How lucky am I?

Lucky expat teacher

I do all right for myself.  I’m not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but I rarely have to think about money, I live in a very comfortable house, and my daughter goes to a very nice public school.

In order to achieve this, I teach on the other side of the planet to my home country, and contend daily with the trials and tribulations that expat living brings.  I have regular problems with making myself understood, I sometimes find the culture of where I live very challenging, and the heat is often unbearable.  (Oh how I wish I could tell you where I am).

As a person far removed from family and friends, I use Facebook quite extensively to keep in touch with people around the world, and simply let those who care about me, my wife, and my daughter know that we are OK.  It’s a very quick an easy way to issue quick updates on our state of being without having to call or email people individually.  We don’t want people to worry.

I am certain that I am not alone in the fact that I have a good many Facebook ‘friends’ who I either cannot remember meeting (I enjoy a drink) or who have requested my ‘friendship’ by virtue of common association, but who I do not know from Adam.  Why I keep on accepting these, I will never know, but that’s how it is.

Photography is not my strong suit, but the temptation to post pictures of the place where we are living is sometimes too much to resist.  Some areas of this place are genuinely stunning; so much so that even with my lack of photographic ability and the fact that I use my fairly low end mobile phone as my only camera, I cannot help but create some really lovely photographs.  So I share them with family and friends on Facebook.  Unless there is something particularly unusual on my plate, I should point add, I do not share pictures of my food, and unless there is something funny to say about them, I tend not to post pics of my daughter (nobody wants to look at that shit).  More than anything though, like the notion that the people I know can share in what we are doing.

I often get positive comments about the stuff that I post, and I enjoy the attention if I’m honest.  It’s when those people tell me how LUCKY I am that I get rubbed up the wrong way.

Yes, there are some fantastic sights to be seen here.  Yes, I do live what on the face of it appears to be a very comfortable life.  Yes, my daughter is privately educated.  Yes, things are pretty good, but those things do not come without a price, and they certainly don’t come without taking some positive action to get them.

A few years ago (I will not say how many for the sake of anonymity), my family and I boxed up, sold, or gave away everything that we owned, put tenants in our house, and flew to the other side of the planet on the promise of a job.  All we knew about the place that we here going to was what we had read on the internet, and what the company that was employing me had said.  It was exciting, but with a young daughter in tow, my wife and I were very aware that it was a risk.  We risked the education of our daughter to a school system of which we knew nothing, the well-being of our home to tenants that we had never met, and the level of our health to a foreign healthcare system.  Neither of us had much by way of a career to risk at that time due to the collapse of a business, but other than that, pretty much everything was on the line. Lucky expat teacher

We knew that we would be provided comfortable accommodation and a good salary, but that was all.  Now while that sound great, there are a couple of things of which you, the reader, should be aware.  First off, I work as a teacher.  This is not a traditionally very well paid job.  It’s stressful at the best of times, and downright soul destroying at others.  Secondly, with companies not being complete idiots, their staff tend to get paid enough to keep them on the job, but not so much that they can afford to quit it.  That means that salaries on the international teaching circuit tend to be paid in accordance with the hardships that are likely be encountered over and above those regularly associated with being in a classroom.  To borrow a little from the remarkable Billie Connolly, we could say that that international teaching is like a jobby sandwich.  The more shit you eat, the more bread they give you.

There is plenty of bread here, but it follows that there is a good deal of shit to soak up with it.  Life is not always easy.

As mentioned at the start of this post, my family and I live as expats in a culture very, very different from our own.  There’s nothing wrong with it, it just isn’t what we are familiar with.  Religion plays a much greater part in day to day life than we are accustomed to; the pace of life is frustratingly slow, and there is very little by way of entertainment.  A nice house is provided in the package because you are likely to be spending quite a lot of time in it.

When the holidays come around (and they are rather fewer than one would prefer), it’s pretty much vital that you get out of the country for a while just to feel normal again.  There are some beautiful places to visit around this part of the world, and provided that you can foot the bill for transport and hotels etc, there is plenty of choice.  It doesn’t come cheap though.  Nor is a flight back to your home country should you need one.

Western goods, whilst available, are astonishingly expensive, and unfamiliar with the way that many of them should be stored, local shops frequently present them in less than ideal condition.  If you want to live/eat like a westerner, you are going to need a fat wallet and a strong stomach.

These are the hardships for which the money is paid.

Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of wonderful aspects of the place, but from time to time, these pale in the light of the difficulties.  Obviously, the pros outweigh the cons, or we wouldn’t still be here, but it is occasionally necessary to read the scales very closely to determine which of the two is heavier.

Given all of the above, you can see why the almost dismissive assertion that I am LUCKY might get my goat a little.

I work hard for what we have, and we took a massive risk to get here.  The work is inevitable (it is a job after all), but I could certainly have an easier time elsewhere.  The risk paid off, but it wasn’t obliged to.  In fact it didn’t pay off for a good many people who came here but were unable to adopt the right frame of mind to see the pros among the cons and adapt accordingly.

Am I lucky?  Well, yes, I suppose I am.  I am lucky in that a chance that I took came good, but the rest can be attributed purely to the amount of effort that has gone in.

So to make Facebook friends and acquaintances who balk at my luck, I suggest that you stop complaining and go and take a chance yourselves.  You might be lucky, and if you are a hell of a lot luckier than I am, you will get to lead the life of privilege that you think I do.


Grantham Montgomery

Minister of stuff.


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