Ajarn Street

Down and out in England

A tale of failed repatriation


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.

Thailand

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.

Italy

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.

Ray Norton




Comments

Thanks for the comments (just to clarify, Ray Norton is an alias as I didn't want my real name out there).

Hope you enjoyed the read as much as I enjoyed writing it (I love a bit of tongue in cheek humour with my cynicism and ranting).

Quick update. Teaching in Vietnam and loving it. Sure its not Pattaya but it certainly isn't Rotherham either. I live a short 30km moto ride from central Saigon but in a nice enough area, not too noisy, not too polluted, with alright locals and a decent expat community too. Its less developed than Thailand, less westernised and more traditional too but I feel more welcomed here as a farang than in the land of fake smiles.

I definitely feel more appreciated as a teacher here than Thailand and feel I can grow more here which is the important thing. Plus with the higher wages and cheaper living costs than Thailand, I can save more money than even in the UK. Its definitely a nice place to build a cheeky nest-egg without dealing with the entertainment-wasteland of the Middle East, weirdness of China or the freezing winters of Korea.

Its alright for single men too. Got a decent Vietnamese girlfriend now after single-manning it for a bit. Dating isn't quite as easy as Thailand or the Philippines but its still decent. Vietnams a more traditional country, theres a little bit less interest in dating farangs (theres just less farangs and exposure to farangs here overall) and with the lack of in your face Walking St-esque mongering, it can be a little bit of a shock to the naughtier Thailandheads who are familiar with picking up a girl in a bar or on tinder and being in bed with her an hour later. Bui Vien isn't a scratch on Thailand's red light districts.
However, it certainly isn't Scunthorpe in that regard either. Its still SEA and any decent westerner who isn't totally inept would be able to date without problems, especially in Saigon.

The TEFL industry here (as everywhere no doubt) has taken a hammering with Covid. A lot of teachers are teaching online on reduced hours and wages or have lost their jobs totally with school closures. Luckily I'm ok, at least for now. I feel far better off here than in the UK especially regarding Covid. Vietnams one of the safest countries to be in right now. And on the plus side, as the borders are closed and no new teachers are coming, those already here have more leverage with wages etc.

Vietnam has a lot of similarities to Thailand, and a lot of differences. It really is "same same but different". I definitely recommend it as a nice alternative for ajarns, especially more serious teachers who are jaded with the visa BS, low wages and anti-farang sentiment in Prayutland but still want the laid back lifestyle, friendly locals and warm weather of SEA.

With reflection, I agree with all commenters here. Life in the UK made me depressed. And bitter. I felt like I aged 10 years in my time there. But it needed to happen. I needed to experience the darkness to know what happiness is after all. Its given me a newfound appreciation for whats important. I plan to study again in future to be able to earn more (got 2 BA's already but not in education). For now just loving each day.

Hope everyone's well

By Ray Norton, Vietnam (17th August 2020)

From personal experience, people who tell you to live your life by following their example are most more likely to be trying to justify their previous decisions to themselves and others instead of trying to help the person they are giving the advice to.

By Jack, Not in a classroom (29th January 2020)

I really enjoyed reading this piece; I tend to relish writing on the bleaker side of life, especially if it's infused with humour. I volunteer for a bereavement charity and hear from people who have recently lost loved ones. You may be surprised how young so many of them are and how sad the circumstances; for example, the 37 year-old whose son was still-born and her partner, just 40, hanged himself in a field a fortnight later. Sadly this is a common, not exceptional, occurrence in the UK where I live. When you are tempted to look upwards, so to speak, at real or imagined contemporaries doing better- shinier jobs, houses or partners- do take a look downwards, too, and count your blessings. I had a short stint of Thai TEFL and it wasn't for me, and from one point of view my life back in the UK has, at times, felt like a continuous 'Jarrow March' since! But I've got my health and sense of humour, so all is not lost- yet...

By David B, UK (26th January 2020)

Having lost a fortune due to a divorce and then another Thai marriage I have found myself in a position I never dreamed I would be in. That is 57 and penniless. I cannot afford to go home. I am a fully qualified International school teacher but considered too old by most schools. I am awake at night worried. I am living off my girlfriend but the relationship is not good. Without her I would be on the street. I am a good writer and can write marketing materials or correct companies English but cannot find clients who care enough. It sucks. By the way losing a lot of money in a divorce, illness of my Thai wife and other such matters is how I came to be penniless. Had I heard this story a few years ago I would not have thought it possible. Believe me it is

By Graham Rogers, Bangkok (22nd January 2020)

Having lost a fortune due to a divorce and then another Thai marriage I have found myself in a position I never dreamed I would be in. That is 57 and penniless. I cannot afford to go home. I am a fully qualified International school teacher but considered too old by most schools. I am awake at night worried. I am living off my girlfriend but the relationship is not good. Without her I would be on the street. I am a good writer and can write marketing materials or correct companies English but cannot find clients who care enough. It sucks.

By Graham Rogers, Bangkok (22nd January 2020)

My god, this explains my situation and life every time I go home...
I’m about to leave thailand and do the 3/4 month recharge and leave again. Will try my best to stay away from the weed but god there is just a different breed of people back in the UK.
Take care man, really enjoyed reading this! Peace!

By Andrew, Bangkok (17th January 2020)

I liked it too. No need to sugar coat it when a lot of the people he worked with will be frankly dull. His family could’ve been a lot more supportive. I started reading with a “what did he expect?” thinking, but by the end I was rooting for him.

Hopefully he’ll learn from the experience and become more employable by getting more of the right qualifications. I wish him all the best.

My background: I worked in engineering in the UK before teaching abroad for a number of years. I always knew the teaching experience would be worthless back in the UK, but I had that engineering to fall back on, and that’s what I did. I like it, but I’ll admit you need decent money to make it work. What next, I’m about to study for a PGCE and plan to teach Science in an international school. I don’t like my office colleagues either :)

By John, UK (11th January 2020)

I'm not sure what your qualification credits are, my guess is that you don't have a degree and have some sort of diploma. This was my situation when I came to Thailand.

Get qualified - it doesn't matter if it cost you all your savings and free time. The visa situation is not getting any better, and if you can't get a work permit you'll probably have to hop it to Cambodia sooner or later. I have a friend in that situation now, he's not having fun there.

Also being qualified means that you more than double your salary. You'll probably struggle to get a job at the better international schools, as they prefer teachers with experience from their home countries. But a fair amount of lower level ones will take you. How does 60k plus sound?

Find a university that will allow you to study online. If you have enough credits do a PGCE, if not just do the whole BEd. If you study with an English university you'll have to go back to do your teaching prac, but it sounds like you've got family you could crash with for 3 months.

It took me 5 years of working and studying to get qualified, and I was able to make up the monetary cost in less than a year. I was 25 when I started, 30 when I finished. With all the quality of life that comes with it, this was one of the best decisions of my life.

To conclude, it sounds as though you like teaching and the life it gives you. If that's the case, make sure you can have a life and a future doing it.

By Alan, Bangkok (11th January 2020)

I'm a (male) Brit too, so 'get' a lot of this only too well. Just want to say this was worth the read, Ray.
To those (well-meaning) people who've commented here in great detail about how this should be considered or that should be considered in order that Ray achieves some kind of optimally perfect, 'real future', they ought, perhaps, to re-read and really think about Ray's round-up sentence at the end.

By Alfredo Garcia, Bangkok (11th January 2020)

People say, live your life because... It's your life! Your life never only belongs to you it belongs to all those that love you. I wouldn't live anywhere longer than 4 years if it wasn't a tleast looking like I was starting to build strong foundations. Everything in life can go wrong or right. But TEFLing into your forties? If anything goes wrong with this man's health in Asia, he has no wife with an income or business with no savings. He's finished. He will be straight back to England in an even worse state, life will end miserably. He needs to start building. Also I think he was very rude to label all of those he met as almost Sub normal, even after they were able to accomplish things in the work place that he couldn't. TEFL teachers are not the most respected in the world.

By Tom, Bangkok (10th January 2020)

Best of luck, but realize there are options in addition to teaching English which allow you to live abroad and have a professional career, if you are willing to put in the time and work.

I agree with Joe Soap's advice, make your own path but there might be far more choices than you have considered.

By Jack, Around about (10th January 2020)

Whilst agreeing with what you say about life in the UK and people who apply for jobs in call centres, I think there are some parts of your mum's message that you should listen to. I dont think you went back to the UK with an open mind, and your experiences were a self-fulfilling prophecy, yet if / when you come off your motorbike in those mountains you talk about, I imagine your family will be the first people you call when your health insurance (should you have any) isnt as good as you imagined.

No one wants a bad time when they are young, but with no savings mentioned, the UK state pension retreating in value every year, your inheritance in doubt due to this post and the social care levy that takes away all old people's savings should the need care in the UK, there will come a point where life becomes sub-optimal. Your mum and dad know this, and are trying to help you avoid living your final years tied to a bed eating gruel or whatever old people care is like in 30 years time.

Im not saying move back to Dullsville but you have to show some compromise. What does your Mum want? 1 Grandkids, 2 to be able to show her friends you are doing well, 3 for you to have some security for later in life. She sees your friends in the UK in their dead end jobs with these things and thinks that Thailand is stopping you from achieving them. You have to show her you can get these things and live in Thailand. Its achievable, but you have to show a bit of willing

Step 1 - you can date smoking hot chicks, but dating one who has a good education, job, family and ideally money would be a lot more acceptable than just hot. You might even find ones that likes zooming around the mountains on a bike, although you will probably have to stop at a photogenic coffee shop on the way back.

Step 2 - develop some savings, possibly by getting extra jobs in malls or on online in the evenings and weekends and putting that money in a separate account. Not many people in dead end jobs in the UK are saving 2-500GBP a month. Also, this would help you develop some assets, such as a condo or car if you saved enough. You might even use it to further your education, making you more employable in something your mum might think is proper work (that she can tell her friends about) like an International School.

You might ignore this, and everything might be ok. What do I know?

By Rob, Bangkok (10th January 2020)

What, how could you leave the stunning, petite British women behind? Or the wonderful weather. Or the awesome PC free environment. Or the beautiful multi-culturalism. Or the...

By Michael, Northern Europe (unfortunately) (10th January 2020)

Excellent article. I managed 8 months back in the grind of middle England nothingness before I had to get out. Currently chilling on Phu Quoc whilst I investigate my next move, Thailand again probably. Life is too short and subjective to not be happy. Good luck.

By Dean, Vietnam (10th January 2020)

Wow. Your life sounds a lot like mine. Its crazy. I can relate to everything you have described as I am currently in Thailand working as a Science teacher however back home im from the northwest of England the land of dullness and gloomy days. Smoking pot constantly and working useless jobs until the boredem kicks in and you start to think what's the point if I am not happy.
Good on you mate. Rule number one. Listen to yourself and live your life. Why? Because its your life.

By Aziz Shah, Thailand (10th January 2020)

“ But what does having life sorted even mean? “

Nail on head right there. Whose narrative are you subscribing to when you think ‘life sorted’, and how could they possibly know what your ideals and dreams are, not alone be an adjudicator on fulfilling them?

Only you can decide what gives your life value. If you follow that internal monologue based on the idle chatter of societal sheep you’ll piss your life away allowing idiots be your GPS.

Find your goals, work towards them using intelligent decisions. You’ll figure it out in time, maybe it’s not the right time just yet. If that includes a stint abroad teaching ESL then so be it. The world is changing, the old 9to5 ‘school-job(40 years at the same desk)-die’ template is fading. Keep up-skilling, stay curious, learn while traveling and teaching abroad, keep fit, mind your health, save, even if it’s only a pittance put something away every paycheck. Money, success, possessions are trivial, how many have them in spades and are still miserable. Enjoy life while keeping your eye on the ball, too many people alive are not even living, spurred on in a blind frenzy to buy their way to happiness, status, recognition etc.

There is no blueprint. You are the sole author, and it’s your blank page.

Ignore the plebs, let them rot in their piss-grey suburban hell.

Don’t settle just because others think you should. This is your life, ending one second at a time... do something worth living for, or don’t.

By Joe Soap, A ‘Big Mango’ satellite city (10th January 2020)

Wow, great read! I went through a very similar situation (bored of teaching in Asia, went home, searched for crap jobs, worked even worse jobs, realized by huge mistake and came back). Wish you all the best!

By James, Bangkok (10th January 2020)

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