The Good Life Living Abroad

Living abroad in Thailand teaching English was where these former urban dwellers found the good life.

| November/December 1984

  • the good life living abroad - Thai market
    A Thai market where the Leongs, their neighbors, and many other folks buy (and sell) fresh locally grown food.
    Hugh Leong
  • the good life living abroad - the Leong family
    For Hugh Leong and his family, living the good life meant living abroad in Northern Thailand.
    Photo by Hugh Leong
  • the good life living abroad - Hugh teaching a class
    Hugh supports his family teaching English as a foreign language.
    Hugh Leong
  • the good life living abroad - temple spire
    To Western eyes, Thailand offers many sights that seem exotic.
    Hugh Leong

  • the good life living abroad - Thai market
  • the good life living abroad - the Leong family
  • the good life living abroad - Hugh teaching a class
  • the good life living abroad - temple spire

My wife, Pikun, and I had to travel halfway around the world before discovering the good life. However, while sitting here on our peaceful veranda in northern Thailand, I'm not a bit sorry we had to come so far to find so much! In fact, as I gaze out over the gentle stream flowing by me on the left or at the foothills of the Himalayas rising up on the right, I can hardly believe that we were ever hardcore, apartment-dwelling New Yorkers.

Back in those days we figured we had it made. We both had "good" jobs with "great" potential: I was a psychotherapist for the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene, and Pikun was employed in the diamond industry in midtown Manhattan. Still, despite our complacency, we were always wondering if our lives were really all they should be. After all, the only thing we actually had to look forward to was yet another nine-to-five day.

Fortunately, during that time I had the foresight to get my M.A. in teaching English as a foreign language. I figured that this degree would be a sure ticket to almost anywhere in the world, just in case we should ever want to abandon our urban lifestyle.

Well, we did leave ... over four years ago. And thanks to my teaching vocation, neither of us has had to work an eight-hour day since! Currently, Pikun, our two children (both born abroad), and I live on a quarter-acre of land in Chiengmai, Thailand. We eat fresh foods almost exclusively (everyone does over here), and we have plenty of time to enjoy our family life, the interesting places around us, and our many friendly neighbors.

The Inside Track

The trick to living abroad is to have a salable skill. And a knowledge of English is just such a commodity, because it can lead to employment in many countries. Of course, in some places it does help to have credentials and experience, but in others — where the need for learning English is greater — practically anyone who can speak the language can land a job. For example, in Tokyo, Singapore, and Rio, some businessmen will pay upwards of $15 an hour to hire someone who'll just sit and talk to them in English! Even many universities in Asia, Africa, and South America hire Americans (regardless of experience) to teach courses part time.

The pay range for teaching English varies, of course, depending on who the employer happens to be. I was once offered $30,000 a year to work for a company in Saudi Arabia, but I turned it down because of the political situation in the country at the time. I have one friend who teaches 35 hours a week in Tokyo, and he brings home about $2,000 a month. Yet another friend prefers to take life a little easier, and she earns only enough money to cover her room and board.

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