in Chile and surprisingly grew homesick. My worst case scenario came true: return home broke and jobless.

I thought 2012 was the year of change for me. 2013 definitely topped that. 2013 was the year I tried forming new Grand Plans only for them to fall flat.

Let’s start with migration…

Working in China, you soon develop the idea you want to move somewhere else, shall I say with a bit of permanence. A place where you can get better pay, better benefits, better healthcare, people with better manners.  I wanted to get Permanent Residence in an English speaking country without worrying about my work visa. Back in  2010, I had decided to move to Australia and find a job there.  That didn’t work (catch 22-you needed a work permit to get a job there. To get a work permit you need a job.). So I decided on an easier country to migrate to – New Zealand.

I worked tirelessly to endure that Mt Doom of paperwork and managed to complete out of 3 stages of my migration visa application. Only one was left. I hadn’t visited the country yet.

A stroke of miracle came when my sister gave me enough money to purchase tickets from the Philippines and a cousin in Auckland that offered me accommodations and food. So last June, I packed my hobbit feet and elvish ears and left for Middle Earth.

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New Zealand’s beauty jumped out of the musty pages of a thick volume of Lord of the Rings. I’ve never been in such a country that could only be described in one word: EPIC. Endless rolling green hills, fresh crisp air, powder blue sky and I was only in the North. Most say the South is more beautiful. My geeky side managed to pull my cousin and an old high school classmate to Hobbiton – the Shire set for The Hobbit and the rest of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s like you stepped into the pages of Tolkien’s epic and became enveloped with the fresh earthy comfortable homeliness of the hobbits. Sipping apple cider in The Green Dragon’s tavern with a crisp roaring fire and surrounded with musty maps of Middle Earth, I didn’t want to set foot into the real world again..

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Still, even though I fell in love with the wondrous captivating beauty of New Zealand for some reason my heart knew it wasn’t time for me to settle in Hobbitland yet.

My mind also digested the fact that it would be hard getting a job for a teaching position there and the job offer was the only thing standing between me and migration into the fold of the elves in Middle Earth.

But there was another thing that stopped me in pursuing full throttle from settling in NZ. And it came in the form of an email that tantalized me to work as a marketing assistant in the Land of the Golden Elephant: Thailand.

To be continued….

Photos YearofChange,  JustTravel, AffairsMagazine