In July, my husband, toddler and I moved 7,465 miles away to live and work in a new country, on a continent we’ve never been to. No, we aren’t in the military, and we don’t work for a major corporation. And no, we aren’t secret agents, either. We’re teachers. And after a short stint in our home state of Washington, we set off on a new adventure.
My husband and I met during student teaching. I was fresh from a short and sweet backpacking trip around Thailand, and he had just finished a study abroad semester in China. After we married, we decided to make the leap into working overseas. We applied to dozens of schools across the globe and landed in Thailand, where we spent almost five wonderful years teaching in a mid-sized international school that uses the International Baccalaureate (IB) framework. Our daughter was born in Thailand which was a wonderful experience.
When the pandemic hit, there were a multitude of reasons we moved back “home” to the U.S. It was clear shortly after we arrived that things had changed, both for the United States and for our family.
We settled into our previous neighborhood, just blocks from our old rental, but inflation, combined with low teacher pay at our school, forced my husband to pick up a serving job, working three to four shifts a week to help make ends meet. We tried to settle into our lives here: navigating the complicated health care system, applying for daycare wait-lists and tamping down our fear of mass shootings. We tried to figure out how to balance our lives, but it felt impossible. This was more than culture shock or growing pains; we were different now and so was America. We wanted different things.
As we got ready for our next big move, there was no shortage of questions from family and friends regarding our move. “You just got back!” “What about your daughter?” “Why do you want to go there?” It’s complicated. It’s simple. It’s a million reasons. It’s one. It's a privilege. It's a choice. It’s … freedom. Here are a few reasons we moved abroad again:
Quality of life
Countries value education differently. By teaching abroad, my husband and I put ourselves in a lucrative position as a teaching couple. We’re able to pay off student loans, save for retirement, travel multiple times a year, afford the best child care and have domestic help — all things that are out of reach for us in the United States. With the difference in lifestyle comes a difference in bills, too. Car insurance, utilities, phone and internet — these bills are sometimes paid for by the organization you work for or are calculated at a different rate. All of these small things add up to us being able to comfortably live the life we’ve dreamed of.
Countries value well-being in different ways. By teaching abroad my family has better access to healthcare, improved maternity/paternity leave and achievable work-life balance that includes time for exercise and not taking work home or working weekends. Travel will become the norm once again, with weekend trips away and school breaks spent in locations on millions of people’s bucket lists. The hustle-and-grind culture of the American workforce is not the norm in other countries, and I can’t wait to let it go. I’m hungry for free time to expand my hobbies, to spend time doing what I love. Living abroad also offers families more time to spend together, and that is all my husband and I really want, anyway. The gift of time, spent how we want, with our family.
A global education
As parents, we want to give our daughter the opportunity to be a truly global citizen. We want her to have access to the best education in the world, the opportunity to learn a new language, to make connections with people from other cultures, to be caring and principled and knowledgeable as she navigates the world. Living abroad gives us better access to IB schools, whose mission statement we hope to emulate as teachers and parents:
“The International Baccalaureate® aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.
To this end the organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programmes of international education and rigorous assessment.
These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.”
We want to help create a better and more peaceful world through education. Short-term travel can give you a taste of culture, but living in it and being a part of it can help you truly know a different perspective. By living abroad we are giving our daughter a chance at a global education, while we take action through teaching under a curriculum framework we feel passionate about.
Safety for our family
The statistics make me sick. The headlines make me terrified. The school drills make me anxious. The never-ending lists of victims break my heart. Although the specifics differ state to state, the concept is the same. Gun violence in the US is deplorable, and I cannot imagine my daughter having to live in a country that struggles to protect its schools and teachers. It is in my control at this moment to do something about it, and moving abroad for her safety, as well as mine and my husband’s, feels right.
The big picture
A life abroad offers those who live it the opportunity to jump timelines and step into the known. Landing on a new continent for the first time does something to shift your soul in a way that cannot be replicated. From the culture to the language to the climate, living abroad is an immersion in alternate perspectives. A life abroad is unlearning. It’s opening and changing and morphing and molding and screaming and laughing. It’s building and learning and creating and destroying and celebrating and growing. It’s everything all at once, somewhere you’ve never been.
And yes, my heart breaks when I think of days when the mountain is out and the sky is blue. And when my daughter helps sing her grandpa “Happy Birthday,” surrounded by aunts, uncles and cousins. And yes, of course I’m nervous and am aching for my friends and family. These things, however, cannot take away the insatiable need to explore, to experience, to hold, to step into the multiverse of possibility available to us: To know more about others and add to the collective worldly idea that “people, with their differences, can also be right.”
We are grateful we had the opportunity to move in order to make a better life for our family. It wasn’t a decision we made lightly. It’s one that we made thinking of the future for our daughter and her future siblings. It’s for us, too, as a teaching couple with a passion for the IB. We know we are privileged to be able to move, to have the choices we do in our life. That is why we are so thankful and excited. It is beyond our dreams to be able to give our daughter a better life than we had.
In July, we made our 7,465 mile journey across continents to continue what we feel our purpose is as a family: to explore, connect and know as much of this magical world as we can for the short amount of time we are here. Yes, I miss my “home,” but I’m diving into life abroad once more. There’s a lot of world to see, after all.