In 2009, the economic downturn hit me and my partner Ryan pretty hard. At the time, we were living in downtown Seattle, paying way too much for a gorgeous loft that we rented when we were more financially sound. I was 28, a full-time student, and a social worker. My husband was 26 and a struggling freelance journalist. Newspapers were shutting down left and right. Budgets were getting cut at non-profits all over the country. Banks stopped approving student loans. The future wasn’t looking bright, to say the least.
We watched as brilliant, talented, and educated peers ended up having to move back in with their parents and take jobs at coffee shops because of student loan debt and a shitty job market. We knew it was only a matter of time until our luck ran out and we were bound and determined to come up with another solution. (I love my mother-in-law, but I am NOT going to live in her basement. I’m pretty sure she feels the same way about us.)
At that point, we weren’t married but had been living together for four years. We have many mutual hobbies and interests, but the one that really binds us is our wanderlust. Throughout our relationship, we’d made travel a priority. We’d already traveled all over the world together and had always talked about “someday” teaching and living abroad. “Someday” was always hypothetical and abstract, in the same vein as someday we’ll adopt a kid and someday we’ll have real jobs with real salaries and be able to actually buy our own house or condo. You know, someday.
One day I was at work and I got a text message from Ryan that said something like, “I have the solution! Let’s move to Indonesia and get jobs as teachers!” And I was like, “Riiight, okay, right after we hit the lottery. Nice dreaming, though.” But he insisted that I think about it. So I did. I thought about it all day long and, that night, we discussed it. We talked about all of the things we’d have to do, budgeted how much we’d need to save to make it happen, and made a list of pros and cons. The only thing keeping us from going through with it, it turned out, was fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of making that leap.
We decided that we weren’t going to let fear hold us back and we immediately put the plan into action.
It all happened VERY quickly. We found someone to sublet our loft, we sold off pretty much everything we owned, we resigned from our jobs, and I finished up my last term at school. Thanks to scrimping and saving, the money we made from selling everything off, and a generous gift from my mother-in-law, we were able to pay for our relocation and have a small nest egg left-over to sustain us until our first paycheck. (And when I say small, I mean small. For our first month in Indonesia, we were broke-as-a-joke.)
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Right before we moved, we realized that it would probably make sense to be legally married. Not only is it illegal for unwed couples to cohabitate in Indonesia, but we wanted the protection and security that being married offers. And four months later, we were husband and wife and moving to Jakarta.
We never take for granted how lucky we are to live and work here. Our salaries have us ranked firmly lower-middle-class in America. The difference is that the cost of living is so low here, we no longer live paycheck-to-paycheck. Not having to worry about making ends meet is an incredible feeling — and a massive load taken off of a relationship.
Having household help is also incredible.
Initially, it was very hard to get over the liberal-guilt that we felt about having a maid. It’s a complicated issue — in many ways, the domestic service sector is critical to the Indonesian economy. There aren’t jobs in the villages, and for many women, jobs in the informal sector are the only means to survival. Household workers aren’t protected by any labor laws, however, so they are almost always grossly underpaid and exploited.
For our staff, we pay them between two to four times the going local rate. We also provide them with all of the same benefits we want for ourselves — a five-day, 40-hour work week. Paid vacation time. Medical care. An annual bonus.
In addition to their salaries, we pay for their schooling. Our pembantu (maid) decided that she wanted to learn to become a tailor, so she’s going to a trade school. Our handyman wanted to get his Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology, so he’s in university right now.
And we have more free time together, to indulge in our hobbies, to unwind and relax. My husband has taken up Mandarin and has lessons three days a week. We both speak Indonesian now. We read more, write more, and travel more.
We’ve traveled all over Indonesia and visited Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, and India. Every time we get a break from work (we’re teachers, so that means we get plenty of breaks) we travel. There is so much to explore in Indonesia alone that even long weekends provide great opportunities for adventure. (Indonesia’s most famous destination, Bali, isn’t nearly as beautiful as some of the other islands in this gorgeous tropical archipelago. Indonesia is a country ripe for exploration and discovery.)
Of course there are challenges — in fact, I can’t imagine many things more challenging than the act of expatriation. Sure, it’s an adventure and everything is new and exciting — at first. But when the honeymoon wears off, it can be rough. Most expats experience at least a few months of angst, homesickness, and depression as they adjust to life in their new home. The overwhelming culture shock and isolation can turn even the most easy-going and adaptable people into completely insufferable negative-Nancys.
Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation, with a tumultuous political history and a present day wrought with corruption and occasional violence and terrorism. Life in Jakarta is like no other place on earth. It’s massive, it’s over-populated, it’s filthy, it’s polluted, it’s hot, it’s smelly… It almost always takes hours just to travel a few miles. Getting anything accomplished is an epic chore, especially as you are forced to battle your way through bureaucracy.
Despite all of that, there’s beauty in the chaos: the call to prayer echoing through the city at dawn, the shouts of “Hello, Mister!” (yes, always “mister”) as you pass by, the smiles and laughter of children as they ride five or six passengers deep on a single motorcycle.
This city can often feel, on first inspection, like nothing more than a writhing mass of humanity. When you live here, though, you can’t help but feel like it’s something bigger than that, something greater. Like it or not, we’re all in this together.
Comments on We sold everything and moved to Indonesia!
I love this post.
I can’t think of anything else to say other than I love every single bit of this post.
I 2nd that
LOVE. More posts, please!
How did you find jobs there?
Yes! I know we’d LOVE to hear more updates from Samantha.
Can she please do a home tour?? I would love to see the mangroves and monkeys!
Hahahaha, okay, I’ll send Megan some photos of my house, but I think you’ll be surprised by how ‘Western’ it is. We’re definitely not living in a thatched-roof bamboo shack– but we do have monkeys! 🙂
OMG YES! Home tour for sure! Samantha fill this out NAOW 😉 http://offbeathome.com/submissions/home
Finding jobs teaching – especially English teaching – abroad is surprisingly not that hard. You can start searching before you go (basic online searches for the main expat forum of whatever country you want is your best first bet – and looking in the ‘jobs and working’ section on it, they all have one…and go from there) and when you get there, wherever “there” is, buy the locally published expat paper/magazine, hang out in expat areas and ask around for job leads and tips. Something always comes up. After you get the job you can go more local, but that early connection to other expats who have found work is crucial.
But how about visas? I’ve considered teaching abroad after a friend moved to do so, but the task of securing visas seemed overwhelming!
Generally speaking, you apply for a job first. Once you get the job, your employer will take care of the details– including visas.
We found our first jobs through Dave’s ESL Cafe. Both of the other schools we’ve taught at we found through networking and word-of-mouth. In addition to Dave’s ESL Cafe, the expat websites are a really good source of information. For Indonesia, our expat site is http://www.livinginindonesiaforum.org/. Most places have a similar forum.
Pretty much all places have a similar forum. For China they’re broken up by city (so the Beijing forum won’t be the same as the Shanghai one), there are three good ones for Taiwan (www.tealit.com, http://www.taiwanease.com and http://www.forumosa.com), there’s one for Turkey that I joined when we spent a month there…I haven’t spent a long period of time in any given country that doesn’t have an expat forum of some kind.
This is also a good place to start making friends, before you make local friends, which will take longer. The only one I don’t recommend making friends off of is Dave’s, at least for Korea (where my husband lived) – he says there are a lot of bitter people who hate Seoul on it, in fact, that’s most of the forum.
I don’t think I could ever do what y’all did. Moving from my beloved Tennessee town to Atlanta was enough of a shock for me. But I loved reading your story and am inspired by how you took that leap. You are an amazing and cool person! Your writing makes want to hop on a plane and come hang with you, your husband, and the family of wild monkeys!
I’m curious though, do y’all have a long-term plan of staying there or coming back to the US?
Actually… We’re in the process of laying down some pretty big roots here. In June, we resigned from our respective teaching gigs and founded a creative services agency, along with an American-educated (but Indonesian) artist and graphic designer.
We’re still in the ‘growth’ process, but it’s all looking very hopeful. I never (not in a million years!) imagined myself as a small business owner but… Welp, here I am!
From 2009-2011, we didn’t visit the States at all. Over our winter break last year (December 2011/January 2012), we planned a trip to Mumbai but got guilted into visiting the States by our respective families. So, we spent two weeks in California (with my fam) and two weeks in Seattle (with his fam) and that was long enough for us.
Sure, we felt pangs of homesickness, especially as we walked around our old ‘hood and visited our old haunts (#CAPHILL4EVA!), but– overall– we were reminded about what a *good* decision we’d made.
Our barometer for when it’s time to return to the States is pretty simple: We’ll return when we can have as comfortable a life there as we do here.
THANK YOU!! This is so awesome. I’m right now taking a break from sorting through my cosmetics and throwing things out because we’re moving AWAY! Don’t know quite where yet, but our lease is up is 2 weeks! We’re heading to visit family across the continent with a severance package from my husband’s job in a few weeks then off to either Malaysia, Thailand, or Indonesia to look for work. Packing up my precious belongings and selling the ones we won’t need, I’ve been thinking more and more about what home is when you don’t have one… Samantha, I’ll look you up when we get to Jakarta! 😀
If/when you get to Jakarta, look me up on the expat forum. My handle’s the same– SamanthaB.
We will probably pass through Jakarta sometime in the next year or two (we’re Taiwan-based, our next trip is to Sri Lanka, but I’ve wanted to return to Indonesia for awhile after going to Sumatra a few years ago – I want to go to Sulawesi and the Maluku Islands, specifically) and I’ll look you up!
Taiwan, eh? We’ve been planning a trip to Taiwan because some of my best friends here in Jakarta are Taiwanese expats. (I mean Taiwanese citizens living/working in Jakarta.)
We just finished (survived?) a year teaching at Jakarta’s brand-new Tzu Chi School. It was *ahem* an experience… One I’d like to never, ever repeat! 😉
Hi Samantha. I’m considering taking a position at the Tzu-Chi School in Jakarta and was wondering if you could tell me more about your experience there. My primary concern is the amount of work hours and required extracurricular activities. Thanks!
I’d love to tell you more about my experience — but not in a public forum.
Email me at Samantha (underscore) K (underscore) Barrett (at) yahoo (dot) com.
So inspiring. I’d be highly likely to do this, but my husband loves living in the same town he grew up in (for reasons that will never be clear to me). I’d love more follow ups.
Hi, Colleen! I forgot to check on the comments — sorry that this has been sitting here for months, ignored!
I’m going to send the editors a list of possible follow-up topics, see if they’re interested in any of them. 🙂
Wish we could, but my loan payments for my student loans are more than rent here in a big city in the states. My ‘one day’ will come though! Congrats!!
Same here. Having said that, I think selling the idea to my husband would be a bigger hurdle than paying off those student loans…
Our student loan payments are pretty high, too. However, the overall cost of living here is so cheap that we can pay our student loans with no problem at all.
For example, our new(ish) 3 bedroom/2.5 bathroom house in a high-end neighborhood costs us about $530 USD per month. After we add in all of our household expenses– utilities, the maids, etc…– we’re at far under $1,000 USD per month.
…And that doesn’t take into consideration that our expenses are on the extremely expensive side of things AND that most expats have their housing expenses covered by their employer.
In Seattle, our rent alone was over $1,700 USD. For our first few months here, we had to put the loans in deferment while we got settled in. After that, however, paying on them has been pretty easy– at least much easier than it would be if we were living in the States.
Reading all this makes me want to go even more. 🙂
You say your expenses are on the expensive side of things, so does that mean it’s the wealthier people who hire you, or is it because you teach English that you are paid so well?
For expats, you’re generally paid a little bit more than what you’d earn in your home country, plus you receive fringe benefits like travel reimbursement, annual bonus(es), and housing/transportation allowances. That’s the rule-of-thumb for all expat jobs, not just teaching.
Since the average salary in Indonesia is around $200 USD per month, the fact that we are paid the same salary as teachers in the United States means that we’re at the top of the economic ladder here in Jakarta.
That does mean that we’re teaching at private, international schools– and that our students are from the ruling elite. But that’s pretty much the norm for expat teachers, especially in developing nations.
Here in Indonesia, there’s no such thing as a free school– even the government schools charge money. And if you go to a ‘proper’ school, you’re most definitely from a wealthy family.
Samantha, can I ask you a more personal question? Rent and all is under 1k a month… how much did you and your husband make starting? Our loan repayment is what your rent was… I have friends teaching in South Korea who make 1600 USD a month- if both of us could make that, we could do it.
If you don’t want to answer, it is okay.
If you make enough to cover both … I will so go!
When I was teaching in Japan, I was making over $3500/month tax-free. And with the subsidized housing and transportation (I paid about $350/month rent for a three bedroom apartment after subsidy), my cost of living was lower there than what I pay here in the States. Sometimes I think I was crazy for returning to the US haha.
Wow! That is pretty much what I make now, before taxes- and rent alone is $1500 (like, $4 less).
I really must consider this. We want to get out of debt and make a difference in the world.
My husband is electrical/mechanically inclined while getting a computer programming degree. I have my Master of Architecture degree. We figured if we can’t make enough to help others, we can at least design and build things to help!
I don’t mind answering at all, Andrell.
In Jakarta, how much you’re paid as an expat teacher will depend on the type of school you work at and what your experience/background is.
If you work at a ‘Language Mill’ (after-school English courses like Wall Street, EF, etc…) you will be paid between $800 USD and $1300 USD per month. Your schedule will suck and you won’t have many (or any) fringe benefits. Language mills are primarily staffed by unqualified expats just looking for an adventure– backpacker types. Most people who have expat teacher ‘horror stories’ are talking about this kind of job.
If you teach at a middle-of-the-road private school, you will get paid around $1200 USD to $2500 USD per month. You will get fringe benefits like housing+transport allowances (making your housing FREE), flight benefits, medical insurance, and an annual bonus. Plus, you’ll get lots of paid time off and a ‘normal’ Monday through Friday work week. These schools hire expats that are not qualified teachers, but you must have a college degree + be a native English speaker + have work experience. (Fresh grads usually don’t get hired at proper schools.)
If you work at a proper international school, your salary will be between $2500 USD to well over $4000 USD per month. You will receive a VERY generous housing allowance (mansion city!) and lots of paid time off and health insurance and bonus(es) and they’ll even pay for your relocation expenses from your home country. These are coveted positions and only go to the most qualified foreign teachers. If you don’t have teaching credentials (real ones, not a CELTA or TEFL) and loads of experience and a good degree, forget about it.
Oh! And all of the earnings are tax free in Indonesia and (in most cases) in your home country too.
We file our US taxes every year but haven’t had to pay since 2009!!!
hey Samantha, was really nice reading your article. can i ask your email address? my fiance is from the US, it would be nice if i can share some thoughts with you about expats living in Jakarta. thanks
We’re self-employed now, so we’re paying for our own housing and immigration documents and medical and everything else that we need.
At our last teaching job, we each got a salary of $2500 USD. That means we had a total income of $5000 per month.
Our expatriate medical insurance was paid for by the school. We received an annual flight reimbursement (cash in the amount of a RT flight to/from the States) and an annual bonus that amounted to about $8400 USD per year for the two of us. The school covered all of our immigration documents and taxes and everything, as is the norm.
Our house was completely free– we used our housing allowance to rent it. Our monthly expenses (maids, electricity, cable TV, internet, w/s/g, security, etc…) were less than $500 per month. After we paid all of our bills– including our freakin’ Sallie Mae– we still had more than $3000 USD of ‘extra’ money.
We ended up living off of about $500 per month and banking around $2500 per month, which is how we were able to accrue a nest egg big enough to allow us to start our new company.
Hey Samantha- where do you rent a house for $530/month for 3 beds/2 bath house? What part of Jakarta is this location? Our family (4 of us) is planning on a visit to Jakarta this summer (July) and was told that rent for a 2/2 condo in Taman Anggrek area is around $1000-$1500/month.
That is expensive even for our standard here in Eastern WA. Do you know of any place that is more reasonable for rent especially in the western part of Jakarta (near Glodok, Puri Indah)? Any information is very much appreciated. Thank you!
So, Jakarta can be a VERY expensive place to live — or VERY cheap, if you know where to look. If you want to live with an American standard of living here, you’re going to pay a premium for it.
Basically, any area that’s an ‘expat’ area is going to cost you well over what you’d pay in the States. If you’re looking for housing on a budget, avoid pretty much all of South Jakarta, especially Kemang and Cipete and Pondok Indah, and the heart of downtown Jakarta, like near Bunderan HI and Kuningan.
I live in Pantai Indah Kapuk, it’s in North Jakarta, kinda near Pluit. It’s actually one of the more expensive places to live — my house is currently for sale and it’s listed at around $450,000 USD. However, rental prices remain low. The average rent for a 3 bed/2.5 bath house in my neighborhood is about $8,000 USD per year. (My rent is a little lower because my house has ‘bad feng shui’ and someone died in it, so no one else wants to live here. Seriously.)
A two bedroom / two bathroom apartment near Taman Anggrek should NOT cost you $1,500 per month — that’s the expat price, someone just trying to make money off of you. The average price for those apartments, especially at the Mediterania building, is about $2,500 to $5,000 per year.
In the Puri Indah area, you should be able to rent a house for between $3,000 to $8,000 per year, no problem.
Why will you be coming to Jakarta? If you give me more information about why you’ll be here, and where you’ll be working, I can give you better advice.
A good place to look is http://www.rumah123.com/ — but keep in mind that the houses for rent on that site are usually more expensive. But it’ll give you an idea of pricing and what’s available.
Thank you for your input Samantha! My husband is a college professor here in Eastern Washington. He is going to Jakarta to set up some kind of Asia Study tour for his students. Indonesia is one the countries he is looking into among others. He will also be looking into some kind of international development opportunity and while there will try to recruit some students to attend his college. I was born in Indonesia but have lived in the states for the last 23 years. Though I still speak Indonesian & Mandarin fluently, I rarely come to visit due to the high prices of airline tickets and I cant always get time off. I lost touch on how things were and it’s so much different now.
The area we are looking into is Taman Anggrek or Mediterranea for its proximity & convenience. Puri Indah is fine too.
We are only going to be there for 1 month. Any suggestion will be very much appreciated!
I did something similar when I ran off to China! I do have student loans, but luckily I make enough money to make my payments and still live pretty well here in Wanzhou, Chongqing. I’m debating what my next stop will be; you make Indonesia sound amazing!
Living abroad is an extremely liberating experience – I think everyone should do it, even if it’s only for a little while.
Come to Indonesia, Nikki! Come! It’s not for everyone, but if you’re flexible and like a challenge, there’s no better place to be.
So if I was interested in going overseas to teach English, how would I start my search? I mean I have a Masters in math…. not sure how that would help me with English but the degree might?
Your first step is to consider where you might want to live.
Also, teaching abroad isn’t limited only to English teaching. Most international schools hire foreign math teachers, foreign science teachers, foreign art teachers, foreign music teachers, etc…
If you’ve got a Masters in Math and you’re a native English speaker, you’re going to be a pretty competitive candidate for a lot of teaching jobs at international schools.
Here are some links to recruiters who specialize in placing teachers in international schools:
In my opinion, Search Associates is the best one to use. Doesn’t hurt to try both, though.
Degrees are almost always a must but it does not matter what that degree is in! My husband and I taught English in Japan for four years. My degree was in international politics. His degree was in biology! The best way to start your search is come up with countries you’re interested in and researching from there. I will say teaching jobs are much easier to come by in places like Asia and Latin America than Europe.
This post is so filled with awesome and inspiration. Maybe I could convince my husband to do this one day! 🙂
Hey! Great to hear tales from another expat! I ran off to Thailand in a similar fashion, met my fiancé in a lady-boy bar, and moved house several more times before heading to Hong Kong. Not the bohemian paradise I had first shot for, but until those awesome student loans are fully paid off, this is where we will stay. But yeah! If you head back to Hong Kong in the future, send me a message! We live on a little no-car island overrun with feral dogs (not really the first image that comes to mind with Hong Kong) and I would love to meet more offbeat-y people.
Oh and for anyone mulling over the idea of making the big leap… DO IT! DOITDOITDOIT I cannot stress this enough. It has been the best “big decision” of my life thus far. Check out eslcafe.com for some daydream material (actually, my awesome hippie baby job (Shichida HK) is hiring on that site right now, so perhaps some offbeat future co-workers in the midst?
OMG, we would looooooove to live in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is, hands-down, our favorite city in Asia. It’s like Singapore with an edge.
We’re going to China at Christmas to visit the hometown of one of our expat friends here in Jakarta. We’ll be flying through HK or Guangzhou, so if we’re in your ‘hood, I’ll look you up!
Are there many opportunities job-wise for people that aren’t teachers, or can basically anyone teach english there?
Thanks to this article I’m all fired up and trying to find information on how to move overseas but I don’t really have any specialised skills yet =\ Hm, maybe I should look into a Chinese university or something…
Basically anyone can teach! Just be sure to do a lot of research about a job offer before taking it. While there’s many wonderful opportunities out there, there’s also a lot of scams and awful working situations. Thankfully I didn’t run into that while in Japan but I have friends that taught in Korea, China, and Thailand that all had their fair share of crazy stories!
KM is right, if you have at least an undergraduate degree + hold a passport from a native-English speaking country (generally recognized as USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada) you should be able to find a teaching job.
Here in Indonesia, the regulations recently changed. Now, you need to have a degree in the subject you’re going to teach. Want to be a math teacher? You need a math degree. Want to be an English teacher? You need an English degree. It’s caused a lot of issues for career teachers who don’t meet the new requirements.
That being said, if you meet the basic requirements I listed above, you should be able to secure work somewhere– even if it’s not in Indonesia.
Hong Kong is quite a nice city, and for anyone who is intimidated by the jump to Asia, it’s a fantastic middle ground of east meets west. I absolutely LOVED my 2 years in southern Thailand, but I really wanted to finish paying off those loans (while 700 bucks a month lets you live like a queen, it doesn’t translate well when dealing with USA lenders). I wasn’t exactly over the moon at the time, since I am much more a jungle than a city girl.
However, I was truly delighted by little Lamma island, which is just a 20 minute ferry from downtown hong kong island (hells, I’m on that ferry right now). No roads or cars, no tall buildings, with lots of banana trees and beaches and dogs allowed in restaurants. And the cool thing is, they pay at a greater rate than teaching in the United States (but the cost of living is lower). We’re saving 70% of our paychecks!!! MIND EXPLOSION!!!!
It would be lovely to meetup later in the year if you’re stopping through, although we are exploring the western Philippines between the 22nd and the 1st during holiday time. If our paths cross, I say a resounding hell yeaaaaah!
We might be in the Philippines in a few weeks! Ramadan starts tomorrow and, here in Indonesia, everyone gets two weeks off to celebrate the end of Ramadan. (It’s called Idul Fitri or Eid al Fitr.)
My sister’s husband is Filipino and they’ll be in the Philippines visiting his family for the month of August, so we were considering spending our Idul Fitri holiday there with them.
They just built a new hotel on the island of Palawan, in Puerto Princessa. Palawan is supposed to be super gorgeous, so I’m eager to check it out.
As for the winter break, if we’re in HK before the 22nd or after the 1st, I’ll definitely look you up!
Moving to Asia is definitely the best thing I’ve ever done. I spent six years in Japan. I went over on the JET Programme, and since that had a three-year limit at the time, switched over to Interac for the final three. I met my husband there, and while we’re now back to America being unemployed and such, it’s an experience I’ll always treasure.
I have pretty much dreamed of doing this in Japan or some such place since… wow, forever. I am inspired by you two, and hope someday, my fiance and I can realize our dreams of travel and working abroad as well! Good luck, and thank you for sharing!
Ok…can I ask a most likely obvious question? You say you were going to school for social work and your (now) husband was working in journalism? How did you make the transition to teaching? My fiance and I are pretty interested in travel and would like to do some looking into this as an option.
In the States, I was going to school for social work, completing my CDP license and working towards an MSW,– but I also had worked in social work for a decade.
From a professional standpoint, transitioning into teaching was pretty easy. The skills I acquired as a social worker translated very well into being a teacher. I found my niche in early childhood education, which worked out really well because of my background in child psych and development.
From an emotional standpoint, it was a rough transition. I never ‘loved’ teaching the way that I love social work. Plus, here in Indonesia (and most developing nations), foreign teachers are only hired to work at the elite private schools. That means that my students were always from privileged backgrounds and were, for lack of a better word, spoiled.
Since it’s impossible to turn a corner in Jakarta without having the immense poverty smack you in the face, we started doing things to help where ever we could– and we continue to do so.
As far as my husband’s transition, being a writer/journalist meant that he understood the intricacies of the English language. By far, he preferred teaching older students, students that already understood the language and that he could work with on reading novels and writing essays, etc…
From an employer’s perspective, they were always quite pleased with our respective backgrounds. Even though we weren’t teachers in America, we brought unique skills to the table and were adaptable.
Samantha – you’re making my heart beat faster 🙂 I’m just finishing my MSW this year, and my partner is a writer. He’s travelled extensively in Indonesia and Thailand and we’re planning a vacation next summer, after graduation. The possibility of *moving* there is kind of epically exciting.
However, I was wondering if you know about the possibilities of working in social work, vs teaching. My partner has taught ESL before and happily would again, but I LOVE social work and my background is in homelessness/addictions and clinical work. Do you have any info on the possibilities of working in swk as an expat?
I’m SO excited to internet-know someone I can ask these questions! Thank you, thank you for the article!
Hi, Loki! I just answered most of these questions right above your comment.
As a social worker, I worked primarily with at-risk youth, child abuse/neglect, and domestic violence. (I also went to school to get my CDP credentials, but never used them.)
I love social work. There’s nothing that will ever come close to my love for social work– teaching came naturally, in many ways, but it definitely wasn’t fulfilling in the way that social work is… Especially because I wasn’t exactly working with under-privileged youth.
Getting work with NGOs as an expat is close to impossible. There’s just not a lot of interest/need for foreign aid workers, especially in fields that aren’t disaster relief.
I do some consultation work for a fairly large NGO, but I do it for free in my spare time. My husband and I also support many local foundations financially and we help out, on a case-by-case basis, whenever we can.
A few examples of things we’ve done: Paying for the medical care for a homeless teen who overdosed. Paying for a renovation on a poor family’s house. Free English lessons for needy children.
Also, we’re big fans of micro-lending– except that we don’t make people pay it back, but we do allow them to work it off. We’ve helped several people finance new business ventures, pay for medical care, etc…
I think you’ll find that you can’t really secure employment as a social worker in most countries but you CAN do things, on your own, that will fulfill your need and desire to help.
Ahhh why are there always such badass babes on the offbeat sites?!?! I was a social worker in the states as well, working with the homeless and those with addictions as well before I made the leap. Miss it deeply. I found the language gap was the biggest issue. If you don’t know the language, you are limited to only working with a tiny or elite population. Might head to Norway for free grad school after this, so I hope to have more opportunities for social work over there.
My disabled boyfriend and I are considering going expat somewhere where we could live on his SSDI payments alone.
SamanthaB, if it isn’t too nosy, I’m curious about the staff you have working for you. How did you find them? And how many people work for you and what do they do? How do you have enough work for them to fill 40 hours a week? I ask because I can’t think of enough tasks that could keep someone busy for that long in my home.
I don’t mind answering your questions at all! 🙂
Our pembantu (maid) Uda was the maid that was provided to us by our very first school. She was only 17 at the time and had just moved to Jakarta from her village. Her aunt was also a maid for the school, which is how she got hired. When we left that school, we took her with us.
Udin, our handyman, was an ‘Office Boy’ at our first school. (I know that name sounds horribly demeaning, but that’s actually the job title. That’s what they call them here.) We wanted to give him the opportunity at a better life, so we hired him too.
As far as their jobs, Uda’s day goes something like this:
5:00 am: Wake up and pray, eat breakfast.
6:30 am: Sweep and mop the floors, dust the house, deep-clean the kitchen, sweep outside, take out the garbage, etc…
7:30 am: Put away the clean clothes, clean the master bedroom/bathroom. (She does a deep cleaning every single day– including scrubbing the bathtub and everything– and changes our bedding every three days or so.)
8:30 am: Wash the laundry and hang it out to dry. (We have a machine, but she often opts to wash the clothes by hand.)
9:30 am – 3:00 pm: Wait for the clothes to dry, cook lunch, go to the wet market, doddle around the house, watch soap operas, pray, nap, etc…
3:00 pm: Take the clothes off of the line and iron all of them.
4:30 pm – 9:00 pm: Doddle around the house some more. Cook dinner. (Or go out to dinner with us.) Watch more TV. Pray. Talk on the phone with her friends.
9:00 pm: Go to bed.
She’s always putzing about the house, finding things to do. Dishes never sit in the sink for more than 10 minutes. Nothing is ever dirty or unorganized. She’s amazing, really.
On Saturday mornings, she does a quick cleaning and washes the clothes, then she’s free to do whatever she wants on Saturdays and Sundays. (That’s not the norm here. Most maids work seven days a week. They only get ONE day off per MONTH.)
Udin, our handyman, doesn’t live with us. He lives in a boarding house with some of his friends. He comes to our house each day at 8:30 am and stays until 4:00 pm. What he does during that time depends on what we need him to do. He tends to the garden and yard every day and he manages the household– does all of the repairs, pays all of the bills, does all of the shopping. Some things are ‘regulars’, like always having food staples in the house. He just manages that on his own. For other things, I just leave to-do lists for him in his office. When we don’t have things for him to do, and he’s finished all of his regular tasks, he usually sits in his office and does his homework.
When he leaves at 4:00 pm each day, he goes straight to college– we’re paying for him to get his BA in Information Technology.
Honestly? Most weeks we don’t have enough work to keep them busy for 40 hours. I don’t mind, though. Household employees aren’t expensive (the average salary for a full-time, live-in maid is about $80 USD per month– although we pay our staff FAR more than that) and having them around is soooooooo worth the cost.
Hope that helps! Let me know if I can answer any other questions for you.
I forgot to mention that Uda also takes care of our dog– she feeds him, gives him his medicine, etc…
I know this is going to sound terribly lazy of us, but… I’ve never even picked up his poo– hell, I’ve never SEEN his poo.
Having Uda and Udin is like living in a magical house that is always clean and well-stocked and maintained and having a magical dog that doesn’t shit.
Did you adopt your dog in Indonesia or bring him with from the US? That would be the biggest obstacle for me–we have two chihuahuas and a cat. No way we’d move without them. Does Indonesia have isolation periods and such?
We adopted our dog here, from an animal rescue organization. Indonesia has pretty strict quarantine periods, so we didn’t bring our American dog with us. It’s possible to bring pets here, though — you just have to jump through a lot of hoops.
It’s been SO fun listening to this conversation over the past day! My husband and I are in the process of moving overseas and doing what so many of you seem inspired to do. What has helped us immensely in the blog Married with Luggage. They saved like maniacs, sold their whole life, and started travelling full time. On the blog and in some of their e-books, they address how to do this even with debt too. I can’t recommend their books and blog enough! (I don’t work for them or anything… I subscribe to about a dozen travel/work abroad blogs and their my favourite.)
It’s so hard to be different, as we all know, and leaving possessions and family and friends and familiarity behind is as different as can be. I’m getting a lot of flack from family and friends who don’t understand the appeal of leaving here… but it’s conversations like this one and with Married with Luggage that keep me on track.
Hi Sam, nice to hear from another expat! As a former English teacher (I taught English as a Foreign Language in Prague for 2.5 years), I do feel the need to advise a little caution to people thinking about going abroad. Visa regulations have been getting tougher in recent years and the job market for teaching has suffered as a result of the influx of new teachers from the economy. Research your destination first and make sure you talk to local expats about the job market and visa situation for your nationality before you buy a plane ticket. Seriously. I saw SO MANY people have to leave Europe and go back home because they arrived in April, when no one is hiring, or failed to bring the right documentation to get their visa. It’s not as easy as showing up anymore, and that’s also true in Asia. My fiance and I looked at positions in Jakarta (and were even offered a couple) but the regulations had changed and the school that offered us jobs was shady as hell.
So, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to do research on anywhere offering you a job, on getting your TEFL certification (if you want to teach English) in person (many schools don’t take teachers who did online courses), on getting involved in expat communities online that are specific to your intended destination so you can get a feel for what’s realistic, and saving up your money because visas can set you back a lot of money if you’re just starting out (many employers no longer cover these costs).
On a more personal note- Sam, my fiance and I are hoping to move to London (where he’s from), but if the UK government denies me a spouse visa (a possibility), we’re developing a plan B. If I include my email address, would you be willing to chat with me privately about non-teaching job opportunities for English-speaking expats over there? We loved the idea of living in Indonesia, but the options we had while looking were just too shady to make the leap. We’re also pretty burnt out as teachers, so we’re hoping to work in other sectors (I’m a creative type, he’s a journalism/legal interests type).
You’re right about being careful– I would *never* suggest that someone get on a plane and just ‘figure it out’ when they land.
That’s a huge gamble and can also cause fairly big immigration issues. Generally speaking, your employer has to apply for your visa while you are OUTSIDE of the country and you need to enter on the proper visa.
Looking for work while on a tourist visa is a big ‘no no’ and can get you deported or even jailed.
For anyone considering the expat lifestyle, you need to secure employment BEFORE you get on the plane, not after.
Also, you need to check the references for the school you’re going to work at– there are a lot of ‘horror stories’ out there. Most of that could be avoided through a little research.
There are tons of expat teacher message boards, forums, and websites. Schools that have bad reputations get ‘named and shamed’. Before you accept a job with anyone, research it. Make sure they’re legit. Try to talk to another expat who worked for them.
Also, you need to familiarize yourself with the laws– especially regarding immigration. Don’t just trust what the school tells you. Knowledge is power! 🙂
I don’t think any expat would tell someone to just go somewhere without getting everything squared away first, but it often needs to be said because it sounds so easy when we give them the highlights. I mean, who really wants to hear about how our first two months in a country were spent living in a crappy little apartment 45 minutes away from anything and eating instant noodles because we were so broke from the visa process and deposits and adjusting to life in a new place? That’s a boring story! :-p
Liz- I’d be happy to talk to you more about living in Indonesia. Rather than posting my email, how about you find me on the Indonesian expat forum and send me a private message through that site? It’s http://www.livinginindonesiaforum.org/. My handle is the same, SamanthaB.
I know the ‘teaching burnout’ feeling. After three years of teaching, we’ve had our fill. Last month we resigned from our jobs and formed our own creative services agency. (And we’re also doing English tutoring on the side ’cause, hell, it’s lucrative and good money! 🙂 )
I can’t speak for other countries, but in Indonesia, it’s pretty much impossible to get non-teaching expat jobs. The expats that are here in non-teaching positions were usually sent here by their companies (mining, oil, etc…) or are corporate giants that were headhunted (CEOs for telcoms, etc…) or are diplomats.
There are two English-language newspapers that hire expats as copy editors, but the pay sucks and so does the schedule– teaching is a better option than working for them.
Other than that… Teaching is really the only option.
I already found you over there (I had a good browse around on the site and posted in the Newbie Nook as lizopolis), so I will shoot you a message. It’s really disappointing to hear that it’s so hard to get work outside of teaching. I think that’s what kills me about the economy- no jobs in my home country outside of working in a clothing store part time or a restaurant, and no jobs in foreign countries unless I want to keep teaching English forever. I’ll drop you a line, thank you!
I really want to do this, but I have a cat that I will not leave behind. Is it possible to teach and live abroad with a pet?
Indonesia has strict quarantine policies, but there are lots of expats who bring their dogs and cats here with them. It can be a little expensive but it’s definitely possible.
I’m Indonesian living in Jakarta and I love this post ! Yay! 😀
Apa kabar, Sandy! Tinggal dimana? Kami tinggal di PIK — orang2 selalu mau tahu kenapa kami tidak tinggal di Kemang atau tempat lain di Selatan. Aku selalu bilang, “Karena saya tidak bule biasa! Saya bule BETAWI!!!” Wkwkwkwkwkwkwkwk.
What a wonderful and inspiring story. I’ve travelled all over but never had the guts to move somewhere. I’m in awe of you both – I hope you have many, many happy years of adventuring and loving life together!!! x
Great article! I think it’s awesome that you didn’t let fear stop you.
My husband worked in the jungles of Indonesia for the first 10 years of our marriage. He rotated 28 days on and 28 days off between Jakarta and San Fransisco. We were all set to move to Jakarta in Aug. 1997, but were waiting for me to give birth in Sept. in California, and then we planned on letting the baby get at least six months old before moving. Of course that didn’t end up happening because of the riots and expats leaving Indonesia in 1998.
A few weeks ago my husband was offered a two year job working in Jakarta. The kids and I are so excited and hope we actually get to move this time.
I’ve been to Jakarta twice for a total of about 20 days and had a great time both trips.
I’ve started the process of getting rid of stuff we don’t need just in case the my husband ends up taking the job. They are still in the process of working out the pay and benefits, so far things are looking good.
It’s very overwhelming thinking about getting rid of vehicles, trailers, quads, household stuff, and renting out our house. There is so much work to do. I don’t know how anyone does it.
So far I’ve made two dump runs, and have donated three truckloads of stuff. My house doesn’t really look that much different. Yikes!
I’m sorry I didn’t see your post earlier. So, did you guys make the move? Give me an update! 🙂
This is beautiful, thanks so much for sharing. I thought my career options were better here, but now that my career is going backwards there’s a large part of me that wants to drop everything and move to Japan. But unfortunately my partner would never go for it 🙁 I love to live through others!
I love this article, I love how long this comments section is, I love all you inspiring, whole hearted, adventurous offbeaties. Consider me crazy inspired. My husband was recently laid off and if we had not signed a brand spankin new lease you bet your buttons we’d be nose-to-monitor in full on research mode. I think we’ll hold off until I finish my bachelor’s degree, buuuuuuuut!!! We want to do something big and exciting. I want to do my masters and then phd in ethnomusicology, which is traveltastic, but if I could teach English or music on a bachelor’s degree in Latin America and get PAID a worthwhile amount to do so…well, maybe grad school can wait until I feel like going to school again.
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