What type of travel experience did you both individually have before deciding to move to Thailand to teach English?
Imran and Saara: We were the typical 9-5 couple that took an annual vacation overseas, travelling predominantly in South East Asia and Europe. After a few years, it seemed like each year would roll around even slower than the one before. It started to make less and less sense that we were working hard for fifty weeks to take a two-week vacation. We started asking ourselves the question: How do we travel for longer? What can we do to travel and work? That’s when we thought about teaching English in another country.
What made you decide to pack up and move abroad to Thailand? How did your families take the news?
Imran: We travelled to Thailand in 2014 for two weeks and had an awesome time, so it was a logical choice for a place where we could live for an extended period. We also love Thai food, so that was part of our decision as well. It may sound silly, but if you are planning to live in another country you need to ask yourself “Which cuisine can I eat every day and not tire of eating?!” The chance that you will be placed in a huge city with lots of international cuisines is small, so you’ll likely land up in an authentic, non-tourist town where they only cook local cuisine. So as silly as it sounds, you need to consider the food question before you decide where you want to teach and live abroad.
Saara: My husband convinced me that moving to Thailand would be our chance to have a gap year and take a break from the 9-5 routine. My family was not too thrilled at the news because we are very close, but with time they came around as teaching is in my genes. My dad is a teacher, as well as my uncle, two aunts, and two cousins – so all I am really doing is following in their footsteps.
Describe your best moments of teaching in Thailand so far? Don’t hold back on funny details!
Imran: In Thailand, I am often mistaken for a Thai local due to my mixed-race skin tone. This can be quite hilarious, such as when people stop me to ask for directions in a long string of Thai words, and I can’t help laughing and apologizing at the same time and saying “I don’t speak Thai” in Thai, which just adds to their confusion.
I also use it to my advantage in tourist areas as I am able to get the “Thai” price more often and not the “farang” price – the “foreigner” price. Once while taking a songtaew (a truck taxi) the guard was collecting 20 baht from all the passengers, except for a white American next to me who was charged 200 baht. I was next and paid 20 baht without saying a word until we got off and I turned to him and said in English “Hey, you really got ripped off there”. He was shocked and replied: “Hey, you’re a foreigner too, but you only paid 20 baht!” I replied: “Yes but look at my skin colour, I just blend in. There’s no hope for you!” (laughs)
Saara: One day during gate duty I was speaking to a Thai teacher who doesn’t speak much English. She had some tamarind in her hands and was demonstrating how to crack open the shell and eat the fruit inside. However, she tried to caution me not to eat too much but lacked the vocabulary to explain that it has a laxative effect. Instead, she made slurping sounds accompanied by two hand gestures: One while pointing to her mouth, followed by another pointing from her bum to the ground! The teachers around us and I burst out laughing – and to date, it’s still one of my favourite memories.
What has surprised you the most about living abroad with your significant other? What are the best (and most challenging) parts about being abroad together?
Imran: I’m surprised that we manage to spend so much more time together and don’t want to strangle each other! (laughs) I think when you work 9-5 you don’t realize how little time you have to genuinely connect with each other, so for me, it’s been the best part of living abroad together. Personally, I don’t think there have been any real challenges, but Saara might have a different answer…
Saara: I don’t think there were any real surprises. The best parts are when we get home and exchange school stories and have a good laugh – as this is the first time we are employed at the same place. One of the challenges is going from a three-bedroom house to a bachelor flat, so the only real privacy you have is in the bathroom!
What is one piece of advice you guys would give to future couples wanting to teach abroad together?
Imran: I’ve always been a minimalist, so my advice would be to sell off as many possessions as you can before you leave your home country, especially if you are staying for a year or more. The less financial obligations you have at home, the better, because the chance that you will earn a better salary and/or a stronger currency teaching in a foreign country than you did at home is extremely small. The more of your locally earned salary you have to spend locally, the more you can travel on weekends and during vacation time. It also means that you will be more invested and more immersed in the experience of living and teaching abroad.
Saara: You have to be open-minded because travelling abroad and living abroad is different. You have to go with the flow, lower your expectations, and immerse yourself in the culture to get the most out of the experience.
We heard on the grapevine that you’re planning on moving to Chile to teach English! Tell us all about it—what are you looking forward most about teaching in Chile?
Imran: We’ve never travelled to South America and I really wanted to change that, so we decided on Chile for our next move. I am looking forward to learning Spanish, meeting all my new students, learning about the culture, and travelling through the country. I also want to do the Santiago Half Marathon while I am there.
Saara: Eating the food, doing some cooking classes, and teaching different age groups from what I am used to.
What are you thinking of doing after your Chile teaching internships?
Imran and Saara: We shall probably travel a bit after our internship, either within Chile or neighbouring Peru. Machu Picchu has always been on our bucket list so that would probably be the best time to tick that one off.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us Imran and Saara, best of luck on your travels You can follow their adventure over on their blog!