When people come to know that I’m teaching English in Vietnam, the general response is, ‘wow that’s awesome’, ‘it must be an amazing experience’ or ‘you’re so fortunate to be able to do that.’ Yeah, this is all true but this journey has not been without its challenges.
To say that I’d been toying with the idea of working abroad for more than a decade is no exaggeration. The thought of living on my own and working in a foreign land, being exposed to new sights, sounds and tastes has always appealed to me since my high school days. This dream remained on my to-do list throughout my twenties. The options: teaching English in Asia, US Summer Camps, au pairing in Europe, working on a cruise ship sailing across the Mediterranean – I researched them all.
But time just kept ticking away, one year melting into the next and still I had not inched any closer to venturing into the big wide world out there. I went about my daily life, forging a career for myself in publishing, while being surrounded by a wonderful family and close circle of friends. Sure, I had lots to be grateful for but there was always that lingering wanderlust and the question lurking in the back of my mind: ‘Is this all there is to life?’.
People say that you should be content with what you have. My question to them is what’s wrong with wanting more from life…to grow and enrich yourself with new experiences. I wanted more.
These words continued to filter through my thoughts until in 2016, when I – at the age of 33, with four jobs and two failed relationships under my belt and being on the verge of marriage with my current boyfriend of three years – finally decided to take the plunge and register for a TEFL course.
This forced me to face head-on all the reasons (or excuses) that had kept me from taking this step in the past: The fear of the unknown, leaving the security and all the comforts of home behind, worrying about who would care for my aging parents and what their response would be, would I cope on my own and now a completely new complication – how would my boyfriend react to me moving half way across the world to pursue a dream after we had spoken about plans to get married in 2017.
I had to break the news to my family and boyfriend as soon as possible. I was dreading this. Coming from a Muslim background, my family had not been very supportive of my earlier attempts to work abroad (an unmarried Muslim woman working or traveling abroad alone was something that was frowned upon). My boyfriend also being quite traditional was not keen on the idea either. This negative dialogue placed doubt and fear in me. Fear of what people would think of me and my decision.
So there I was, in the middle of one of the toughest discussions I have ever had in my life thus far. I experienced a mix of apprehension and frustration, thinking to myself why was I finding it so difficult just to express something that I have wanted for so long and that would make me happy and bring great fulfillment to my life.
I managed to muster the words and laid out my plans to my parents and boyfriend and explained my reasons for doing it and added that I would most likely (which was highly unlikely) be back in about six months’ time. My parents received the news with disbelief, thinking that I would not follow through as was the case with my other attempts. My boyfriend was upset and shattered. The questions cropped up…will you manage on your own? What about a job when you get back? What about getting married?
I wondered about whether I was being selfish and putting my own happiness above all else, upping and leaving when it was expected that I would be settling down and starting a family. I then thought about the fact that yes I am daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend, a girlfriend but at the end of the day I am also an individual with my own identity. I felt this path was necessary as a journey of self-discovery and growth. And more importantly I wanted to experience life standing on my own two feet, outside of my parents’ home and have the transition period between being a daughter to someone’s wife.
The months that followed were extremely tough. My parents slowly warmed up to the idea. My boyfriend tried to be supportive but things were just not the same and as time drew closer for me to leave for Vietnam, he started distancing himself. This killed me. I was heartbroken. I started asking myself was pursuing this dream worth losing someone I loved. I then also asked myself if he could not support me in this and understand why I wanted this, then maybe things were just not meant to be. He did not understand how I could leave if I claimed to want to be with him and loved him. I could not understand how he could not support me if he claimed that he loved me. I would be back.
So it was a difficult period for me, having to complete my TEFL course, resign from my job, finalise all my plans, book a flight, say goodbye to the people in my life all without the support of the one I loved the most and who I depended on.
I thought long and hard about what I truly wanted and what would make me happy. It was not about him. Or my parents. Or anyone else. Now for the first time in years, it was about me. I would not compromise on my own happiness. And with the support of my parents and a few close friends I pushed on and decided it was a risk I needed to take or live with the regret in years to come. Regret was already something I had been dealing with by having not following through with my plans earlier in life.
In the two weeks before I flew out my boyfriend and I worked things out. The day I left he saw me off at the airport.
I was never under the false pretense that it would be easy being away from my family, friends and boyfriend and now after three months of living in Vietnam it still is tough. I do miss them all and we make sure to keep in touch via chat and video calling.
That said, I do not regret my decision for a second. I have been immersed in a culture completely opposite to my own, met so many interesting and amazing people, am even learning to ride a motorcycle and above all else I realised that I am capable of so much more than I ever gave myself credit for!
I don’t know yet when I plan to return to South Africa or what lay ahead for me when I do. For now, all I know is that I am on the adventure of a lifetime and am soaking up every experience!
About Roshaan Patel:
Roshaan Patel was born and bred in Cape Town, South Africa. She is a former magazine copy editor and lifestyle blogger for Cape Town Etc Online. An unwavering dreamer and ready to take on the unknown, she left behind the deadlines of the magazine publishing world and stepped into the classroom, and is currently teaching English to children in Vietnam. Eager to take in the sights and tastes the rest of Asia has to offer, she is planning her next trip to Cambodia.
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