Friday, September 30, 2011

The Backup Plan(s)

I’ve been scheming on ways to work and live abroad since before I ever met my husband so it was no big leap to decide to do this. Admittedly, I never saw myself living in the campo in any of my living abroad adventures. So you may be wondering, if this chick likes living abroad so much, why even bother with the visa? Well, most of my wanting to live/work abroad stems from the travel itch I contracted while studying abroad in Mexico. That was the single-best-most life changing experience in my life, to date. After falling in love with Mexico all I wanted to do was get back out there and explore the world! I was young and idealistic and I wanted to “help people”. But first I had to get through school which was no easy feat. It took me NINE YEARS to get my degree. I changed my major five times because I’m alternately interested in many things and I can very easily change my mind when I think something’s not working. I think I mentioned before that I want to go to grad school but have yet to pin down exactly what I want to dedicate myself to studying. My friend claims to have a list of the many jobs I can see myself doing and I challenge her to post this supposed list in the comments.

So things change. While living abroad may have sounded romantic and exciting in my 20s, the 30s Julie wanted to settle in and have a family and a house and job security and a fat 401k. I could surely satisfy my travel itch with annual international vacations. What I wanted now was stability. But M’s immigration status was threatening my security gland. And his a bit too. How could we settle down and have kids when at any moment he might not come home because he’s been picked up by immigration. It’s not as if we hadn’t thought about this when we got married. All the (free) lawyers we consulted told us to wait for immigration reform. I wish I had done more research. I wish I had found my current lawyer back then. I wish now we had started this process as soon as we got married but, live and learn.

Staying together has always been my number one priority. That doesn’t mean I wanted to be together at the expense of shirking all our responsibilities but we had some time to prepare. We actually made a few bad decisions, one might say I made some bad decisions but let’s stick with we, this is a team effort after all. Basically, I got house fever and we bought a house. We then decided to take on some renovations and went into debt. We now rent the house out but this whole moving abroad thing would be easier without the house headaches and without the debt weighing us down.

So seeing how I was no stranger to the living /working abroad concept, I got right to work thinking up possible places we could live and make a little money during our waiting period. They all involved me teaching English because that is the easiest and most lucrative job you can get abroad for someone with no hard skills like me. I studied linguistics which makes me sound somewhat qualified to teach a language. I also took a TESOL certification class and taught briefly at a community college. That teaching job is when I decided I didn’t want to teach ESL. I love languages. Learning them, talking about them. I regularly think about word etymology and linguistic clues to language for fun! And I like working with students on a one on one basis. But getting up in front of a class is HARD. You have to be ‘on’ all the time and I’m the type of person that likes to do my work and fade into the background. I actually think I’d be good as some kind of counselor. Not an emotional counselor, but maybe school/college counselor. Anyway, I don’t consider myself a great teacher but I’m willing to do whatever it takes to support my family.

I did a lot of research on the possible places to teach abroad. I read a ton of blogs and spent a lot of time on the forum Dave’s ESL Café. Tons of people teach ESL as a way to live abroad or escape the cubicle. In a lot of places the only requirement is a college degree. In some places, even that’s not necessary. I had pretty much decided on Korea as best bang for your buck. All that’s required is a college degree in any discipline and they provide you with a plane ticket, a place to live (sometimes), and about 30k net. This info might be out of date since I haven’t researched teaching in Korea in quite awhile, but this was how it was at the time. Everyone I corresponded with said you could easily save money working in Korea. I never looked into the visa situation for M but most countries allow spouses to tag along on the working spouse’s visa. Then something clicked. I had actually thought about doing this Spain program years ago but didn’t for some reason, who knows. But it was perfect for our current situation. Even though it doesn’t pay NEARLY as much as Korea has the potential to, both of us speaking the language was a major deciding factor. Everything I’d read also led me to believe that if one wants to work, one will find extra work. The Spain gig is only 16 hours a week which leaves plenty of time to give private lessons or look for a second job in a language school. And there was the potential that M could work too. We probably wouldn’t make 30k but with our savings (that was a requirement for M’s spousal tag along visa) we knew we wouldn’t be homeless or hungry.

All of this stuff still is part of the current plan but should the waiver be denied, we will be facing ten years from our departure date before we can reapply. We could possibly make a ten year career out of teaching ESL or maybe go into backup plan numero dos. I also just want to clarify why some other places didn’t make the cut. Many teachers in Latin America work under the table. Or at least start out that way. Anyplace I went as a tourist, we would be limited to a short stay, usually 90-180 days. And places like Mexico would be out because Salvadorans need visas to travel there. In general, I’ve also read that Latin America just doesn’t pay that much to new, inexperienced teachers without teaching credentials like myself. For most people doing the Latin America teaching gigs in that situation, I think it’s more about wanting to immerse themselves in the Spanish language and culture than make a pile of money. So you may be saying to yourself, ok you’ve ruled out Latin America but you and M can get your papers in order and work in El Salvador. Yeeeeahhh. I will admit, I haven’t done much research on teaching in El Salvador but it’s definitely not out of the question. The thing now is that after living in M’s hometown, I don’t really want to live and work in San Salvador. I have no clue what teaching jobs pay there or what kind of credentials most jobs require. I also know there are possible jobs working in a call center and I’ve heard rumors it pays as little as $400 a month on up to $1500 a month. But again, those jobs are in San Salvador, not the campo.

Some of our other not so great backup plans involve me working in the US and sending my husband remesas or building a simple house with our last bit of savings and living a simple life in the campo while M does milpa and I sell banana bread.

Our #1 backup plan if our waiver is denied is to apply to Canada. I was born in Canada and my family on my mom’s side lives there. The biggest hurdle in this plan is establishing ties to Canada since I’ve lived my whole life since six weeks old in the US. We actually started the Canada process before the US because of some thought I had back then that I can’t remember now. But then I went to Canada one weekend to look at apartments and had so much anxiety about it all, it just didn’t feel right.

So there you have it. 1500 words about what we’ll do if this whole waiver thing doesn’t pan out. Keep your fingers crossed and say a little prayer for us!

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