By Jessie LaDouceur
My life changed the moment I booked a one way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand. In my heart and mind, there was no option to return home to Seattle. The idea of vagabonding across across Asia has pulled my heart strings since childhood. Why shouldn’t I follow my dreams? A year before my one way ticket decision, I returned from backpacking around Thailand a new human. I was inspired to travel again but longer. Perhaps forever!
Literally, I sold off everything I owned and moved into my brother’s one bedroom apartment to save every penny. I worked extra hours and took on an extra job. My ‘me’ time consisted of obsessingly researching travel books and websites. (Vagabonders take note- ‘Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to India ‘by Rory Maclean is travel magic). Taking a giant leap into the unknown is mind-bending. No plan or destination. Following life free and open is simple. At night, as I fell to sleep I would imagine landing at Suvarnabhumi Airport with my arms open and say, “Hello world, I have arrived” In return from my one way ticket idea I got a fiancee, a teaching job and an expat lifestyle in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Home sweet home.
Looking back, Kuala Lumpur wasn’t my first choice of destination. After the beach life in South East Asia, the city sounds horrid. However, I wasn’t going to complain. Living in South East Asia is a dream come true; however, a hard transition. Readers, I guarantee you are asking yourself, how can living in a forgein, tropical paradise be difficult to transition into?
Dearest readers, you have no idea.
First of all, the idea of starting over life is overwhelming. It’s never easy to make certain changes in life. Especially the choice to live in another country. My first order was business was to find a job. Every time I checked my online banking I cringed. There was no time for exploring KL and the surrounding areas or even a chance to make friends. Isolation was consuming my life. When I wasn’t looking for a job, I hardly left my apartment. All I did was stare at the KL skyline from my balcony and wonder how is it possible to feel so alone in a beautiful city. I was an alien. A foreigner in a strange land .Depression is by far the biggest challenge to overcome when transitioning from vagabond to expat.
Second of all, Malaysia is a melting pot of culture. Chinese, Indian, Malay, Arabs, Iranians. Everyone is here. They should change the slogan ‘Malaysia Truly Asia’ to ‘Malaysia Truly the world’. The mixture was too much. Having one culture to grab on to would have made the transition easier. I was feeling the loss of self and it was becoming difficult to find myself again in this society. Now I appreciate the melting pot culture but it look a long, slow time to see the light. Slowly but surely I felt comfortable to leave my apartment be apart of the skyline. People need people. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Chinese business man on the train or the sweet Malay lady who serves the best Chicken Rice. It’s a familiar face, a nod or a smile that reassures oneself that everything will be okay.
Next, work experience overseas is remarkable. It is nothing compared with finding a job back home. You can not walk into any place and ask for a job. Most service jobs require a local to work. As a forgeinger, you must worry about visas and work permits. Think of the stress of desperately trying to find a job back home but now you have to worry about working legally. As an expat, I highly recommend teaching ESL. You feel as if you were still traveling which helps with the transition.
Everyday teachers are able to communicate with people of all ages not from just one country but all around the world. Besides having the chance to put overseas work experience on your resume, there is the benefit of multicultural friends.
Therefore, real people from the world speak their stories. It is the absolute best way to understand how the world really and truthfully turns. Real life, honest stories are the key to opening ones heart and mind to human begings and culture.
So, you’re back to the daily grind after months of depression and isolation. Vagabonds are turning into expats. You’re making money and making friends. But what about the real reason of leaving your home. Wasn’t that supposed to be for travel and freedom. I still have internal wars with myself about this. You have not changed who you are deep inside. Vagabonds will always be vagabonders. Perhaps, you’ll have a few restrictions but never fear the weekend(or vacation time). That sixteen hour flight to Bangkok, has magically turned into a two hour fight. Living in a major hub of a continent gives you the world at your fingers. Expat life isn’t as bad after all. The first 6 months will feel like hell but once settled, life is golden.
In conclusion, if you have the opportunity or desire to be an expat do it. The benefits outway the hardships. Challenges are not negative. In the end you will find a layer of you has been removed and replaced with new experiences and an open heart to the world.
About the Author
Jessie is a native Seattleite but wanderlust lead her to South East Asia. She’s curious about the world and everything in it. When not teaching ESL in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia she’s exploring Asia or running around barefoot on the beach. You can follow her blog at http://www.travel-this.com or follow her on twitter @technoshitdread