A Mirror Image – Teaching In The West And In Thailand
I'd like to tell you about my teaching and lifestyle situation (Terry) and that of my best friend (Steven). We are both professional educators, with life stories that veered apart in opposing directions.
We went to University in London together in the early 80s (we are both now in our early 40s) and subsequently travelled to Thailand together for a "year out" at the conclusion of our degrees. We both loved nearly every aspect of
the carefree lifestyle we had as long stay tourists, and were both tempted to stay on after the funds ran out. However, only Steven remained. After a long debate and some soul-searching, I came back to London.
Having returned to England, not sure of what to do, I decided to gain some more education, and applied for and completed a PGCE in East London. It was a great course, and I immediately found a job teaching in rural Kent. I bought a house, worked hard,
and had an enjoyable lifestyle. I was promoted to head of department in an independent school 5 years later, and bought a bigger house. I was also able to spend large amounts of time visiting Steve in Thailand each year, and usually spent 2 of
my 3 months annual leave in Thailand, learning the language and continuing to get to know the culture. Indeed, I did so well that I found myself a lovely wife, a physiotherapy graduate of Chulalongkorn University, who has now been by my side in
London for approaching 10 years. She is very happy in London, has a great job in the NHS, and is active in the Thai community here. Life is and has been very sweet.
Recently my wife suggested that we consider going to live in Thailand, as her parents are now elderly, and she would like to see them more often. I thought this was a great idea, and we have been making plans. Our mortgage will be completely
paid off mid 2006, giving us capital totalling 250,000 pounds (18 million baht). I have, through my connections in the independent school sector, been researching teaching jobs in Thailand. I have been reassured that a salary of some 140,000 baht
per month will be obtainable for a man with my years and level of experience, and I have had positive responses from the international schools that I have been in discussions with.
We plan to build a 6 bed roomed "palace" in my wife's home city, and rent a condo locally to the school I will be recruited to. I have a great relationship with my parents, and they are even considering joining us in or nearby
the "palace". Everything looks rosy. I have plenty of support funds to wait for the right job role to come along, be that 2 months or 2 years.
After I left him at the airport in Bangkok all those years ago, Steven immediately looked for ways to support himself. He tried several failed avenues before settling on the teaching of English. During my visits, he seemed content enough, although never
seemed too willing to spend money on our nights out, claiming that on a local salary, he was unable to afford much in the way of leisure pursuits. He too worked hard, often working evenings and weekends to earn extra required cash, eventually
finding himself at the dizzy heights of becoming a Director of Studies come the late 1990s, earning around 55,000 baht per month. He has been in the same role now for over 7 years now, either refusing to move on, or not being able to. He claims
the prior reason, but unconvincingly. He too has also married a Thai lass. They live together in a rented 2 bedroom condo only a couple of sois away from his language school, and have 2 children.
Steven recently emailed me to say that he was seriously considering coming back to the UK. His mother died 2 years ago, and as they hadn't spoken for many years due to a deep-rooted dispute, he didn't even go to the funeral. However, his father
recently had a stroke, and Steven wants to spend more time with him. Steven also told me that his father is on the verge of cutting Steven out of his will, angry at Steven having been away for so long, and for keeping the grandchildren in another
continent whilst they grew up. That seems a bit drastic, but is none of my business.
Steven's current concern seems to be the need for job and housing advice. He has applied for a multitude of jobs here in London, alas unsuccessfully. He has even applied for a couple of Director of Studies jobs at London-based language
schools, but they seem unimpressed by the amount of time he has spent away from the UK job market. The only jobs he has been offered are 12 pounds per hour senior teaching roles in the same schools (both schools have suggested that he needs to
prove himself at this level before applying for DOS jobs).
Another problem Steven faces is the lack of any capital. I recently calculated that he has spent in excess of 2 million baht on rent since emigrating, and has nothing tangible to show for it. Like a newly arrived English teacher in Bangkok, Steven will
be looking at small, bed-sit style rented apartments for accommodation if he returns to London. But if he doesn't return, he loses a future 33% inheritance in a London house. Not a pretty outlook either way.
I can't criticise Steven for his choices, but I do regret not trying harder to convince him to fly home with me all those years ago. I believe that I made the better choices by far, and he agrees, but as young men in our early 20s, neither
of us could see the true picture back then. I look forward to spending years in Thailand, possibly as many years as he has spent there, but much more comfortably.
If we do both make our planned move, we will be swapping countries of residence, and will yet again be thousands of miles apart, but we will certainly not be swapping lifestyles or circumstances.
Wow, this is powerful stuff, and it raises a very interesting issue indeed. Coming to Thailand at a young age and staying in a position with only modest lifestyle does mean that one may not save up the capital that one really needs in later life, be it cash in the bank or freehold property. The other side of it is that the person who lives in Thailand might have spent the best time of their life in the country where they most wanted to be, and might have had the time of their life. There are good arguments for both.
But there can be no denying it that your mate Steven is in an unenviable position, especially compared with you.