Having taught in Thailand for over five years at primarily two different schools but also a multitude of other part-time, language school and private jobs, I find myself nearing the end of my current two-year contract. Two years! It seemed an eternity at the time I signed on the dotted line but hey, work permits don't appear by themselves.
Anyway, I find myself in the predicament that many of us in international teaching roles (ESL or otherwise) find ourselves in - should I stay or should I go? (cue the music)
As much as I've tried to fight it, I'm having to face the reality of the hour. I'm just not making enough money to make it worth staying at my current posting. What with student loans, a mortgage and other bills to pay, not only am I saving zilch for retirement, but I'm also barely breaking even from month to month.
This is especially true after I quit my three-day-a-week 'second job' back in April that turned my Tuesdays and Thursdays into 14-hour days (with commutes) - and robbed me of my Saturdays.
I ask myself now how the hell I managed to do that second job for almost five years? Do I miss that extra 25,000 baht each month? Not as much as I appreciate the lower stress and increase in free time that I now have.
The problem is that for all its faults, I still genuinely love living in Thailand (but don't get me started on my recent 90-day reporting and all the problems that come with it)
Sure, now that I'm a qualified teacher with credentials and experience under my belt, I could definitely make a horizontal move to another school, making maybe 20,000 baht more a month. Hell, I could probably get a job - if I schmoozed enough - at one of the "top" international schools in Thailand, but as a recent Ajarn.com article noted, being a "local hire" (something peculiar to Asia, it would seem) just isn't the best way to go about things if you're trying to think long-term.
Time to go?
So where does that leave a teacher that wants to live in Thailand permanently? Best I've figured is that it means leaving the country for a couple of years and living in 'misery' in order to pull in 'the big bucks', then return to Thailand to work at a school on an expat package (read: full salary and benefits).
It's a master plan and route to riches that I've been fighting against for years, but the reality check is that I'll just never pay off any of my existing debts (even at my relatively young age) and be able to afford to retire before I'm a hundred years old. I know what you're thinking - yes, yes, we've heard it all before, blah blah blah, move away and shut up Sam.
Anyway, I've always heard of great money to be made in places like China, Japan, Korea and of course the supposedly lucrative Middle East, especially the UAE and Saudi Arabia. This Ajarn.com article from a while back gave the impression that there are two things that grow on trees out that way - dates and money!
I've just about accepted the fact that one of those destinations will have to be my temporary home for a few years. The problem is that even though I've been registered with several recruitment agencies (including the top international schools) and I have researched listings and vacancies extensively over the past few months, I just don't know where these supposedly high salaries are being offered. Where are those big bucks! It's definitely not at international schools, surprising as that may seem when compared to Thailand.
I was recently offered a position at one of the top IB schools in Dubai (International Baccalaureate, an international school programme), and although the benefits are decent and it's tax-free, the starting salary - even four steps up the scale - is a paltry US$3,200/month. With my extra jobs (yes, I still have more than one) I can make that sort of money in Bangkok!
While I have found schools that will provide packages allowing after-tax/expense savings of up to about $30,000 a year (which is not bad at all) I've also heard that working purely in the ESL field is where the money really is, but have yet to find anything that pays more than maybe $5,000/month (definitely not bad) but not nearly the $6 - 8,000 that other teachers claim can be earned in some places.
Therein lies the biggest problem for the eternally job-hunting teacher: how much money is worth the hassle of a move to another country and starting all over again?
To be able to live like a true expat in Thailand, it seems a temporary, short-term move away is the best alternative for someone like me who went about this whole expat thing backwards - but oh boy, is the ongoing search for a suitable teaching gig tiresome. I'm certainly open to suggestions from any of you that have followed this route. Shoot me a line because I must just be looking in all the wrong places!
In the interim, it's back to the drudgery of the search - and the dread of having to leave the Land of Smiles behind for a spell.
I hope you enjoyed my blog. If you would like to get in touch or perhaps e-mail me with a question, I would love to hear from you - All the best, Sam Thompson.