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Leaving the Cubicle Life Behind

Author:

Eastward left behind the confines of a Fortune 500 company office to explore and experience Asia. He hasn't looked back since.

I grew up in a small, Midwestern city. A few rebellious high-school years aside, I did all the things that I was supposed to do. I finished college and got a degree. I graduated, started working full-time in the insurance industry, invested in a home and rental property, and started working towards my MBA. I had a grey cubicle and an altitudinous stack of files on my desk. I answered calls from people wondering if the check was in the mail as they told me their hard-luck tales of losing a car or house because of missed payments. I did what I could to be as helpful as possible but was assured my superiors that I needed to harden my heart. A few speculative promotions aside, this was looking like it would about sum up my life. I wasn't so sure I was OK with that.

Weighing the Options

I looked into joining the Peace Corps but at the time anyone with a mortgage wasn't eligible. I had been speaking with a co-worker about teaching English overseas and he showed me some pictures a friend had shared with him of an apartment in Thailand with a pool. Sitting in the office in the middle of winter, the tropical environment looked like a welcome change of pace alone.

The idea of teaching wasn't alien to me either. I had taken courses in preparation for the art education program in university but the plan was canceled before I could complete it. I did have my substitute teaching certification and was able to find a lot of information about TESOL—Teaching English as a Second Language—certification online. The courses were around $2,000 all inclusive. The process of certification would take about one month, beginning with classroom learning and ending with volunteer teaching. The company would also provide the accommodations and assist with job placement services once the certification course was complete. With all of this in mind, I started to consider teaching abroad more seriously.

I had a good rapport with my new supervisor and we discussed my options for moving on from the company. I was able to sign a mutual agreement to terminate my employment and walk away with a reasonable severance package for my 6 years of service.

Both Feet Out the Door

Now that my day job was behind me, I began putting my other affairs in order. I rented out my apartment and moved back in with my parents for the time being. I sold as many of my belongings as I could and put the rest in storage. As things began to fall into place, I enrolled in a TESOL course that would begin in Cambodia and finish in Thailand. My father agreed to manage my rental properties and put my car up for sale. I began reading up on what to pack, although, the information I found on preparing to move abroad was lacking. Soon enough, it was time to leave the United States behind for my new adventure in Asia.

Heading Eastward

My family took me to the airport where we said our goodbyes. At the time, I wasn't sure if this would be a one-year change of pace or something more. It was all a bit surreal. I boarded the plane and settled in for the first long stretch to Seoul, South Korea.

I didn't sleep much on the plane but enjoyed a few movies and listened to music along the way. The economy flight was uneventful but mostly pleasant. I was fairly new to flying and even enjoyed the airline food. I was beginning to feel pretty uncomfortable about 12 or 13 hours in though. Eventually, the plane began a welcomed descent and we arrived at the Seoul airport. I was glad to be on the ground again, even if it was only for a short layover.

A New Beginning

My last flight to Phnom Penh was the most interesting. I sat next to a friendly middle-aged Cambodian-American who was excited to see his family for the first time in 30 years. I can only imagine the depth of this man's story and I've thought about him as I've learned more about the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian genocide. I wonder what difficulties he may have faced when reading passionate accounts of the tragedy, such as First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung. After reading the author's striking and heartfelt tale, I can only imagine.

The plane landed and we wished each other best of luck on our journeys, his undoubtedly more significant than my own. However, I also stepped out of the airport front doors filled with optimism about what I would discover in this unfamiliar and exotic place.

© 2018 Eastward

Comments

Eastward (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on August 05, 2019:

Thanks, Finnegan! Pursuing a minimalist lifestyle is a good start to success in teaching abroad. I started out teaching English and have been able to branch out from there. The market is opening up for teachers of all subjects, at least compared to when I first came to Asia. Having a relevant degree will certainly make life easier for you and help you land better positions, but any degree with a TEFL or TESOL certificate of 120 hours+ of training will get your foot in the door. I had considered the Peace Corps as well, but years ago I couldn't join because I had a mortgage (I believe the regulations have since changed). In my opinion though, you may be better off working a part-time teaching job that pays well and donating your free time to charitable causes (if that's your goal).

Fin from Barstow on August 05, 2019:

wow. really fascinating. I'm trying to pursue the minimalist lifestyle now.

My father was in the Peace Corps back in the 60s, not long after Kennedy helped set it up. Some fascinating observations and I wonder how teaching English abroad has worked for you. I always had it on the back burner and perhaps after I finish school and get into the profession a bit.

Eastward (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on August 03, 2019:

Thanks for reading and commenting, Randy. I'm glad you enjoyed the article and wish you many more adventures ahead!

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on August 03, 2019:

An adventurer is close to heart, EW. I've several in my long time here on earth. Enjoyed the read.

Eastward (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on February 06, 2019:

I'm sure your husband is happy to have you too and appreciates you moving across the globe to be with him. Thailand certainly has many beautiful places as well and I can see the similarities. Thank you for recommending Terengganu, Pulau Perhentian, and Pulau Redang. I'll look forward to trying the nasi dagang and keropok lekor there! And I'm glad to introduce your recipes to my wife. That also means I'll get the benefit of eating more delicious foods. Haha.

Eastward (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on February 06, 2019:

I'm sure your husband is happy to have you too and appreciates you moving across the globe to be with him. Thailand certainly has many beautiful places as well and I can see the similarities. Thank you for recommending Terengganu, Pulau Perhentian, and Pulau Redang. I'll look forward to trying the nasi dagang and keropok lekor there! And I'm glad to introduce your recipes to my wife. That also means I'll get the benefit of eating more delicious foods. Haha.

Liza from USA on February 06, 2019:

That's great! I bet she's happy to have you :) There are many beautiful places in Malaysia, I trust so does in Thailand. Since we are a neighboring country, we shared some similarities vegetation. Langkawi is a beautiful island, but take a look at Terengganu as well. You will find gorgeous islands such as Pulau Perhentian and Pulau Redang. Thanks for introducing my recipes to your wife, I bet she cooks amazing food. By the way, I'm glad you have tried nasi lemak and roti canai. In the future, if you and your wife go to Terengganu, try their signature food called nasi dagang (rice steamed with coconut milk and served with fish curry) and keropok lekor (snacks).

Eastward (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on February 06, 2019:

I guess we're both lucky to have supportive spouses :) My wife and I would love to visit other states in Malaysia as the experiences we've had already were so great. I have been seeing flight promos from Bangkok to Langkawi often. Hopefully we can take advantage of them sometime soon. I've tried roti canai and nasi lemak and both are very good. I see you have posted some recipes and I'll refer my wife to your page (She's a much better cook than I am)!

Liza from USA on February 06, 2019:

You're most welcome! I'm very thankful because my husband is very supportive as to be away from my family could be hard for me. I see you traveling to some places in Malaysia as well. Kuala Lumpur is such an amazing and lively city. Are you planning to visit some other states (exclude Malacca and Penang)? Have you tried our signature dishes like roti canai and nasi lemak? Thank you for the best wishes.

Eastward (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on February 06, 2019:

Thanks for reading and commenting, Liza. I would agree that you have a similar experience being so far away from your home country. I'm glad that you are happy and enjoying your time in the US with your husband and get to travel back to see your family every year. I really enjoyed a recent trip to Kuala Lumpur (along with Malacca and Penang). It's a very nice city! Any advice for something I should see/do there that doesn't make the usual tourist spot lists? All the best to you as well!

Liza from USA on February 05, 2019:

I love reading your article. I would say that I have a similar experience as you do. I moved to the US in 2016 because my husband is an American. I quit my job in Kuala Lumpur, but I don't have regret because I believe this is what meant to be. As much I miss my family, the food, the culture, I feel grateful to be able to go back to see my family every year. I wish you all the best!

Eurofile on March 02, 2018:

Very true. It is more encouraging for the traveller to be able to read information and signs in a familiar language.

Eastward (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on February 22, 2018:

@Robert

You're most welcome!

@Eurofile

In my experience, you are correct. I'd also add more multi-lingual support on the well-traveled path to your list of reasons.

Eurofile on February 22, 2018:

I think the English are similar, with the majority sticking to the main sites and very few venturing off the main tourist trail. Partly it's due to time constraints and also possibly security concerns.

Robert Sacchi on February 21, 2018:

Thank you.

Eastward (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on February 21, 2018:

@Robert

Exactly. It seems to be a tourist phenomenon rather than something uniquely afflicting Americans.

Robert Sacchi on February 19, 2018:

So while Americans may have the name for not traveling well everyone plays that game?

Eastward (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on February 19, 2018:

@Robert. Americans don't make up a very large portion of Thailand's overall tourists but it does seem they they follow the pattern of most foreigners. You'll find the most in the major cities of Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket. A handful of islands would fall into that group as well. If you travel the less-worn path into the rural provinces, you'll find few Americans or other expats. I imagine that it's still probably that way in Korea and possibly in most places in Asia.

Robert Sacchi on February 18, 2018:

Have you noticed Americans tend to stick to a few tourist places? I remember when I was in Korea, mid-80s, there were some spots where you could see Americans all over and other spots where I would be the only American in the place.

Eastward (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on February 18, 2018:

@Robert

I think you are right and certain areas do stand out like night club hot spot. Being as popular as Thailand is for tourism, the government is now trying to open up new areas to spread out the tourists (and the toll tourism takes on the surrounding environment).

Eastward (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on February 18, 2018:

@Readmikenow

Thanks for reading and commenting. I can totally relate to feeling more alive by getting out and seeing the world. I'm glad to hear you had such a great, life-changing experience. I know I'll never be the same.

Robert Sacchi on February 17, 2018:

I wonder if it will be like night clubs in an area. There are a few clubs that are the places to be then some new places open up and these new places become the hot clubs and the business in these former hot spots decline.

Readmikenow on February 17, 2018:

Very inspirational article. I got fed up with the cubical life, strapped on a backpack and spent several months traveling with no real destination. The experiences I had and the people I met made me feel more alive than I ever had before. It changed the way I look at life. I met a man who had been doing the same thing for years and he said something I'll never forget. "I got tired of my material things owning me. I worked for them. I was their servant spending too much of my life working for them. Once I broke free from my material things, I realized what life was actually all about." He had been the CFO of a company and now only had what he could carry in his backpack. Good luck with your travels.

Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on February 17, 2018:

Wow! What an adventure!

Eastward (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on February 16, 2018:

You bet. It does seem there is plenty of competition for tourists. I wonder if that will be the case for long with more tourists venturing out of China. There might be enough to go around soon though I imagine the industry will have to adjust to different preferences.

Robert Sacchi on February 16, 2018:

Thank you again. It seems many places may be overdoing it trying to get tourist money. It's not enough to be a popular tourist spot. It seems other places would be trying to draw in tourists at the expense of other tourist spots.

Eastward (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on February 16, 2018:

You are most welcome @ Robert. Thanks for sparking the conversation. It is interesting though I'm not sure more tourists that spend less was quite the end goal they had in mind. It seems subsidies related to air travel is fairly common. I also found this article on Russian domestic travel: http://russia-ic.com/travel/tourismevents/3328/#.W...

Robert Sacchi on February 16, 2018:

Thank you. The airline article is very interesting. They are getting more tourists who are looking to spend less money.

Eastward (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on February 16, 2018:

@Robert

I'm finding that other countries are either doing this or considering it. Here's an interesting case study of Spain http://www.agenciasinc.es/en/News/Low-cost-flights...

Eastward (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on February 16, 2018:

@Natalie

It turned out to be a long-term change for me. I've been living and working in Asia ever since!

Robert Sacchi on February 16, 2018:

I wonder if there are other places dong this, or going to do this?

Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on February 16, 2018:

So was it a year change or something longer? Looking forward to reading the sequel!

Eastward (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on February 16, 2018:

@Robert

A reasonable strategy. I know I'm more likely to visit if the price is of the flight is right.

Robert Sacchi on February 15, 2018:

Iceland may be doing a similar thing. It does get people to countries they wouldn't normally travel to.

Eastward (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on February 14, 2018:

Interesting! I guess that's one way to do it. I've flown Delta/Korean Air/Skymiles Partners flights quite often. Maybe there's still something to the more reasonable rates.

Robert Sacchi on February 14, 2018:

In the '80s Korean Air had the lowest fairs to Asia but the catch was they stopped in Seoul. Apparently they were trying to boost their tourist trade.

Eastward (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on February 14, 2018:

Thank you, Robert. There are certainly benefits and sacrifices involved. Overall though, I wouldn't trade the experience. My Seoul layover was short, only a few hours at most. Even my long layovers in Seoul have been overnight when the subway is stopped, so I haven't had the chance to explore the city yet!

Robert Sacchi on February 14, 2018:

I admire your courage to make such a move. I hope it works out well for you. How much time were you in Seoul on the layover?

Eastward (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on February 12, 2018:

Thanks, Natalie! It has been an adventure far removed from life in the midwest!

Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on February 12, 2018:

Wow! You are really courageous! It's definitely food for thought!

Eastward (author) from Bangkok, Thailand on February 05, 2018:

Thank you for reading and commenting, Eurofile. I'll get to the sequel soon!

Liz Westwood from UK on February 05, 2018:

I enjoyed reading this well written and interesting piece. I look forward to reading the sequel.

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