At first I resisted taking unemployment. After all, I thought, I have always been able to get a job. This is just going to be a vacation. Month after month I applied, interviewed and was rejected. My severance pay was gone so I applied for unemployment. It was going to give me six months so long as I kept looking for work and I did. At the unemployment office, I met men and women my age who had been in similar work; some had even been managers and directors are various companies around the state. And then they got laid off for whatever reason and they had to start the long journey back to work. They showed up at each class dressed for work in suit and tie or skirt and blouse. Some of them had lost their jobs a year prior, others had been searching for several years. They had all spent their retirement money and had only the dream of social security waiting for them at some distant time. None were old enough to start collecting.
I couldn't sleep. Even though the taxes were keeping my mind busy, I started to wake up at night thinking about where we were going to end up. People were living in their cars, in housing for the homeless or on the streets. I had never been unemployed for so long and I could see that this time things were different. The economy was a mess. I had already lost my condo to being underwater in debt and now I had no work to even pay for my rental. My pride was melting away. I had no desire to take welfare as I knew there were many requirements to get it and, frankly, I was too proud to take food stamps or any other assistance. After all, I had a college education and 25 years experience. I was very employable.
|Waiting at the Seattle airport to go to Thailand|
We started talking about just giving in and going to Thailand. I could always teach, we said. I just needed to get my certificate there and jobs were everywhere. Then we took action. After selling or giving away all our furniture, cars and most other possessions, we moved to Thailand. I could see the handwriting on the wall and knew I had to either stay with the great chance of further humiliation, or I could just leave.
Since then I have taught English to 700 high school students and discovered, for the first time in my life, I could actually love going to work. I never felt that way. I liked the money and travel in my my past jobs but never the work. Now I earn about a tenth of what I did in the US and live in a studio apartment across the street from my school. Every morning I am greeted by hundreds of smiling faces and, "Good morning, teacher," as I walk to my office. I am weighted down by my computer and books and occasionally even a guitar. Teaching has given me the chance to be both creative and a leader. The students have come to respect me and I respect them. I see them as I did my own children at this age. They just need a bit of guidance to find, as the school puts it, the better life.
Fang is a farming community, three hours north of Chiang Mai with little in between but farms, mountains, jungles, orchids and breathtaking vistas. From my front door I can see clouds gather on the mountains that surround the town, watch the lightning of a coming storm and listen to the rain as it falls on the tin roofs all around. In this time I have gotten students to come out of their shells and start to talk to me in the English they have been learning since nursery school but never used more than a greeting. I have helped a couple students win a speech contest and have had lunch with the vice principal. My best friends in town are my fellow teachers, something I didn't have back home.
The only question now is, should I stay or go back home? I miss my sons, my brother and his wife and my friends. I miss being able to step out into a street and knowing cars will stop for me and not try to run me over. I miss ice cream, cheese, and many more things. At the moment, though, I don't have a home to go back to. I love the US and miss the rights and privileges I had there, but I have started to make a life for myself here.
|One of the students who won the speech contest|