Category Archives: Expat Life

Vignette #3: Kickin’ it Old School with GenX

Recently, while browsing my Facebook feed, I came across an inquiry in one of the groups I subscribe to. The young man was considering moving to Taiwan to look for an English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching job. He was seeking the normal information; job prospects, working conditions, living conditions, cost of living, etc. He received a lot of accurate information within hours. He went on to ask how people had ever managed to move abroad pre-Internet.

Well, let me tell you how it was back then, you, you… Millennial.

Of course we tried our best to do research before leaving, but there just wasn’t much information. You might be able to find government stats on the local economy, but you really had to use your imagination to glean from those charts the lifestyle you might expect to live in that country. You might comb your contacts for someone familiar with the country. These tended to be immigrants from the country, but often their information was wildly out-of-date and irrelevant to a newly arrived foreigner. Ultimately, after doing what research you could, you just had to man up and fling yourself into the unknown.

Some countries in Asia had ways of arranging jobs from Canada, that at least took care of one major worry. Taiwan did not. When I decided to move to Taiwan I had to accept that my job search would begin after my plane touched down. Unlike many others, I was [sort of] fortunate to have two friends living in Taiwan that I could phone for advice. As you might expect, their advice took the form of, “Yeah Man, come on out. There’s work here. You’ll do okay. Come out, Dude. We’ll party.” It was a little reassuring, but ultimately not what you want to stake your future on.

But, I did. I had no choice. The job market in Western Canada at that time was a soul-destroying sinkhole. Desperate times make desperate men.

I was broke, so I bought a plane ticket to Taipei with a credit card I shouldn’t have been allowed to have. I took a cash advance for whatever remained on my credit limit, so I’d be able to live, hopefully for a month, while I tried to find work and accommodation. That gave me about a month to get settled in Taiwan and find work. If I couldn’t get it done in that time my food and accommodation would run out, and I had no way to get back home. Those were the stakes. I gave my balls a tug, got on the plane—with one backpack, a mountain of credit card and student loan debt—and flew to Taipei, with very little sense of what awaited me, or how well I’d survive.

That’s how Generation X rolled back in the day, Son.

I Shan’t Return: A Canadian Expat’s Reasons for Staying Abroad

I’m a Canadian; but, I’ve lived more than two-thirds of my adult life abroad. With the exception of a year and a half in Canada, since graduating university, I’ve been living elsewhere. After finishing my Master’s degree at the University of Saskatchewan, I spent a year teaching in South Korea, which was enough to convince me to look for work in Canada. Looking for work in western Canada during the mid-1990s recession was enough to convince me to go back to Asia. I’ve spent the last 20 years in Taiwan.

Sakuras and Taipei 101. Darren Haughn©2015.

I am exceptionally grateful to my adopted country. Taiwan took me in and gave me meaningful employment at a time when that was not available in Canada. Beyond work, I’ve had the opportunity to build a life, marry, own a home, engage in hobbies and travel – all the things, big and small, that add color to a life. I’m not convinced that would have been possible if I’d remained in Canada, certainly it would have taken much longer. For these reasons, Taiwan has a place in my heart exceeding that of my home country.

However, lately my wife has been advocating moving to Canada. I’ve had a knee-jerk negative reaction, but apparently, “No damn way,” is not a well-reasoned argument. So, I’m going to try to elucidate the case for not returning to Canada.

I’ve spent my adult life living in Asia as a minority in race, ethnicity, language, culture, size, weight, etc. I am a true outsider in a way that few North Americans, with our racial and ethnic diversity, can really understand. When I do something – anything – everyone notices. Simply walking down the street can cause mass rubbernecking among the locals. Being the “other” is core to my existence and a huge part of my self-definition. If I’m not an expat then who am I? Moving back to Canada would constitute a huge existential challenge.

Perhaps that’s a bit ephemeral; in a practical sense, what would I do in Canada? My last job there was working as an editor for a long defunct newspaper. I cannot create an acceptable Canadian resume. There’s a 20+ year blank spot. For all a potential employer knows, I might have just got out of prison after a long hitch. The long-term expats I know, who have tried to return to Canada, have met blind resistance at job interviews. Most interviewers cannot see the diverse range of skills and personality traits required of long-term expats. They see only something new, strange, and scary. The best an expat can hope for is that the potential employer will simply ignore the last however many years of his life. Most who return to Canada find themselves moving from a professional career path to a janitorial position, and bounce back to Asia, much poorer for the experience, but a bit wiser.

What about simply not seeking work? Retirement sounds good, but who spends their entire career in a warm climate and then retires to a polar region. That’s a special kind of stupid. Likewise, you shouldn’t retire to a place with a higher cost of living than where you worked. The economics simply don’t work. It is more logical to either retire in Taiwan, or move to a cheaper and warmer country, perhaps in South East Asia, Latin America, or Spain.

Finally, economic well-being has been elusive. Asia is full of Canadian Generation Xers, I’m one. When we finished our educations, Canada was a jobs wasteland for degree holders. Many lost a decade or more trying to get their careers going. It has been a real challenge to build job stability and prosperity because of the place and times I come from. It took a solid 17 years to work myself into a satisfactory job. Geographic stability has likewise been difficult to achieve. I had to trade geographic stability for a chance at economic comfort. It is only in the last few years that I have felt myself putting down real roots. Part of that process has been marrying a wonderful Taiwanese woman. I am loath to simply throw away these hard won gains, and repeat the same pattern over again.

At heart I love both countries – but, it’s Taiwan for me.