Working on Plan E

By: Betsy Norton-Middaugh - Also see author's expat blog listing

It all started with a remodel project gone south and a frustrating year at work.

Dan and I had hit that middle age slump which I now interpret as a dawning sense of possibilities. The kids were grown and doing well on their own. Work had plateaued. We were bored and itching for a change.

We tried one of the typical mid-life crisis remedies – a jazzy car (in this case a broken down 1959 Nash Metropolitan that we thought we might make into an electric car – lots of potential for cute, but ultimately not one of our passions). We thought of other ways to build new income streams – a computer service company (again, not a passion) and remodeling our home to add an apartment (lovely design, but twice as much as we could pay).

So one day we sat slumped in our living room at the end of yet another bad week at work. We had just pulled the plug on the remodeling project. Work was looking like it would slam into a dead end sooner than we wanted to retire. What to do?

“We have money in the bank. We could do anything. We could join the Peace Corps.” We looked at each other and said, “We could join the Peace Corps!” Ten minutes later we had the online application up and started.

The Peace Corps application process takes a long, long time, particularly for older couples. That gave us over a year to clear out the house, research current trends in encore careers, and wrap our minds around living in another country.

We yearned for a big change and a chance at a new adventure together. We settled down young and missed our time to explore the world. Neither of us had been on a study abroad program or even moved out of our home town. We were overdue for an adventure. We started talking about this as “running off to join the circus.”

On Christmas Eve we finally got word about our Peace Corps applications. We had been put on hold for at least another six months because of a medical concern. We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and said, “How else can we get our adventure in another country?”

On to the next plan.

Dan is a teacher. It didn’t take much research for us to find out that certificated American teachers have many options for living abroad. The wait for the Peace Corps and fixing up the house had depleted our resources so we decided we needed a paying position rather than one of the many volunteer teaching positions available. And Dan preferred to be teaching a subject he really cared about rather than going after an English language teaching position.

We quickly decided that international schools were the place for us. International schools are located all over the world. Some are International Baccalaureate; others are schools for the children of missionaries or expat employees of certain companies. And lucky for us, they all recruit at several hiring fairs held around the world, including a large recruiting fair in Boston where one of our daughters was living.

This was a whole new world. There are many teachers who spend their entire career traveling the world – two years here followed by two years somewhere else that looks interesting. There are other teachers who do what we wanted to do– they retire from US public schools but itch to see more of the world so they leverage their teaching experience to jump into the international school pool.

We got a late start on the international school hiring circuit. To do this properly, we should have started applications and signed up for fairs in September. But in September we still thought we had a Peace Corps spot waiting for us. So in February Dan camped in our daughter’s apartment, put on his professional clothes, and went off to find where we would live next year.

It didn’t work. Or at least it didn’t work right away. A little too old for some countries, not teaching a core subject, new to the game, and starting just a little too late. Back to the drawing board. Again. Over the next few weeks leads trickled in for Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. They all fell through. But Dan’s resume stayed in the database. What we didn’t know then is that there is a second wave of job opportunities in international schools late in the school year. Teachers hand in their resignations due to family issues or late breaking opportunities. then the schools need to scramble to fill the positions. That’s what happened to us.

A late opening in Taichung, Taiwan led to an email exchange and an interview over Skype. It was a great fit right from the start. Dan is doing two things he loves – taking care of the school’s technical needs and teaching high school classes. He proposed a new course in entrepreneurship that has proved to be very popular with the high school students. The school provides a comfortable salary, a work visa, and an apartment. By mid-July we were packed and on the plane.

It is so much easier for us to live abroad now than it was even five years ago. With the internet tools available, I am in contact with friends and family at least as much now as I was when we lived in Seattle. Probably more because I am working from home and much more relaxed now so I’m making more time for staying in touch.

The same internet tools that enable us to keep in touch with friends make it possible to create a business from wherever we are that can move seamlessly with us. I can consult. I can blog. I can build and sell online tools. We’ve only been here for three months so the details of the online business are not yet worked out. But the possibilities! Sure, I could have done this from Seattle. But I didn’t. This potential online business makes it easier for us to open up our own sense of possibilities. I can do this anywhere we have good internet capability. Dan can teach, and I can run an online business. Bring on the world!

Taiwan is a great place to be an American expat. The culture is very different here. It’s clearly Asian, not Western. The history is unfamiliar to us as are the dominant religions. The way people interact and the assumptions they make are sometimes familiar and other times confusingly different.

At the same time, Taiwan is a very comfortable place to live. The transportation system is first rate. We can eat the food and drink the water without concern. Many signs are in English and there seems to always be a friendly local willing to help us out. The health care is great, with a choice of Asian or Western treatments. Western style toilets are almost always available (this is not a small consideration). Have I mentioned the great markets? And that food! We are happy here.

For both of us this adventure is providing an opportunity to step away from our established routine to reconnect with who we are and who we want to be. Because we are not in our home country we can try new things and decide what we like and what we do not like. The inertia from routines built up over the decades we lived in Seattle kept us in one place. It wasn’t a bad place. But moving to a new country creates space for us to explore, to invent, to sample. To be new. Here we cannot do what we have done for decades, even if we want to. Here we must reinvent. That reinvention is part of living abroad. We are feeling opportunities again. And that is a very good place to be.

If there was one thing we learned from the past two years, it was to always be flexible. We are quite adept now at coming up with a Plan B. Or in this case, a Plan E. Or more. And I’ve noticed that the more plans we come up with, the better they are. I’m glad now that we didn’t get our Plan A or Plan B or Plan C or even Plan D. What we are doing now is so much better than the first plan we set our hearts on. As Dan says nearly every day, “we get to live here!”

We are grateful that we got all the way to Plan E.

About the author:

Dan is a teacher at an international school and Betsy is tagging along on a grand adventure in Taiwan. We're writing about all that is new and interesting to us including food and pets and everyday life.
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Contest Comments » There are 13 comments

Dana Twight wrote 11 years ago:

Being a former expat myself in the pre-Internet age, i am well aware of how this life requires reinvention, resilience and a constant reset button. I enjoy these posts and their variety. Would that all of us get the chance to get to Plan E in our lives, whether we are stay at homes, expats, or volunteer nomads!

Shamwari Ltd wrote 11 years ago:

"a dawning sense of possibilities" is such a wonderful way to reframe things - it conjures up notions of adventure and opens up a sense of excitement and opportunity. More and more people are realizing that they can - and should, in my opinion - chase dreams in their middle age. Why not?? Youth is indeed wasted on the young, imagine the thrill of discovery with a lifetime of perspective and skills to back you up!

Casey Middaugh wrote 11 years ago:

I am so so SO excited that you guys are on this adventure. I'm also so grateful to have you as an example of *patience* and faith that whatever works out will be exciting, awesome, and better than my first plan. Thank you :)

Deborah Kent wrote 11 years ago:

This is a great story! Clearly you guys are not about to give up living in order to spend the rest of your life doing nothing - a dread all of us should have. This adventure has given you a whole new life and I applaud your taking it. Your story should serve as a model for many of us to follow - it's full of ideas and and possibilities, not to mention a super-positive outlook about how to get things done.

Sara Eileen wrote 11 years ago:

What a fantastic story. I lived abroad for a year when I was 25, and now see a great deal of pressure to cut off that kind of exploration and find a place to settle down. I appreciate reading a story that can show a way forward for this kind of great adventure for many years to come.

Daniel McDonald wrote 11 years ago:

This is a great story -- I'm glad to hear about your adventures!!

Heather Woodke wrote 11 years ago:

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!! A model for all of us who have hit that wall - career wise, family wise, life wise. The bubble is so much bigger than a lot of us realize, the world is out there waiting - if more people can and would do this, what a global community we would have, full of understanding and compassion and possibilities! Kudos to Dan and Betsy!

Spot Stephenson wrote 11 years ago:

What a great report! My retirement starts at the end of this month, and this is inspirational! Miss you both!

Chris Ward wrote 11 years ago:

Well-written and fun to read. Bring on the Taiwan stories!

Chris Rebholz wrote 11 years ago:

The international education world's gain is the Peace Corps' loss. May we all have such wonderful Plan E's in life!

Ruthe And Frank wrote 11 years ago:

We are both so pleased that you are so very happy on your new adventure. We enjoy you blogs so very much and look forward to coming to visit.We will know a lot about Taiwan by the time we come from all your blogs. Love MOM and DAD

Laine Middaugh wrote 11 years ago:

This is great! It's so comforting to know that it's never too late for big adventures. Thank you for sharing your stories with us!

Wintersundays wrote 11 years ago:

Great post! I love your writing style. In just a couple months, I am moving to South Korea to become an ESL teacher. I am planning on visiting Taiwan next year. Thank you so much for this insiders view of Taiwan!

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