Expat Life

Expats with REAL Jobs

I'm not a tourist I'm an expat

“No one should take themselves so seriously

With many years ahead to fall in line
Why would you wish that on me?
I never want to act my age
What’s my age again?
What’s my age again?”

– Blink 182

I’ve never deluded myself into believing that I’d one day be fantastically wealthy. As a sometimes English teacher / Au Pair / World Traveler (capital W, capital T), I sort of always figured that I’d be tight-rope walking the poverty line for life.

And most days, I’m okay with that.

But every once in a while, I’ll get a glimpse into the way the Other Half lives. The Half who don’t have to eat PP&J for breakfast, lunch and dinner or safety pin their jeans together. The Half who don’t have to resort to teaching English in order to live abroad. The Half who live in the land of rent-free apartments, company cars and weekly living allowances. In other words, the non-teacher expats with ‘real jobs’.

Last Saturday morning, I woke up on a sofa belonging to one such expat. The sofa sat next to a flat screen TV and a piano, in a living room with floor to ceiling windows (complete with a view of Tokyo Tower), a wrap-around balcony and a built-in bar. It was like I’d woken up in the presidential suite of the Hilton or perhaps Teacher Barbie’s Tokyo Dream House.

The Dream House belonged to a friend from Naples who works for an Italian tire manufacturer. What he does for the company exactly, I’m not sure. But it involves “logistics” (Yeah, I don’t know either) monthly trips to Singapore, and road trips around Japan in a Ferrari (he has two).

He’s in Japan on a sort of ‘package deal’, which basically translates into “Living Like A Rock Star”. As far as I understand, this is how the package deals work:

A foreigner agrees to work for their company’s Tokyo-based office for a year or two and in exchange, the company will set them up with a rent-free McMansion-sized apartment, pay their travel costs and their children’s private school tuition, and (if you’re like my friend) provide them with their own personal maid.

And to think that I paid (correction, went into credit card debt) for the opportunity to come to this country and live in an apartment the size of their master bathroom with a housemate who smokes cigars and blasts News Radio all day long and a view of some old dude’s underwear that’s hangs year-round from a strand of Christmas lights.

These foreigners (with their MBA’s) on the other hand, have to be convinced (no, bought) by wise men who come baring gifts of ‘food allowance’ and ’round-trip airfare’ and ‘FREE JAPANESE LESSONS’. I’ve spent nearly 2,000 dollars on Japanese lessons over the last nine months while meanwhile, some of my friends were paid to take lessons. Yes, paid. For three months, Monday through Friday, they were paid to learn Japanese.

If I sound bitter, well, I’m not. Sometimes I’m jealous, but I honestly wouldn’t trade their work schedules for all of the McMansions in Tokyo. They work very hard. 10 hour days and sometimes they work weekends, too. I would never want to do that. I enjoy my free time way too much.

It’s hard sometimes not to feel depressed when I compare my life with theirs, though. I have friends my age who are doctors, consultants and bankers. Or else they’re dating or married to a doctor, consultant or banker. And they live like princesses in their castle tower apartments with their ‘adult’ relationships and ‘adult’ jobs and they do ‘adult’ things like eat balanced breakfasts and throw cocktail parties.

And it’s like, hold on, when did this all happen? Where was I the day all of my carefree “Beer Olympics” and “Spring Break in Miami” college friends decided to morph into grown-ups with graduate degrees and babies and Roth IRA’s? I feel like I’ve been asleep, off in LaLa land with Sleeping Beauty, while everyone around me has been busy establishing a life for themselves in the Real World. It’s like I missed the memo instructing everyone to “Proceed Directly to Adulthood”, because they’re all at the finish line and I’m still…lost.

The worst part is when I go to these dinner parties the Grown-Ups throw and have to mumble an embarrassed “English Teacher” every time someone here asks me what I do for a living. Being an English teacher in Tokyo is akin to living in New York and telling people you’re in ‘actor’. It’s so common it’s almost cliched. And people will nod politely and respond with an “Oh, really?” followed by a “So what are your career goals?” which is just a nice way of saying…”So when are you going to get a ‘real job’?

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11 thoughts on “Expats with REAL Jobs

  1. I feel the same way. I have a baby, but I’m not with the father anymore (we were never married), which adds a whole “teen mother” aspect. I wasn’t a teen when I got pregnant, though.

    I think the “real” world is relative, though. You’re living your life, meaning it’s very real to you. Plus, the vast majority of college grads don’t end up doctors or married to doctors. I think lots of us wander around for years.
    …But maybe I’m rationalising?

  2. 1.) All those people you’re referring to at the cocktail parties are miserable. Their trophy husbands are running around on them with their Japanese secretaries. All they know is life is speeding by them and they’re stuck behind a desk, aging, wishing they could do something more fulfilling. It’s always greener on the other side.

    2.) The global economy is collapsing so your Ferrari friend’s days are limited. Hopefully he’s enjoying it while it lasts. Someday he may have to learn to safety pin his own jeans.

  3. Aimless – I saw on your blog pictures of your daughter…she’s cute! I can’t imagine having a child and have enormous respect for thouse who do! It’s just so much work!

    I don’t know…it seems like I’m the only one wandering…everyone else seems to have it more together. I know it’s not true, but that’s the way it seems anyways.

    Vin – They’re all miserable? Seriously? It’s true that the ferarri days are numbered. A lot of companies have resorted to only hiring single men…because they can’t afford to pay to have their families come with them. That’s part of the reason I lost my job. No children = no international school enrollments.

  4. Hey there!
    I can relate. I’m in Taiwan at the moment, and I dread any time I am forced to tell someone I’m a teacher.
    In fact, I opt for student whenever possible.

    It’s a similar stigma here (but thank you for the actor-in-new-york parallel… brilliant!)

    Maybe someday we’ll “grow up”
    But then, maybe we’re the ones living the life, after all.

    I’m sure fancy wine and fillet-minon gets boring after awhile. . .

  5. Hi Chase,

    I really like your blog, by the way! Nicely written.

    I guess English teachers have that stigma everywhere…at least in Asia. A lot of the time I’ll meet someone and they won’t even ask me what my job is. They’ll just say: “Oh you’re from America? You’re an English teacher, right?”

    Was Taiwan your first choice as far as places to teach?

  6. The thing is, honestly? I read the McMansion/travel costs/personal maid paragraph and was like "omg, so unfair." But then I read the bathroom-sized-apartment/radio-blasting/old-man's-underwear paragraph and instantly got a small travel buzz & my heart blurted out, HELL YEAH!

    That's just 100% the truth. Maybe I'll grow up and want to move over to the first paragraph. But I doubt it. Not everyone wants to be there. I simply don't, and it seems like you don't, either.

    Like, for example, have you ever traveled among wealthier people? I've done a lot (AAAA LOTTT) of homestays with families from working class to borderline aristocracy. And every time I've been with the rich ones I've ended up so frustrated and unhappy by the end of my stay. I don't know, it sounds naive and childish to say life is fun without money, and that's not what I want to say at all. But for me, personally, the undeniable advantages of that TOGETHER life are not worth what it makes me feel deprived of. It sounds so romanticized and cliche to say that, but I swear, I swear, I mean it. I know I'm not the only one who's felt this way and I know there have been many, many people throughout the ages who have never grown out of it.

    All I mean to say is, don't worry. You're not alone in your wandering or your seemingly inexplicable avoidance of a comfortable life. Once in awhile we might look around and be like, "What the hell, am I really cool with the idea of never having a retirement plan?" But when you've got bohemian bones, that's just how it goes. I'm more interested in my life than Theirs, and that's all I need to know.

  7. Hey Beth…I def went through a stage of my life where I was all about embracing the whole starving artist / student thing…But it’s definitely gotten old.

    I still enjoy traveling cheaply and without a plan…because I think there’s an element of adventure to it. Youth hostels and public busses are a lot more fun than 5 star hotels and packaged tour groups. But as far as my day to day existence…I could do with a little more money. There’s only so much wandering around the neighborhood or sitting on bus stops (ha ha) that I can do before I’m like: ‘Ok. I’m ready to fork over some money if it means getting some quality entertainment…” Last night I went to the movies for the first time since August, and even though it was 1,800 yen more than I could afford, it was so nice to something normal for a change.

    Where did you do your homestays? I think homestays would be one area where I’d really appreciate the family having money…Nice dinners and all-expense paid trips and all of that.

  8. I think that the saying “the grass is always greener on the otherside” really comes into play here.

    Most ESL teachers living abroad don’t make much $, but they learn a lot, experience even more, and have a ton of fun adventures. I’m sure that a number of bankers, doctors, etc. are jealous of the freedom, flexibility, and oppurtunity to live abroad that your job allows.

    On the other hand these same bankers, doctors, etc. have the money and stability that we are jealous of.

    So in my opinion it just goes to show you that no one has it all, and sacrafice in some form is always necessary. Well except maybe for my mom’s friend, whose husband is an engineer and who was payed to take french classes and move with her husband to live in southern france for two years where he worked and she spent her time biking through the countryside and lazing on the beaches of the French Riviera. But that’s the exception to the rule, haha.

  9. Sarah! Not fair about the South of France thing…Sooooo jealous. I knew I should have majored in engineering…or else married an engineer.

  10. No yeah, I didn’t mean to make it sound like I seriously enjoy being broke. I don’t, it sucks. Like, really bad. Having NO MONEY stopped being romantic right about when I found myself selling my books so I could get something to eat.

    I just think my idea of a comfortable, happy life, while above that poverty line, looks nothing like what those other people have achieved. I don’t like choosing between groceries and bus fare at all! But I also don’t need a condo and a car. Something on the modest side of in-between sounds right to me.

    The homestays have just been in the Czech Republic, Thailand and Japan. I’ve managed to stay with over 20 different families in Japan somehow. You’re right, good food and fun trips are the bomb, but in my experience, once a certain level of wealth was reached, the meals and destinations got really predictable and boring. I was always wonderfully provided for but I felt like my REAL TRAVEL time was being wasted and it drove me insane. The most fun I’ve had was with regular working class and middle class families — comfortable enough to host me, but by no means well-off.

    But, I’m with you. I mean heck yes I would always love to have more money. I could never have too much money. I just can’t do what those people are doing for it. I don’t have the work ethic or ambition or interest one needs to be in that situation. If I could have my bum life, except with their hard-earned bank account, that’d be the bomb. I just know that it doesn’t happen that way.

  11. I was surfing the web and came across this old post. I’m an expat in Prague teaching ESL. It is quite true that when I go to social functions and talk to “professionals” and say I’m an English teacher people usually think I’m a loser. They then excuse themselves to go find someone with a background similar to their own (corporate, banker, doctor, etc). You see, professionals with “real jobs” want to have “real conversations” with other “real job” professionals–not lowly dime a dozen ESL teachers! But I don’t care, I don’t want to know anybody with this shitty, materialistic attitude anyway.

    I teach Czech professionals with “real jobs” English. I don’t envy them. They are pretty much owned by their corporate masters, are always in a rush and stressed out, and often confess to their unhappiness with their “real jobs”, always being chained to the office cubicle, or enduring long, boring meetings in sterile hi-rise offices,etc. I on the other hand am self employed and free from the misery of having a supervisor hounding me all the time like them.

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