This interview is part of a four-part series exploring the ups and downs and practicalities of living and working overseas. You can read the other interviews with three wonderful, world-faring and adventurous women here.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
Hi, I’m Monika, and I’m someone who’s made travel the focus of my life. I love teaching and am a bit of a grammar nut! But my work is not my life. I put people and my interests first. I’ve been a vegetarian for 10 years and love animals very dearly. I love to cook, read, go to the movies and wander through new places.
Where did you work overseas and what did you whilst you were there?
I taught English in Hanoi, Vietnam for 3 years in various schools and centres. I’ve just finished a semester teaching an international high school diploma in Shanghai, and I’m about to begin a year’s contract at the Shanghai Korea School teaching high school. No plans to return to Australia on the horizon.
What first sparked your interest in working overseas? What did you hope to get out of it and has that changed over time?
It started out as a tool for travelling and seeing the world. Initially I worked in public schools so the workload wasn’t as demanding. Now, I still see this as a way to travel but I’m teaching at international schools and the the work and workload is entirely different. I like that I no longer teach only English as a Second Language (ESL) but I’ve become a classroom teacher.
Practically speaking, how did you get this whole adventure off the ground?
I did a preliminary Teaching as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course in Melbourne and applied for a teaching internship in Vietnam. I didn’t know where I would be based, only that it was for 6 months but ended up staying 3 years.
What is one thing you wish you knew before you left?
That I would miss the comforts of my family’s cooking. I think about their food ALL THE TIME – I come from an Italian family and at no point over the last 4 years have I found Italian food as good as theirs. I wish I could duck over to my Nonna’s on a Saturday for her gnocchi or have a slice of my mum’s ricotta cheesecake.
What is the BEST part of living and working overseas?
I think that’s best summed up by where I am right now. I’m on summer holidays which I started off by taking a sleeper train down to Hong Kong. I then crossed back into mainland China and into the Longji rice terraces of Tiantouzhai, where I am now. When I have free time, I can do things like that. It’s not quite as easy to skip out on a weekend in Melbourne to visit an ancient ethnic minority living in the mountains…haha!
What is the biggest challenge you have faced?
Saying goodbye to the people that have come into my life. I know it isn’t really goodbye, but living an international lifestyle means that others have their own plans too and won’t always be in the same place as you at the same time.
What have you gained that you couldn’t have gotten if you stayed in Oz?
Oh, so many things. Melbourne is a great city and a lot of travellers I’ve met have loved it but there isn’t the level of culture and tradition there that I’ve found overseas, particularly in Asia. Australia is just too young for that.
Also, I wouldn’t have met the people who I consider my second family and love dearly. They come from all over the world and Hanoi brought us all together.
Lastly, I wouldn’t have discovered teaching in the same way. Meeting students who don’t have the same privileges as those back in Australia and being able to give them something through education is really quite special.
Three tips or pieces of advice for others wanting to skip the country in search of a worldly adventure?
First, just do it. Don’t think twice about it. Even if you struggle or you’re miserable, it will teach you so many things about yourself and the world.
Second, you don’t need ‘things’. I think people worry about what to do with all of their belongings. You can buy new “stuff” wherever you are. Spend your energy on people and experiences and less on material things.
Third, go on lots of adventures. And take lots of photos (I still don’t have a camera but I REALLY want one!) and write down what you did/felt at that time. Your memory WILL fail you and you need those devices to help you reflect and cherish those moments.