James Humphries

Back to reality

The thoughts of a returning expat

I remember years ago when I did a work placement at a newspaper, I sat next to a friendly, well-spoken old journalist. He'd obviously led a long career but had fallen on hard times.

In an industry in decline, he was deemed surplus to requirements and had been reduced to working a few shifts a week. I heard him talking about how he needed a full-time job as his son was still at university and he had many bills to pay. Although he tried to hide it with his unfailing politeness and cheery demeanor, I saw a man who suddenly felt irrelevant and unwanted in the workplace.

He had likely been in the same job for most of his life and felt he couldn't do anything else. I sympathized with him but, like most Millennials, I probably thought "that'll never happen to me. I'll keep up with the times and I'll always be an asset."

Ten years later however and now I'm not so sure of myself.

Hooked on Thailand

Within the next year, I will be returning to my homeland in the UK to live permanently after seven years as an expat in Thailand. I never intended to stay here for so long.

After I completed my education I started to drift, unsure of what to do next and lacking self-belief. After experiencing a few rejections, I lost confidence and stopped applying for jobs. At some point, I decided I needed to do something radical (well, radical for me) so I signed up to be a volunteer English teacher in Thailand. I thought this might be something I could do for a year or two, before heading back home and starting a career.

Like a lot of expats in Thailand however, I ended up being seduced by the lifestyle and soon vowed never to leave. I had become a little lost back home and my lack of confidence had hindered my personal life as well as my job prospects. I found it hard to make friends and I was awkward around people

In Thailand, by contrast, I found it easier to be myself. The beauty of travelling is that it automatically makes you more interesting and nights out always involve meeting new people and sharing stories. Everyone you meet seems to be on a mission to find themselves and there is a strong camaraderie among travelers and expats.

My main reason for staying though, was love. I got married to my girlfriend in 2013 and we moved in together; everything was perfect for a while. I was content with my life as a teacher and my wife and I planned to open our own language school in her hometown.

A new arrival

Then everything changed. My son was born and I suddenly realized I couldn't raise a family working in such a precarious industry. Although happy at my school, I was essentially doing a job any random backpacker fresh off a four-week TEFL course could do. More importantly it doesn't pay nearly enough money.

For a few years I thought I might be able to make it in Thailand doing something else but I was kidding myself, it was time to make a change. If I wanted to make any kind of life for me and my family, I had to return home. I was nervous about telling my wife however. She has studied abroad but at heart she is a hometown girl and I worried she would be reluctant to leave her family. Fortunately, she understood and agreed with me. As much as she loves her hometown, our son's well-being is paramount and he should have the best opportunities.

Looking to the future

So now I must prepare to rejoin the workforce again and while I feel fairly confident I can find a good job, part of me is still terrified I'll meet the same fate as my old colleague at the newspaper.

My biggest fear is that things may have changed so much that my skills will be inadequate and I will be overlooked in favor of people who have spent their time investing in themselves while I, in the eyes of a potential employer, have been messing around in Asia for the last seven years.

What will recruiters think of someone who has spent such a long time living abroad? Will they be dismissive of my ESL experience? Will they look at my CV and see a 32 year old who has no marketable skills and very few career accomplishments? Will I even fit in anymore? It's very scary indeed and not how I pictured my life at all.

Thankfully I have a lot more self-belief these days and I've heard a lot of positive reports from other former teachers who have returned home and found their ESL experience was looked on favorably by employers.

Despite the life-changing experience I've had as an expat, I've always felt a lingering sense of failure. I'm envious of my friends, all of whom have been at least modestly successful in their careers and I find myself avoiding them because I know hearing about how well they are doing will make me depressed.

At heart though I'm a positive person and I feel excited about the prospect of finally achieving my potential. Nothing is guaranteed but I know I'm making the right decision for my family.


Dang, buddy! Reading your two articles I feel like I'm talking to myself, or engaging with a clone! Great minds think alike, brother James. Look bro, we gotta eat too, so the Lord's gonna make a way for all of us; there is space at the table for you and me, WHEREVER WE GO! I, too, am homeward bound 'cause I want more for my little family. The money here just ain't cuttin' it. That's a whole long-and ugly-discussion we can pass on, for now.

Intangibles sell, James. Like, 'People Skills', 'flexible personality', 'open mind'. Bottom line is: Don't over-think stuff. Employers want people who can meet challenges, such as change. Change-as in, "here today-gone tomorrow", "it's not working anymore...", "we're going broke...", "if we did this we could really score...". etc.

They need guys like us who can adapt. And we adapted. Here! We done held a job in the wilderness! Probably in the most-one of the most-rigid, inflexible cultures on earth! Truth is, J. those companies talk big, but they don't know what tomorrow will bring anymore than you, or I. So stay loose, dad. See you on the other side

By Kru Lambak, Rangsit (31st July 2017)

If you are ashamed of successfully teaching here, then you likely have deeper self-esteem issues. Would you really want to work for someone, whose knowledge of LOS is Hangover III? The days of going to work for a company, moving up the ladder for thirty years, and retiring are so long gone. The bottom line is one needs to save money, so they can weather times of low earnings. I know the OP hasn't returned yet, but do you notice how so few of these "return to farangland essays" mention what their housing costs will be.

By Mark, CNX (4th June 2017)

Personally I haven't had any luck landing a job in the UK, I've been here for 7 months already. I worked as a teacher and in recruitment in Bangkok. I've applied for over 100 jobs. Luckily I saved quite a bit of money working in Bangkok, I'm really not sure I'll stay here much longer. Good luck to the OP, hope you have better luck than me. I am almost 40 so maybe that's why I can't get a leg up.

By Suttisan , Suffolk, United Kingdom (30th May 2017)

I agree with a lot of the replies that have been posted here.

I worked in the Thai school system in the past, and while the discipline seems good and most other aspects are orderly (respect from students to teachers, morning assembly, etc), the Thai education system compared to other countries ranks quite low year after year.

If I had a son or daughter, I would not want to place them in the Thai schools. Sure, international schools are always an option (if you can afford it) but realistically, the best option is getting your education outside of Thailand.

Good luck!

By Martin , Savannah, GA (28th May 2017)


The biggest concern here is doing what is best for your son/family. It appears you are realizing that, which I applaud.

As a precious poster mentioned, do you really want to raise a child through the Thai education system? Um, no. Not a chance!

I knew a teacher who was from Denmark and had a 5 year old in the Thai schools system. Being a non-native English speaker, I am surprised he lasted the 9 or so years he lived in Thailand. His major concern was how he would adjust if he returned home, so he resisted it as long as he could.

NEWSFLASH: It's about doing what's best for your child, not you! The selfishness he displayed, as well as what I've seen and heard from others, is embarrassing and disgraceful.

In the end, he was forced to return to Denmark, but not by his own choice. His son barely speaks English or Danish. I can't imagine the social challenges as well as cultural difference he will face.

James: It sounds like you had a good experience. But it also sounds like you are ready to move on. I am assuming that "moving within the next year" is because you are sorting your visa issues and other things out. Otherwise, get out as soon as possible! Push the reset button and get on a plane.

You will adjust better than you think. Stay positive. All the best.

By Karen , Ottawa (26th May 2017)

By the way, hats off to Tony, Bangkok. If he’s worked hard and made a life for himself and his family in Thailand, that’s the sort of heart-warming tale we all love to hear. But is Britain really racist, or to turn it around, is Thailand not racist? Living overseas should educate us all that every country has some good and some bad. So does Thailand really offer more opportunities? Outside of teaching, these opportunities seem extremely specialised.

By John , Malvern, UK (25th May 2017)

You should be fine as you sound fairly positive. Mike (Bangkok) mentioned the £18000 income requirement above. If this were an issue, there is a loophole around this which I managed to find inadvertently. I'm British but lived and worked in Germany, and my Malaysian wife gained residency there by virtue of being married to me. I got sick of it (Germany, not her) and headed back to the UK. To bring her along, I had the option of doing things the UK way, i.e. hundreds of forms, a few £1000 plus the £18k income requirement or "exercising my right" to move from one EEA state to another. I opted for the latter, saving weeks and £££. Moving elsewhere in Europe for a year or so might not be ideal, but you'd save a wad of cash, forms and hassle. Google "Surinder Singh" for details of the court case which brought about this loophole. Good luck whatever happens.

By John, Malvern, UK (24th May 2017)

As you're planning to go back to the UK, have you thought about how your wife and child can join you? I'm pretty sure you need to be earning over around £18,000 a year before she will be allowed to live there. The Tories have said they plan to increase this amount. This is a huge problem for many British people that are married to non-EU foreigners.

By Mike, Bangkok (24th May 2017)

The comments add some good info to a solid article but they seem to focus chiefly around employment ( for obvious reasons ). I would also like to add another point, by raising kids in the west you will have kids that think like westerners. Could you imagine the horror of having a family that followed Thai culture? It doesn't bear thinking about.......

By BigbadB, Not Thailand ( thank the gods ) (23rd May 2017)

Great read (And also the comments). I am also in a similar boat to you James. I have been teaching in Thailand for 7/8 years and have also recently had a little bundle of joy. As with you, I also have this looming thought of going back to the UK so that I can have a career and set up a solid foundation for my family. Saying that though, at the moment, everything is ticking over fine here in BKK. I'm sure when my little one gets older then that big question will come up again, but for now it's just good to know there are others going through the same situation.
Good luck for the future mate.

By Jamie, Bangkok (22nd May 2017)


Good luck to you. Thanks for sharing. I had an almost similar experience.. lived and worked in Thailand 6 years (3 or 4 years too much in hindsight) then moved back to the US at age 32. Moving back was hard at first, but I adjusted much faster than I thought I would. It took me a few weeks to get settled and back in the groove.

You are right on some points...I had a hard time finding a job that matched my skill set and interests (finance - should have been easy, right?) and most recruiters and interviewers looked unfavorably on my years in Thailand. It's definitely hard to ignore the fact that companies are looking for good, dependable candidates and have to wonder about why I was even in Thailand in the first place. The interviews were awkward so start prepping a good "my journey story" now to prepare because I can assure you, it will come up.

It took me nearly 2 years of accepting contractor/temp roles here in the USA until I finally got the permanent, full-time role with benefits that I wanted. So yeah, it might be a struggle...but it depends on the industry you are in and what your goals are. I live in a fairly big and growing city and did not think it would be this difficult.

Hope you visa issues go well for your son and your wife. Not sure if things are easier in the UK, but regardless, it seems the paperwork always takes longer than expected.

One question. I found this a bit out of place:

"I was content with my life as a teacher and my wife and I planned to open our own language school in her hometown."

Was this her idea or yours? (Never mind. I already know the answer). In fact, I have heard this "idea" circulated a lot. Maybe 8-10 times over the years. That's my concern....

Regardless, good luck to you and your family. Stay focused on the big picture. Take the good experiences you had in Thailand and keep them, and learn from the bad ones. Thank you for pointing out the many pitfalls in your story. I think a lot of teachers don't like to talk about the negatives, but it sure seems as of late that they are starting to be discussed more and more, which will certainly help inexperienced and potential free spirits to at least reconsider their options.

By Tony H, Austin, TX (20th May 2017)

I agree with James' views and think that here holds better opportunities to get easy work and earn as much as you want to. Along with the great weather, cheap living, lovely people and mai pen rai attitude I think I could easily stay here forever. I came here In 2002 and have not spent more than one night away. For me personally, (racist) Britain isn't a place I want to take my two young boys to live either.

By Tony, Bangkok (20th May 2017)


Best of luck, my guess is you might struggle a bit at first but if you keep at it, you should be fine.

Don't let a few initial disappointments (if they happen) get you down.

By Jack, At home (20th May 2017)

Can't help thinking that you're looking at things through the wrong end of the telescope. Yes, the future's uncertain but that's the same for all of us to some extent or other. I'll accept that you have the added complication of bringing a family with you but in all other respects your position isn't all that different from most 30-somethings.

By the time I'd got to 32, apart from having a degree, my only 'selling point' was to have worked in a bookies for five years or so. Like you, I had friends who had gone into something more appropriate to their degrees and were seemingly contentedly working their way up the greasy pole - long hours, time away from families - albeit for a bit more money than me.

Wind forward 20 years though and I think only one of those friends is still employed in the same field and more importantly hasn't been through some sort of family break up. Seems that in many cases, the 'success' (moderate or not), wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

With hindsight (and I'm sure your sister will agree), the skills I picked up in the bookies have been invaluable in later jobs - and more importantly were seen as useful by prospective employers. Similarly, you have 7 years experience where you will have picked up numerous skills that are perfectly transferable and very much in demand. I'm sure you can list them better than me but resilience, confidence, and the ability to thrive in new situations are all skills very much in demand with employers.

Whatever you do, don't listen to the doom-mongers and their talk of stacking shelves at Poundland. Do that if you have to and use it as a stepping stone. In my experience (and in that of most people I know), the right opportunity will come along. In the meantime you're heading back to Belfast where you will have a supportive family around you whilst you get on with building a new career. Sounds like win, win to me (although I'm not sure I could ever be talked into moving back to NI - political and religious basket case that it is)!

By Iain, London (17th May 2017)

Hi James

11 years ago I did the same thing after 7 years of teaching in Bangkok. My wife is Thai and had a good job but 13 years ago after the arrival of our first bundle of trouble we re-evaluated our priorities and headed to the UK. It wasn't easy for the first couple of years but with hindsight, we made the right choice and glad we stuck at it. I think there might be a couple of "hotseat" interviews with me still on this site, one of them after I got back to the UK, though its a few years old now. (I still check in on ajarn.com from time to time though as it's such a good website and there's a little bit of me that likes to occasionally reconnect with the TEFL scene - first time on in a while and your story was top of the homepage!).

If you want to have any kind of discussion then let me know. I can probably give you a bit of insight onto your questions, not least on the recruitment side which I have lots of experience of, initially interacting with and then starting my own executive search business some years ago now. No strings on my part - unless you've been the CEO of a renewable energy firm, which has been my niche. :-)

Dave Fahey

By David Fahey, UK (17th May 2017)

I've been in Thailand as an ESL teacher for 13 years and have a Thai wife and two kids. Whilst I have the internal battle of "what best for my kids vs. my own quality of life" I have fallen on the side of staying in Thailand. I figure that the comparative salary is pretty decent and the standard of living and environment my kids will grow up in is higher here in Thailand than it would be growing up in my home town of Leicester.

Additional salary can be earned quite easily here, and I am lucky to own my own place and have zero debt. Moving 'back home' for me would entail me spending a lot more time commuting/working and therefore spending less time with my kids, leading to a decrease in my quality of life.

I applaud James' decision, as it has been made for the right reasons, and wish him and his family the very best.
I am wary that us westerners can remained 'trapped' under the illusion that a good paying job and access to school's with good GCSE grades is everything for a child's healthy growth and happy development.

By James, Lampang, Thailand (17th May 2017)

I enjoyed reading this, a good honest post . Thanks and good luck

By Brent, New Zealand (17th May 2017)

Thank you James for such a good, honest read and of course welcome to the ajarn bloggers!

Returning to the UK after a seven year 'exile' must seem daunting but I think you'll be fine if you take it one step at a time.

A good friend of mine returned to the UK about 18 months ago. Similar situation to yours - in his thirties, Thai wife, young son - but he had been in Thailand for twice as long as you.

He was amazed at how easy it was to get back into the UK lifestyle and back into the swing of things.

By Phil, Samut Prakarn (17th May 2017)

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