Reading another thread on a different site about failed repatriation hit me in the feels. And with all the excitement of talk about teaching, women and exotic locales on the Southeast Asian forums, we sometimes need a bit of reality to motivate and remind us how things could have been different if we just made the wrong choices. My story is as so.
I had been teaching in the Chonburi/Pattaya area for near on four years, during which time I had travelled, partied, hooked up with chicks and adventured like the best of them. I'd made friends from all around the world and had some amazing students. I truly had the time of my life there...
But from a combination of increasingly harsh visa requirements, lack of ability to save any real money, burning out with the Thai/Asian culture and not being able to plan a long term future, I decided to call it quits on Thailand.
So in 2016, I moved back to Europe, taking a job at a private language academy in Campania, southern Italy where I spent the next two years. I loved Italy but after a couple of years, I started experiencing similar problems to what I had experienced in Thailand. Dreadful bureaucracy, pitiful wages and late payments, corruption, language barriers, shady employers and the inability to make any savings or really build towards any kind of future.
Back to the UK
So after six years away and pressure from my family, I took the tough decision to move back to the UK in June 2018 with every worldly possession I owned being capable of fitting in two large bags, ready to head back to my dull, post industrial working class northern English hometown. "It'll only be a few months" I told myself, while I decided what next.
At first I was jovial to be back in a country where I could speak the language and where I could have all my favourite foods. England welcomed me back well as it was summer, I enjoyed the long days and the UK was going through a heatwave on my arrival so my first couple of weeks were great. I caught up with my friends, re-explored by old neighbourhood and was happy to see my family again.
My parents wouldn't let me stay at home as my house is crowded as it is and I no longer have a bedroom there (I moved out at 18 and my youngest brother was born around this time) but one of my good friends was kind enough to let me move in with him in his spare room. But with little more than a couple of hundred £, I needed to find a job and fast. I had no intention to ever claim benefits (welfare) but couldn't even if I wanted to as I had to have been back in the UK for three months before I could claim a penny.
Job hunt and rejection
So I did what my old man always told me to do. I printed off countless copies of up to date CVs, fresh with good work experience and worldly knowledge I felt would have the employers begging for me and I hit the high street, visiting every store and business in town. Of course, a lot had changed in the UK since my old man's time or even since I'd left my hometown for that matter. Pretty much everything must be done online now including job applications. So I created profiles on pretty much every company site and job-seeking site.
I quickly learned my 6 years of worldly experience TEFLing and travelling the world were worth a lot less in the UK than I thought they might be and it was a lot harder to find a job than expected.
I'm a qualified travel consultant from one of my degrees but none of the travel agencies I applied to got back to me, most likely because I didn't have enough "real sales experience" or because what I felt in my frustrated state was simply because I wasn't busty, blonde and female. Or I didn't "have the right face for it" or know someone there already.
I didn't get a single reply to any of my online applications to the jobs in my hometown or even of other neighbouring towns. And to make things worse, nowadays most of the companies themselves require you to fill out a time consuming, multiple choice online questionnaire just to be able to apply. Fill the "wrong" answers on this, you will be denied the right to apply for 6 months. I was literally rejected by Tesco, Aldi and Waitrose just because of these stupid questionnaires. The irony as I recalled at age 15, my conservative boomer parents telling me "study hard, get good grades and you'll get a good job.. Don't and you'll end up stacking shelves in Tesco".. I laughed to myself on recollecting this memory. I'd have loved a job stacking shelves at this point.
The desperation phase
I quickly became dejected. And with little else left, I visited some high street recruitment agencies. They were taken aback by having a well educated Briton entering their premises looking for work, most of which were zero hour contracted, casual labouring positions taken by Eastern European migrants and refugees. I explained to them my situation and the woman there promised to help me.
The next day, she called me. "Would you like to do some gardening for a warehouse company out in the industrial estate. I know its not much but its something". Willing to pull up my socks and work anything, I said yes and the following day I was on a bus to a dull, nondescript industrial part of town where the owner had me mow the lawns, remove nettles, trim trees and sweep the yards. For my day's graft? £60. But that £60 was a lot for me at that time where I now had barely a tenner left.
Call centre blues
Unfortunately, the factory had no more work and I was left high and dry for a couple of anxious days before the agency called again. "We have a call centre recruiting for customer service and admin positions. Full time. Can I sign you up for it?".. I jumped at the chance and the following Monday, having dug out my awkwardly fitting teacher shirts, trousers and the smartest shoes I owned, I found myself in a training room at the call centre with about 7 other recruits and a particularly strict and condescending tattooed feminazi type young woman with a permanent scowl who was the instructor.
"This is a tough job. Not all of you will make it..." she started on her spiel like some kind of drill sergeant. Before long, we were on some stupid icebreaker activity. Myself and the other 7 or so recruits, a motley crew of fake tanned basic girls, chavs and idiots, all as equally gormless and who looked barely a couple of years out of high school are told to tell the group about ourselves. At 28, I was the oldest person in the room by at least four years. Most of their "interesting facts" included something along the lines of "I have a pet dog and 2 kids and once saw a football game" or something equally mundane.
When my turn came around, and I told the group that I had been travelling the world and teaching in Thailand and Italy for the last 6 years, I was met with not much more than a couple of curious questions. Mainly along the lines of "is Thailand really full of ladyboys?" and "why did you come back?". But nobody actually cared. I couldn't blame them. Their sheltered minds, having never left this city or country apart from maybe a week in Benidorm, simply couldn't comprehend it.
We were then given "training" on about 12 of the most ridiculously complicated online systems I'd ever used. I'm not tech savvy at the best of times and I was struggling. The most educated in the room by far and I felt more stupid than ever as the high school numpties frustratingly seemed to pick up the systems like pigs to sh**. "No, its like this, I did already tell you this, everyone else seems to be doing ok" my feminazi drill sargeant sighed to me like a frustrated teacher with a particularly dumb student.
And after just a few days "training", we were thrown out onto the big bad calling floor with the 150 or so other chickens in the coop we called agents.
I was put into a team of 10 of the most cliquey people I'd ever met, whose lives literally revolved around work and the team leader, a fat, gossipy and painfully generic 22-year-old woman with plastic claw nails, dyed hair and far too much fake tan and had little more academic qualification than she did personality unless "Strongbow dark fruits connoisseur" counts these days.
My job was customer service for card terminal machines and consisted of sitting at a computer for 8 hours a day dealing with some of the rudest people imaginable on the phone. Try as I may, I couldn't help but struggle with the 12 or so systems we were expected to become fluent in virtually overnight, deal with the team leader and simultaneously get yelled at by miserable business-owners whose card terminals not working must have somehow personally been my fault.
We're letting you go
After just 4 weeks on the job at the end of a particularly tough Friday afternoon, I was called into the meeting room by the team leader . "We feel like you're struggling with this. We understand its a hard job but usually we'd expect you to have made more progress in this time. We feel that you just aren't what we're looking for in this company. You'll get paid for the weeks you've worked and we wish you all the best"
I was told this before being escorted to the door while someone went to my desk to collect my possessions.
A welcome outstayed
I got "home" to my friend's place that night and told him the bad news. Instead of consolation, I was met with anger. "What do you mean you've lost your job? You'd better find another way to get some money and sort your life out quick or you're not staying here".. I was grateful to him for letting me at his stay so far and I understood his frustration but it was basically out of my control and I sure wasn't happy about it either. I felt I had outstayed my welcome to stay so have no choice but to move back in with my parents in the suburbs and sleep on their couch.
To make things worse, arriving at my parent's place, I was met by my angry mother. The "Really? You lost your job and now burned your bridges with your mate? You'd better sort your life out and quick" lecture started and I quickly snapped. "YOU'RE THE ONE WHO TOLD ME TO MOVE BACK HERE, I WAS HAPPY ABROAD BUT NO, YOU WANTED ME TO COME HERE AND APPARENTLY SORT MY LIFE OUT WHATEVER THAT EVEN MEANS, NOW I'M HERE, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO HELP ME? NOTHING! HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO DO THIS ALONE WHEN I'VE LITERALLY ARRIVED BACK IN THE COUNTRY AFTER YEARS? NEXT TIME I WON'T BE LISTENING TO ANYTHING YOU SAY"... Or something along those lines.
I stormed up to my childhood bedroom like a stroppy teen and immediately felt guilty. I wanted to sort my life out. Make a career for myself. I was 28 and further down the career ladder than people 5 years my junior. But how? You either need money to make money, the right friends in the right places or to have been in the same company for years. I was at rock bottom.
Back to the job hunt and within days, I'd found a job at another call centre doing telesales, equally mundane as the first but thankfully with easier systems... And over the next few months started to save some money... Till I had enough to move out again into a small 1-bedroom apartment in an average area of town... Months passed...Life was simple. Work, work, work...
But boredom and monotony soon got me down. Besides hanging out with two or three friends at weekends and the odd after work pint with colleagues, my lifestyle had ground to a halt, I was exhausted from work all the time and no inspiration to do anything in my town anyway and I couldn't even remember what sex felt like, it had been so long.
I couldn't believe that I used to whizz through the tropical jungles on a scooter, chill on beaches at the weekend, eat good food, party in Bangkok and Pattaya and hook up with smoking hot Asian chicks on the regular. I longed for my old life with painful nostalgia. There was no real future TEFLing in Thailand but at least I was happy.
What is happiness exactly?
I wanted to just quit life in England and come back to the first TEFL gig in the sun that I found but I was torn. I was making a lot more money. I had a home and assets. On paper, my life was "sorted". But I was so unhappy, mostly staying home smoking weed and drinking while simultaneously striking out with fat girls on Tinder.
Which is why a few months ago I did something crazy and booked a one-way flight to Bangkok. No job lined up, no plan, just a few quid and some ambition. I planned to travel in Cambodia and find another job in Thailand until I heard I could earn more in Vietnam so I pipelined a gig near HCMC.
I turned 30 a couple of months ago and my life is no more "sorted" than it was years ago. But what does having life sorted even mean? A house? marriage? a good wage?
From my experience I have learned the virtue of valuing your own happiness and taking action when this is compromised.
2020 is the year to make a difference.