Published on April 17th, 201610
Take a Great Leap [Interview]: Patti in Saigon
From emails sent in by TL readers, it seems that many of you are dreaming of likewise taking the “Great Leap – toying with the notion of becoming an expat and teaching English in some g-forsaken Asian rice paddy (or Ecuadorian jungle, or forgotten hamlet in rural China – you get the picture). And though I can now personally attest that it was the very…
…nonetheless, I well understand that making the Leap is no small step. Indeed, I acutely remember how terrified I was that I would either end up a beggar on the streets of Saigon, else go screaming back to my beloved Seattle… shamed and penniless.
So I started this little “Great Leap” interview series here at TravelnLass that picks the brains of my fellow nomads that have likewise taken the Great Leap. Admittedly it’s been awhile since I posted the first Great Leap interview (with Mary). But now we have a second lass (also in the OACA “Of A Certain Age” club) who likewise followed my breadcrumbs to Vietnam, took the CELTA, and is now teaching at the same ILA school I first taught at (before I moved on to Dalat, and here to Ecuador).
Patti is from my own beloved Seattle, who – after getting her first taste of international travel (by braving the El Camino de Santiago trail in Spain) – came back to her job at the library with greater confidence in what she could do, along with an itch to follow even wider dreams of living and teaching English abroad.
Welcome my dear, and thanks for sharing your “Great Leap” experience with TravelnLass readers.
[Click on any of the Questions to reveal Patti’s answers. Click the question again to close the answer]
Q: Why on earth did you opt to move lock, stock ‘n barrel to a rice paddy?
A: Why on earth…indeed. Well, get a life threatening illness. Watch other women face death looking down the barrel of the gun – some frightened and stay that way and some frightened and they go deep. Both those kinds of women inspired me. I started seeking out things that lifted me up. And I met a woman who walked the Camino in Spain. She looked so ordinary.
Despite doctor’s warnings about my paralysis in my right leg, I started training. First I walked the Seattle Marathon and completed it 2nd to last!!! And then I went on to complete the Camino all the way to Finesterre in 40 days! When I returned home, suddenly my world seemed too small for me at 60 years of age. In short, I’d had been bitten by the travel bug after walking with people from all over the world. So I started trolling the web for travel – but most importantly – for a woman, solo, over 60. Fate led me to travelnlass.com. And that – was when the game ramped up.
Yes, I was intrigued by all the amazing stories and pics on the site, but more so – Dyanne’s no-nonsense, step-by-step (and even misstep-by-misstep!) stories inspired me to consider that maybe – just maybe (for I’d never even been out of the country before age 59) – I too might be able to drop the remote and get off my comfy couch in Seattle and follow my dreams.
Q: How much previous travel/expat experience did you have before your Great Leap?
A: But for the Camino -None. That was my huge leap of faith. That was why I had to dig so deep into Dyanne’s blog. Each blog post goes into so much detail and she’s always weighing the pros and cons. I’d point my four daughters to one of her posts, and we’d have endless emails about what would fit for me, a less experienced traveler. But honestly, just from reading Dyanne’s many stories and tips, I already knew that she was holding my hand way before I first personally contacted her.
Q: What was the most daunting issue for you in making the Leap?
A: Negative mental thoughts: “I’m not as smart as Dyanne.” “I’m a loser.” “I’m too old.” “I don’t have enough money.” “I’ll get killed – a woman alone – I’ll be a target.” “I’ll get cancer again.” And on and on. Adventure …? uh…not me – when my biggest decision is will I buy Stouffer’s Frozen Lasagna Party Platter at $11.95 – or wait until it goes back on sale at $9.95?
In short, I was a a mental basket case. A roller-coaster of feeling energized and strangely more alive than ever, – yet honestly? The truth is I cried every day until I left . Fear, anticipation, doubt, excitement. Change is not always easy – but it also is such a gateway to much more.
Q: Why Vietnam?
A: Well, when you hit 60 – you have to be realistic. Who will take you at 60? I need to get a job. So what country is open to 60? Plain and simple. Vietnam is one of them. Great. And it’s cheap. And – because Dyanne chose it. If Dyanne had chosen Antarctica – then there you go. I don’t want to sound like I am just blindly following her. And she doesn’t encourage that (if you e-mail her – be prepared for honesty). While she’ll encourage you and give you plenty of tips, I also got many an e-mail saying – “Do your research.” In short, you have to do the work.
Q: Clearly rubles matter with such a major move. Can you share the financial details about making such a lifestyle leap? Do you have a pension and/or lump savings to rely on?
A: I was in a scooter accident in Seattle – me on the scooter. I got hit by a life coach – can you believe that? I got a big settlement. It paid for Spain. It is paying for this move.
I have a two year leave of absence from my job. If I have to bail and go back – I can go back to my job. I told HR – if I say I want to come back – please tell me that you don’t want me – keep traveling. I have also told my daughters and my friends – if I say that I’m coming back – please tell me “Don’t come back. We don’t want you.”
I also took out a loan on my deferred compensation account at work. Basically, I have $30,000 as my bankroll for two years. My plan was to take the CELTA course (at ILA, just like Dyanne!) and get work as a teacher (I did!). All I need is rent and basics. I am down to a backpack and my computer. My needs are simple. I sold everything – it was scary – but also – so freeing.
Q: How much did it take to make the move and settle in to your new home in Vietnam?
A: I opted to take the CELTA package at ILA in Ho Chi Minh City – around $2,680 took care of the CELTA, visa, pick up at the airport, and hotel and breakfast for the month-long course. And I have to say – the breakfast swayed me. I can do anything for a breakfast. I wasn’t ready for the pho for breakfast. I wanted eggs and toast and bacon, thank you very much. I highly recommend just getting the package if you are a scaredy-cat like me. If you’re intrepid – then go for it on your own terms.
The plane ticket was easy. I was so excited that I picked New Year’s Day at 1 a.m. for my Seattle departure. 1 is the beginning. And wow – once I got here. I was hardly spending anything. It is very cheap.
Q: What/How much did you pack/bring with you to Vietnam?
A: I followed Dyanne almost to the letter. Even same laptop. I learned also from the Camino. If I’m going to have to tote the darn thing – make it light. There is a great post from Dyanne – where she has everything laid out. It so reminded me of my sponsor’s help for the Camino. We took everything out and laid it out on the floor. And we looked at it – do I need this or not?
I knew I was going to need teaching clothes, but in retrospect, I didn’t need as many teaching clothes as I thought. Had to bring my trekking poles because of my leg. I use them all the time. Also, I have incontinence. I will admit this (please post this, Dyanne, it’s real – because older women considering travel might have this as a huge fear). Well, I packed almost a full bag of pads. The ones in Vietnam are more like panty liners. I am probably going to ask for a care package from home of pads. It matters.
Q: What do you wish you hadn’t dragged over to Asia?
A: Well, nothing really. For some reason I had to have some personal books. Books by or about brave women – Julie and Julia, Eat, Pray, Love and The Honeycomb by Adela Rogers St Johns. Haven’t cracked them yet. But they are important for me to just see. I want women’s voices leading me on. However,if I start moving around more, I might discard.
Q: What do you wish you’d brought?
A: I would say, submit your Criminal Background Check (for your work permit) way ahead of your departure. It took me four months to get it back. And I had to have a friend mail it to me. A bit of a nail biter about if it would get lost in the mail. You can still get hired while it’s en route – but it’s nice to have it now. The school where I now teach (ILA) was pleased I had it. [Note: Best not to apply for it tooo early as a CBC is only valid for 6 months – Ed. uh, that would be me, the TL] 😉
Q: Why did you opt to take the CELTA?
A: It truly is the best thing to do. It’s the gold standard. And your classmates are golden. And it was so hard. Over half my class got sick during the 4 weeks from stress and just burnout. I just barely passed. But then I got hired by the school. Powerful course. Hard to retain it when you’re older with short term memory. But just do it. Just do it. It matters. I never taught before. It gave me a template to start doing so. My second day I was teaching a 45 minute class.
Again, highly recommend the package. I was just a five minute walk from the school. Helped me to not have to think about how to live while I did the course.
Stay organized with your paper work from the course. And be willing to parrot back answers. It doesn’t mean you sacrifice your originality or independent thought. But as you’re just absorbing all of this in a short period of time – it does make it easier to ride the learning curve. My CELTA tutors were so helpful.
Q: What should folks know before choosing to teach English in Asia?
A: Be prepared for shock with another culture. That hit me after I finished the course. I had about 3 weeks before I got hired. TET shut everything down. Dyanne told me to go travel, but I didn’t. I should have. Nothing was really open in HCMC. So, I spent a lot of time in my hotel room being afraid. A bit lonely.
Then I got annoyed with that feeling and started to pay attention to one of my real passions – being of help. That’s when I made contacts with a convent, a wonderful sister who got me into teaching as a volunteer, into helping to support an orphanage. It is a priority with me.
Also, most importantly, I had to go back endlessly – to question and to refine – why am I here? What am I truly wanting? I am thinking I will be doing those questions quite often. Also, I think it is really true – once you leave it is much easier than all the worry before you leave.
Q: What’s the BEST and what is the WORST thing about your experience?
A: Paperwork. I hate Vietnamese paperwork. Honestly, it is humiliating. However, I’ve heard it’s even more so when you try to get into the US. We don’t think about this when we live in the US. We can go up and complain. But – honestly – a foreigner will probably have to go through even a tighter wringer.
Also, not being noticed – locals at the back of the line will get to go ahead of a foreigner. It’s humbling. And a huge taste of what refugees and others have to go through. I don’t handle it well. I have been in tears often and in frustration. Getting ready for a VISA run next week. Not happy about that.
I think alone and loneliness is a best and worst. I love walking and just interacting with the visceral of being in another culture. Seeing how I react. Seeing what I’m made of. I don’t mind being ON my own. I think I experience a lot more on my own. I learn more about myself. I’m more willing to go up to people and connect.
I hate being SO lonely when that feeling comes over me. Skypeing helps. America feels so far away.
Alone and loneliness. They are different. And yet – the people here are so different than they are in America. More willing to look you in the eye. To smile. To acknowledge you. I think – honestly – deep down honestly – I was more lonely in America. I just had distractions that I understood to comfort me back home.
Q: How is living as an expat different from traveling?
A: I am going to have to take the great leap on traveling. I haven’t done that yet. Starting to travel and explore will challenge me. I understand working hard. Being of service. Looking to help with need. I know that. Travel and vacation and relaxing and enjoying are challenges for me.
Q: What is your long-range plan now that you’ve made the Great Leap to being an expat in Asia? How do you plan to support yourself, travel, save in the future? Do you plan to ever go back to the U.S. permanently?
A: I’m not sure yet. But I know I don’t want to go back to my old life. I am fine with not being in America for a long time.
Q: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give yourself/TL readers before embarking on this Great Leap?
A: Whatever your mind is telling you now – is not necessarily real. Whatever doctors and experts tell you – is not necessarily real. In fact, real may not be real. Often your heart has more of an answer than your head does. Pay attention to your heart.
Q: Anything thing else you’d like to share about your Great Leap experience so far?
A: It’s weird. But wow – when something starts working you – when something starts nudging you, pay attention. It could be anything. An urge to eat different so that you are nourishing your body. A nudge to get over yourself and have a real relationship – not like the usual where someone treats you like crap.
Or – after cancer – and a Camino – going – wow – I want to step out – like Columbus – and explore a bigger world.
Honestly, I think it is ok to have – hope!
Thanks so much for sharing, Patti. No doubt there’s at least one TL dreamer out there that will be grateful for so many details of your Great Leap experience.
And to All the TL eyeballs out there reading this – we each have different circumstances, different budgets, different goals, and different druthers when it comes to taking that Great Leap. But Patti’s tale is just one more example that it CAN be done. Even we folks “of a certain age” can follow our dreams, and start a whole new life in some exotic corner of the world.
And furthermore, did I uh, neglect to mention?