How long did you live abroad, and where?
I lived and worked in Moscow, Russia from Summer 1997 until Spring 2004. I started at a locally run language school, then eventually got on with one of the big chain schools. I taught there, and eventually moved into a DoS position. I also travelled to franchise locations in other parts of Russia to train the local staff and new-hire foreign teachers in the organization’s curriculum and methodology.
What made you decide to go back to America?
There wasn’t one overriding reason that led to my return home, but rather a number of factors that contributed to the decision. Primarily, though, for a while I had found that the grind of life in Russia wasn’t fun anymore and I was feeling burnt out. One day I was riding on the metro, and it just hit me, “Fuck it. I want to go home.” The next day I and my (now ex-) wife and I discussed it and started making plans to go to the US.
What were your experiences trying to find a job in the US?
Finding a job was pretty straight forward, actually. When I arrived in the US in the Spring I began sending out resumes and within about 8 weeks I had found a position at a junior college teaching ESL, test prep, and remedial reading and writing starting in the summer semester. I taught there for several years, and since then I’ve moved on and got my state teaching certification in Art and Social Studies and teach at a high school. I work with a large number of kids who are English language learners so my ESL experiences come in very handy. I found that the overseas experience looks good on a resume and definitely gets potential employers’ attention. On a practical level, I’ve found that the adaptability and ability to think on your feet that comes with teaching in a situation where curricula, books, or even basic materials like chalk or dry erase markers may or may not be available has been invaluable.
What did you like / not like about America on returning?
The first thing I loved was being able to just get out and drive. My ex-wife and I would just go out and drive, taking road trips just because to no particular destination. I hadn’t driven at all in Russia other than riding a sputtery old Izh motorcycle around my sister-in-law’s dacha community. It was fun to drive on good roads without the hassles of demolition-derby style traffic and predatory GAIshniki. I also appreciated the fact that most everything worked efficiently - from finding an apartment, to paying bills to having repairs done, to dealing with paperwork, and just generally getting things done, processes here are incredibly smooth compared to the business of daily life in Russia. Mostly though I enjoyed the feeling of freedom. As much as I loved Russia and my time there, I was always aware that as a foreigner, well, a non-wealthy foreigner, my life in Russia could be interrupted at any time by a capricious change in the visa regime, a change in official policy, or just a cop with a bad attitude. In short, being overseas for so long gave me a greater appreciation of the stability, personal security, freedom, and opportunity there is in the US.
There wasn’t anything in particular that I disliked. Readjusting to life back home took some time, and I found that my high school and college friends and I had grown apart. But there really wasn’t anything that got on my nerves.
What did your spouse think of America?
My ex-wife began complaining almost as soon as the plane landed. She enjoyed the material benefits of living in the USA, being able to travel, and recognized that life was easier in many ways. She enjoyed seeing different parts of the state and country, and was particularly interested in our historical monuments and places. On the other hand, she would complain bitterly about how something or the other is not like it is in Russia. One particular complaint was that people planned ahead and scheduled things too far in advance for her. For example, she couldn’t understand why friends would make plans well ahead of time to meet up rather than just dropping by unexpectedly. She really didn’t like the traditional American work habits and had a hard time adjusting to the fact that you have to arrive at work on time, not within a 5,10,15 minute window.
There is a large Russian community in my city and two Russian supermarkets, so she could get the products she missed, but oddly enough, she did not want to make friends with other Russians and in fact became quite standoffish with her fellow Russians. On the funny side, she would become quite irate when people assumed that she was a mail-order bride and would ask her about it (we had actually met at a party)
In the end, despite enjoying some aspects of life here, she was not happy in the US. In fact, as it turned out she was not a happy person at all. We split up eventually,and after a divorce that turned nasty I lost touch with her. I suppose she went back to Moscow as that is where she could be as happy as she would be anywhere.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m a few days away from my 44th birthday and taking stock of my life, I’m very content. I’m happily remarried to a wonderful woman, have two girls and share the house with a tribe of friendly cats. I enjoy my job and find it to be fulfilling career (most days, haha!), and have time to devote to my art. I spent a good chunk of my life traveling and was able to visit twelve countries and live, work, and study in Russia. At least for now I’ve hung up my traveling shoes and dufflebag and am happy to nest with my family and friends.
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So it's possible that contentment can lie at the end of the TEFL road. Who'd have thought it? If you have expatriated and repatriated, drop me a line at englishteacherx(at)yahoo(dot)com and let's hear your story. I know they ain't all as happy as this one. But we're happy to let you vent or gloat, either one.