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Is 34 Too Old To Teach English Abroad?

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I am seriously considering teaching English abroad again for one year. The idea is to save money teaching, but also live abroad while I am still young. The keyword is ‘young’. I’ll turn 34 in two months, which is difficult to fathom. Physically, I am in better shape than I was 10 years ago. I have a full head of hair and work out vigorously five times a week. I hope that I am a bit more mature, but I also have little inclination to settle down.

I don’t feel like I am knocking on the door of being in my mid-thirties. I am not married, nor do I have children. Put me on the basketball court and I will decimate your ego with an unstoppable turn around jumper. Put me on the dance and well…..I still can’t dance and probably never will be able to.

To get back to my point, I still feel like I’m in my twenties. Afterall, people are living longer, right? But I get the feeling that society wants me to behave older. Actually, it’s not people over 40 who make me feel this way. They are the ones that usually say, “damn, if I were 10 or 20 years younger, I would be traveling the whole world instead of fighting to pay a mortgage and being stressed out.”

The issue is with the ones that are my age or younger. It feels like every 25-year-old recently removed from college has to judge and remind you that a social order must be followed and if you do not abide, you are nothing but a wandering weirdo destined for terrible things to come. Of course, these are usually kids who grew up in the suburbs and were shipped off to university and are now ready to make it famous. I don’t have the heart to reveal that half of them will be old, fat, jaded, balding and relationship battered by the time they reach my age.

Then there are people my age, give or take a year or two. Many of them seem to be obsessed with the idea that everyone must conform to their way of life. The mentality exists that if I am doing A, then you must execute A as well and if you are not, then you are unfortunately throwing your life away. I truly cherish my friends, but I don’t desire their lives. I feel quite lucky that I am not burdened yet with marriage, children and a mortgage. I plan to have a family and a house one day, but not now. Life is just too enjoyable to be so ridiculously responsible.

You might be thinking, what drives me to want to live abroad again? If you are reading this post, you’ve probably already lived in another country or are contemplating doing so for the first time. In that case, you can relate to me to some extent. You could be around my age and in a similar situation or might be much older or younger. You could even be an even bigger wandering gypsy than I am, but now self-reflecting on the decisions you’ve made in life. Most likely, you came to this article after entering a few keywords related to age, traveling and living abroad in the magical Google search box. Technology and your own fate in the universe have brought you here at this moment of time and space.

Regardless, remember that we all have our stories and reasons for leaving our blankets of security in search of the unknown. I’d like to share my story below and please feel free to share your story in the comments or consider writing an article for this blog. For me, my inclination to leave America and venture overseas has always seemed to border on an obsession with those aspects of life that are international and exotic.

My desire for living overseas

I love being abroad. Everything about it. Even waiting in the airport before my flight gives me goosebumps. I’ve always said that my favorite bar is one in an airport before a flight. There you will find me sipping on a beer, smiling, jotting down notes, listening to music and making small talk with complete strangers. I relish in the sensation of arriving at my destination with my backpack strapped to my body, deprived of sleep, yet full of energy and eagerly awaiting adventure. The smell of a new place, anticipated during that long plane or bus ride just before, is the true smell of freedom. It’s almost as good as sex.

That moment when you feel liberated, detached and your real self. All of the chaos of the world, obsessions with money and fixations with material objects quickly fade out of consciousness. All the bullshit that we tend to worship at times in the West suddenly becomes irrelevant. When I am abroad, people often ask me why I came to their country. That often seemed dumbfounded as to why I would leave America, which for them is usually an image of wealth, opportunity and prosperity. In many ways they are correct, but if you are like me, you can probably understand my desire to go global. To seek out something that often seems to be lacking back home.

When I was a child, I would stare at globes and world maps with an intense curiosity. I dreamed of distant places when I was still too young to dream. This was strange since I didn’t grow up in an environment that encouraged traveling or mixing with other cultures. In fact, I never went anywhere as a kid, except for one weekend trip to the Jersey shore, which isn’t much in the way of traveling. It wasn’t my parents’ fault. They were always working just to survive. Life in Northeast Pennsylvania was tough, desperate and filled with racism, fear, unquestioned patriotism and xenophobia. But that never seemed to affect me the least bit. I’ve always had a natural inkling for foreign objects, food, customs, and people. Nor did I ever feel threatened by others of a different skin color or way of life. I’ve just taken people for who they are as individuals regardless of backgrounds. Looking back, I was a bit odd as a child and definitely out-of-place in Northeastern Pennsylvania. While many of my early peers remain there today, I always knew that I would spend my adult life light years removed from that place.

We suddenly moved to Las Vegas when I was fifteen, which was radically different. My high school was a mix of the world and college was even more diverse. I married a Japanese woman six years my elder when I was 23. We fell insanely in love two years earlier and eventually wedded in a cheesy Las Vegas chapel without the consent of her parents. Surprisingly, that didn’t go over too well with her family. Shortly after our marriage, she took me to Kyoto, the ancient capital, for two weeks. It was my first time out of the country and everything was surreal. Even buying a coke from a Japanese vending machine became a thrilling event. She was a good woman, but I was entirely too young, immature and ungrounded to be married.

After getting divorced at the age of 25, I eventually would go on to live and teach in Japan for four years. I lived in Sapporo for two and a half years. Sapporo is an amazing, mid-sized city in Hokkaido, which is the northernmost island of Japan and blanketed by snow for nearly five months out of the year. I was young, daring and filled with an abundance of energy. Circumstances would eventually take me away from my winter paradise and I spent the last year and a half of my Japanese life on the tropical island of Okinawa, which was like living in another country in itself. Japan was four years of my life that I’ll never forget and will always appreciate.

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I came back to America shortly after turning 30. If life in Japan had turned out differently, it’s possible that I could have stayed forever, but due to the laws of quantum mechanics, I found myself living in Washington D.C., which was quite different, to say the least. The first month entailed an instead agony as I suffered harshly from reverse culture shock. I was a foreigner in my country at that point and surrounded by highly competitive and career-driven types, many of whom found me to be a bit strange and just couldn’t work out why I had spent the most important years of my life in Japan rather than building a career in America. But I did not resent them as I believe it’s healthy to always find a common ground in life and discern other perspectives. Some of them were even close friends in the process of constructing successful lives in the nation’s capital while I was off on the other side of the globe. Eventually, I adjusted, rekindled old friendships and learned to enjoy life. Being 30, I start thinking about a career and maybe even settling down with a nice American girl. This turned out to be merely a passing phase.

It wasn’t before long that I unexpectedly met an Argentinian woman two years my elder. She was wild, highly intellectual and charming in so many ways. Our time lasted for a couple of weeks before she had to return to Buenos Aries, but we stayed in touch and continued our conversations via Skype. Although I knew we would never be a good match, I held an innate curiosity for South America and coincidentally, Argentina had always been the one country on the continent I wanted to visit. Washington DC was treating me good at the time, but it was also becoming a bit boring and the feeling that there was a missing component began creeping in. I started dreaming of Argentina and fantasized what it would be like to visit or even live there. I continued my conversations with the woman from Buenos Aires and she was subconsciously luring me in like a bumbling fish in the middle of the ocean.

Just short of one year being back in America, I gave up on settling down, quit my job and bought a ticket to Argentina. I imagined the streets of Buenos Aires, the majestic mountains of Patagonia and all of the wonderful people I would meet in Latin America. When the plane landed and I stepped foot in the Southern Hemisphere for the first time, I had no plan to stay or return, but only to ‘be’ and let the dice roll. Argentina turned out to be an incredible experience, but I was back in Washington DC four months later. Except for a month-long excursion to Ecuador last year, I have been on US soil ever since. I’ve more or less made Washington DC my home since 2011 and it has benefited me in several ways. I have great friends, a healthy social life and live a very active lifestyle. But it’s just not the same and something is missing. That sensation of autonomy, adventure and the unknown is calling me back for more.

Where I am now

So I have decided to venture across oceans once again and teach in either Latin America or Asia. I also realize that I’m fortunate to have such an opportunity in life merely because I am from an English-speaking country.  Of course, the world has been so heavily influenced by the ‘American dream’, there are always back home similarities, but in the end, adventure awaits.  So why am I even writing this post? The issue seems to be that I am letting self-doubt and fear attack my mind like little darts of poison inflicting wounds on my psyche. While I’m excited about living abroad again, nobody else seems to be, including just about all of my family members and friends. On top of that, society seems to disapprove of my lifestyle as well. As much as we like to claim we are a nation of individuals in America, we are mostly conformist that organize our lives around social norms and pressures. Even a person like myself will eventually confirm or at least tweak his life to some extent to meet the expectations of others, which I believe we are truly never free from. We can plaster tattoos all over our bodies, wear skinny jeans, backpack across the globe and drink organic coffee, but there is always that pressure to settle down, live out a successful career and eventually wither away in suburbia. I am not saying that these are unworthy ambitious and we settle down in part to satisfy our natural inclination to survive, but I just don’t think I am there yet.

The slight dilemma that I seem to be having is whether or not I am too old for teaching English abroad. I don’t believe I am, but at least half of those that read this post will argue that I am in fact too old. I guess this really comes down to whether or one should give in to the norms of society or live life as an outlier. Many will advise me to be an individual and ignore what people think, but that is easier said than done. In the end, I know I will go abroad because that is who I am as a person, but I am curious to know what others in my situation are experiencing. Those early to mid-thirties types that still feel like they are 25, but just happen to be 33 or so. What are your reasons for venturing to another continent? I am also curious to know what individuals in their 40’s and 50’s think as well as those fresh out of college. It could be we are living in a time when some people just don’t want to grow up and live the American dream. I would like to hear your thoughts on the matter. Personally, I don’t think that 34 is too old to teach English abroad.

About James Soller

James Soller taught English for four years in Japan and traveled throughout Asia and South America. These days, he spends most of his time building Wordpress sites, blogging and teaching others the nuances of digital marketing.

7 Comments

  1. Jason B Hamilton on October 22, 2019 at 7:40 pm

    I am 38. I left America when I was 27 and have taught in Korean and China ever since, without ever going back to the United States. While I was here, I decided to pursue music, since I had tried once and failed to finish the program in the States for lack of money. It has not be easy in Korea keeping a job for more than a few months, so I went to China where the work was more stable and employers more dependable in honoring the contract. But, I also started my masters degree in vocal music at a university in South Korea and made those trips to China every year to earn money for tuition and other expenses, studying one semester in Korea and working for six to eight months in China and then going back to school for a semester and repeating the process several times, since 2015. It has been hard, but I will finish my last semester this September. I will work a year and then study in Korea before auditioning for opera. I realize that I probably would never have gotten the opportunity to pursue a career in music in America because all of my income every month was going towards paying bills. Korea freed me from those obligations, and only a small part of my salary went to expenses.

    As far as age goes, I have seen people in their fifties teaching English, but most of them had experience in teaching. From my experience, China seems to be less age restricting than Korea because China is still in its infancy for English education, the way Korea was ten or more years ago. I felt that same way as you, that once I left America, all those petty social concerns were replaced by different cultural values, and since I was a foreigner, I was not limited by Korea’s strict social obligations to family. Although, on the reverse side, I had to be much more self sufficient than a Korean because I had no family or support system based on years of accumulated friends and acquaintances in this country. I think it takes a personality that is independent of social norms, like you described, to spend a long time in a foreign country. Sometimes you find that certain customs are a better fit, and I would describe myself as someone who does not totally conform to American or Korean or Chinese habits but has acquired a hybrid of preferences from each of these cultures, and yet I possess something that is distinctly me. In this way, I think having many foreign experiences acts like a filter towards finding our true character, ideals, and passions. After eleven years, I really do miss America, but the greatest obstacle to returning is acquiring financial stability and reestablishing a foundation for starting life again in my native country. How does one begin again without a US bank account, drivers license, a car, an apartment, or any remaining friends there? It takes just as much commitment as it did to leave America and start fresh in a new country years before. At least, this time, the people speak my language.

    • Marcel Jimmy on October 23, 2019 at 8:08 am

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with us, Jason!



  2. EB on June 19, 2019 at 9:18 am

    I’m not sure when this post was posted but I can relate. I’m hearing the push pull. I too have done a stint in Japan and just because I’m no longer of Working Holiday Visa age, doesn’t mean I want to be stuck in the West and rotting in some kind of inhumane conformity. That said – each to their own – but Dr. Jordan B Peterson – has some great points on what it means to age, and how things often pan out if responsibilities and acknowledgements of the ageing process are not heeded. It’s easy to bounce around at 35 feeling and maybe even looking in your 20’s..and having all those doors that youth and appearance my open offer…until your suddenly not regarded as youthful any longer. Then what? I want an international life while at the same time having some anchors and returns for the future that will carry me when the harsh reality of ageing finally catches up…and it will.

    • Mat on June 25, 2019 at 3:23 am

      Just all of you get to to it! 35! You know what you are doing so much more. And, not to mention, the other opportunities that come along often that you are smart enough to take. Global world mates! It’s only a flight back every now and then anyway.



  3. Madison on November 30, 2018 at 9:21 pm

    I am 34 years old and contemplating teaching abroad after I complete my master’s degree in supply chain management in May of 2019. All of my fellow classmates are dreaming of high paid six-figure management jobs in America, meanwhile, I’m dreaming of traveling abroad and teaching English for way less. It almost feels as if I will not be using my degree at all but I am okay with that. I often wonder how I will be able to retire in the future. Can we retire comfortably with the salaries earned abroad? Is there job stability? I contemplate these questions and many more, and I hope that I am making a good decision.

    • Team Jimmy on December 3, 2018 at 8:52 am

      Hello Madison,

      thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      In my opinion, contemplating too much about the far future prevents you from taking action. Nobody knows what will be in like 5 or 10 ten years.

      Teaching English abroad does not have to be a lifelong career and you can return home anytime to live a “regular life”.
      Maybe you want to check this post for career options after teaching abroad: https://jimmyesl.com/build-career-after-teaching-abroad/

      Good luck to you!

      Marcel



  4. Diane Hassler on May 22, 2018 at 4:51 pm

    I’m 73 and teaching English in Taiwan. I’ve been here 8 years. I taught in Japan for 7 years when I was a single parent with 2 kids and I was 38. Returned to the states, hated it ….and as soon as I could came back to Asia.
    Principally I enjoyed the safety, healthy food, public transportation and different types of health care for myself and my children.

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