Ready to be an Expat? A life overseas is within your grasp

Ann Marie Mershon's picture
Categories: 

Got the travel bug? Always planning your next big trek? I have had it bad, but as a teacher, funds were limited. Sigh...

I decided to feed my travel bug by sponsoring overseas student tours, which gave me an opportunity to see the world (for free) as I exposed my students to life beyond our northwoods community. Traveling with teens was a joy (well, mostly)—their enthusiasm great fun. 

Even down time at the airport can be fun with students. From eady to be an Expat? A life overseas is within your grasp

Even down time at the airport can be fun with students

On a tour through southern Spain, I found myself chatting with a chirpy British woman as she set up her beach chair. 

“How do you like the Mediterranean?” she asked.

“Oh, it’s gorgeous. Do you come here often?”

“I live here, dear. Well, part of the time. I rent an apartment just a few blocks from the beach, my sunshine get-away from the dreary London winters.”

“Really?” I said. “Is it expensive?”

“Oh, it’s nothing compared to London rents. My husband and I aren’t wealthy, but this is my priority. It’s my sanity, you might say. Anyone could do it.”

As I meandered down the beach I pondered renting a studio apartment in Europe. Could I manage it? 

Not a chance. As a divorced woman sitting on $25,000 of debt, there was no foreign apartment in my stars, at least not without employment. 

But then…

My mind started churning. 

That was the beginning of my plunge overseas, a plunge even you could make—if you really want to. I had the advantage of a teaching degree, so I immediately launched myself into research about teaching at international schools, posted my resume, and gathered information through Tie Online and the University of Northern Iowa. Search Associates also offers support and job fairs for international teachers. I sought a position in Paris or Salzburg and ended up teaching in Istanbul, where my two-year contract stretched to many more fullfilling years.

Ann Marie marvels at the solar eclipse in Istanbul with her International Baccalaureate Juniors. Ready to be an Expat? A life overseas is within your grasp.

Ann Marie marvels at the solar eclipse in Istanbul with her International Baccalaureate Juniors

Of course, we all dream of the day we can finance a year abroad without working, and if you’re able to do that, more power to you. I couldn’t. Many retirees find that living overseas stretches their income in countries like Costa Rica, Italy, and Spain. Check out AARP Magazine’s article about the best places to retire abroad.

A secluded Costa Rica Beach. Ready to be an Expat? A life overseas is within your grasp.

A secluded Costa Rica Beach

For those without teaching certification, most countries seek native English speakers for language schools. The first step to teaching English overseas is getting TESOL certification (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), which can be done online, through a university program, or through the country where you’d like to live and work. For information about these programs, go to TESOL online.

Once you have a position lined up (make SURE it’s accredited), it’s time to plan, plan, plan. It takes many months to manage a total shift to another country, whether it’s for one year or many. Be prepared to stay on longer—I did. My two-year commitment stretched to nearly seven years teaching in Istanbul at two different schools. But I digress. 

Ann Marie with two of her Istanbul ninth graders, beautiful kids. Ready to be an Expat? A life overseas is within your grasp.

Ann Marie with two of her Istanbul ninth graders, beautiful kids

Hopefully your new employer will help you plan your move, but if you’re on your own, you have a lot of research to do. It takes about a year to plan a move like this, perhaps more. I’m sure there are people who do it on a lick and a promise, but I can’t vouch for their success. There are visas, work permits, residence permits, and lots of other paperwork to manage before you leave. I arranged to have all my financial interactions moved online.

You’ll need to research the country you’re moving to, and you can find all you need on the web. There’s a plethora of web sites about moving overseas, but I particularly liked the list format of this article by an expat named Jeff .

I decided to sell my car and rent out my house, which meant packing away my life—ARAUGHHH!!! I sorted and piled and weeded and gave away tons of unnecessary stuff, then spent most of my final summer visiting friends and family rather than packing, so it was a scramble at the last minute. I don’t recommend it. Weeding out our attics and basements is a plus, for sure.

I took my little dog with me, so acclimating her to a carrier was a challenge we both abhorred. I’d set it in the middle of my bedroom with her favorite treats inside, and after days of circling it she finally ventured in for them. After a few airplane trips, she realized that the case meant she’d be included, so she came to like it—well, sort of. Carrying Libby on the plane meant giving up the miniscule leg room under the seat ahead of me, but I unzipped her case and stretched one leg at a time in beside her. The discomfort was well worth having my canine companion with me overseas.

Ann Marie's sidekick, Libby, patiently waits for their next flight in Amsterdam. Ready to be an Expat? A life overseas is within your grasp.

Ann Marie's sidekick, Libby, patiently waits for their next flight in Amsterdam

Once I arrived in Istanbul, I wondered if I’d made a mistake. Everything was so very DIFFERENT, and Turkish totally perplexed me, though I’d studied it for months. It took time for me to settle in, but it ended up being one of the most valuable experiences of my life. I’ve always said that no one ever regrets taking a walk, and moving overseas is much the same. The experience changes you, and it’s sometimes difficult, but you’ll never regret taking the plunge.

I’ve written a memoir about my years in Istanbul, a series of snapshots that show how fascinating and frightening, illuminating and lonely, exhilarating and expansive my years overseas were. As I reached out to meet people and explore the city my life grew fuller, and it wasn’t long before Turkey and the Turks had stolen my heart. 

Read about my adventures in You must only to love them, Lessons Learned in Turkey, available from Amazon. I also kept a blog of my experiences, called Ann Marie’s Istanbul

You must only to love them, Lessons Learned in Turkey. From Ready to be an Expat? A life overseas is within your grasp.

Take the plunge. Why are you waiting? My only regret was that I didn’t do it sooner.

 

A retired English teacher, Ann Marie lives on Devil Track Lake near Grand Marais, Minnesota, with her husband Jerry and their two dogs. She began writing when her two sons left home twenty years ago, and she has published countless newspaper columns and articles as well as three books. Her first book was Britta's Journey~An Emigration Saga, about the emigration of a family that settled near her home. After living in Istanbul a few years, she produced her second book, Istanbul's Bazaar Quarter, Backstreet Walking Tours. This guidebook was a collaboration with an Istanbulite, Edda Renker Weissenbacher, who led walking tours for small groups. Her third book is a memoir about her years living and teaching in Istanbul, You must only to love them, Lessons Learned in Turkey.

Ann Marie Mershon

All photos courtesy and copyright Ann Marie Mershon

 

 

Share