Stuck Overseas

If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve been reluctant to board the plane for China. Of course, I probably would have gone, but in a much more prepared state of mind. In my wildest dreams I could never have imagined a global pandemic suddenly keeping me and hundreds, maybe even thousands of International Educators from seeing family and friends.…for years.

In March of 2020, in reaction to COVID, China blocked entry to everyone but its own citizens. The academic year at my school ended 4 months later. My school warned teachers about the consequences of leaving the country. Some left anyway and got locked out. I’ve been in-country for just over 2 years to date.

Like so many of us in my situation, I miss family and friends. However, the cold reality is this: I have student loans, a mortgage, and other financial responsibilities. I can’t risk being unemployed, so here I am still in China, a prisoner to my finances. Virtual platforms have helped take the edge off the distance but a digital screen just can’t replace a shared experience like taking a walk or dining together.

At times I’m tempted to pack up and leave. My parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents aren’t getting any younger and heaven forbid one of them becomes gravely ill, or worse, passes. What then?

This is a predicament many International Educators are confronting, not just in China, and it may be comforting to many of us to learn how teachers in the same situation are adapting and coping in other locales. It would be much appreciated if ISR would include my comments in an upcoming ISR newsletter.

Thank you ISR for all that you do.

Please scroll down to participate in this ISR Discussion

23 thoughts on “Stuck Overseas

  1. I was in hard lock down in a red list country in South Asia and coming to the end of my final year there. Home for me is a country where my family are but where I don’t have citizenship/residency, so getting back when they closed the borders to non-citizens was a nightmare. At the end I was trapped in country trying to get out to a country that would accept arrivals from one of the top red list infected countries. Going back to my home country in the UK just was not possible as I haven’t lived there in over a decade. If I had been mid-contract I would have just swallowed hard and stayed put but I was due to leave. The stress was terrible and it eventually took me 5 weeks and an extended journey through 2 countries to get to my family. I am now in my new job (in another red list country) and this now is my last overseas post. Covid and other factors have made up my mind. I am staying put until the financial needs are met and then I am going home to my family. The hassles outweigh the benefits and have taken the joy out of this line of work. I have reached that point of enough is enough and it is time to go home and settle my family.


  2. Thoughts? Stuck….no but as the first holiday for two years for some approaches and some staff have not seen siblings and children, this place Vietnam Australia Internationa School, or the CEO “carefully consider your students and colleagues before deciding on your holiday” thoughts? No pay rise for two years, of course covid has been blamed despite the fact that numbers are the same in secondary.

    Dear Colleague,

    We hope that this message finds you safe and healthy!

    Now the quarantine restrictions have been partly lifted from October 1, 2021 loosening the traffic restriction inside HCM city. People in traffic must comply with pandemic prevention measures, have their required QR codes to make movement declarations and show their vaccination history. People with no QR codes must have a certificate of recovery from COVID-19 for less than six months or a certificate of having the first COVID-19 vaccine dose at least 14 days before their travel. We hope that with this move, you will find some relieve of the stress, anxiety and feelings of isolation caused by the blockade over the past 4 months.

    The 120 day social distancing and blockade has hit the Saigonese with lots of challenges and we believe that you, our expat colleagues, living here during the this pandemic may feel these challenges even harder. We hope that when this challenging period passes, you continue to see the beauty of this city and Vietnam for the same reasons that tempted you to come here.

    2021 Christmas and 2022 Tet are about to come around very soon. You are entitled to Christmas leave from December 20, 2021 until January 3, 2022 and must be back to work on Tuesday of January 4, 2022. The city has already announced the permit of students coming back to physical class in January 2022 and thus teachers are required to be at school accordingly on January 4.

    This is followed by Tet leave from January 24 – February 6, 2022 and you must be back to work on Monday of February 7, 2022.

    For the time being, the quarantine requirement and overseas travel are still under tight restriction; there is no guaranty that you can leave the country and can be back at the time you need to. Similarly, international flights and travel remains quite complex and limited. This is also subject to government decision from time to time and is communicated often at very short notice.

    Leaving Vietnam during Christmas/Tet leave is your choice but we would strongly encourage you to delay your home visit or overseas travel to the summer time when most of the restriction may be lifted with a more certain chance of return and a much extended period to do so.

    Expat teachers who ensure that they are back to class as assigned in January after Christmas leave and then in February after Tet leave are offered an one-off travel allowance of 500USD. This cash allowance is considered as a “thank you” gift for your staying back in Vietnam during the holidays and will be paid in February paycheck.

    We hope you will carefully consider your students and colleagues before deciding on your holiday plans and wish you all continued good health!

    Best regards,

    Executive Chairman


  3. I am thankfully “stuck” in a Covid free country. No current cases. No Covid deaths during the entire pandemic. Last year I was diagnosed with cancer and my colleagues asked if I was returning to the states for treatment. I told them I could not afford to go back and be treated, I had no health insurance in America. Wish I had pictures of their faces as I tried to explain that! The private hospital that did my surgery and kept me for nearly 2 weeks cost less than $5,000. Radiation treatments were approved by public hospital so that was free. I cannot, nor do I want to, leave and lose my health care and job. My only concern is if something catastrophic happens at home I will be unable to go because I could not return to my job and treatments.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It is certainly a difficult situation to be in. My husband and I had a baby the middle of last year and contemplated whether to stay in Asia or return home. In the end, we went back to the UK so we could be around grandparents who aren’t getting younger and, if we’d stayed abroad, would still not have met their grandchild. When they are with her, it makes me feel like we made the right choice. However, it’s not been easy adapting back to life here and reverse culture shock is definitely real. I miss working abroad a lot still – the children, the culture, the people and the experiences. But, at the end of the day, I think what am I going to regret the most and not being with family wins every time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I should also add that if you are coming from a country that has lots of measures in place for COVID, coming back to one which is basically a ‘free for all’, no mask mandate, nothing in schools etc is also pretty unnerving and something I have found very difficult. Be prepared for this if you decide to move back x

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Try leaving India at the end of your contract if you are a Canadian. Canada requires you to fly via another country and have a second PCR test before you return to Canada. However, there are no flights from India to another country that will accept you or where you can have an PCR test airside in the airport, before continuing your journey. In fact, no airline will allow you to board their flight unless you are a citizen of the country where the flight will land. Teachers have paid thousands of dollars to fly via a European country to Mexico to have the PCR test, only to pay thousands more to fly back to Canada on overpriced Air Canada flights. Also, given the worldwide shortage of shipping containers, you can’t afford to ship your belongings overseas. It costs triple what it would have cost a year ago.


  6. Thank you for your comments. Most of these resonate a lot with me and my situation. I was teaching in Malaysia when the pandemic hit. The last 18 months have been horrible. I hated the uncertainty, distance learning and most of all lockdowns. The lockdowns drove me and my kids to depression like it did for so many others. We moved back to the states and enrolled our kids in local schools. At the end of the day we are social creatures and we need human interaction. Now I know what prisoners mean when they talk of being stir crazy. I would prefer to work in a supermarket for a year year or two than return to another lock down. The only solace we have is that it appears we are all going through the same thing.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I am currently in Vietnam, placed in Hanoi & meant to be in the Ho CHi Minh City.

    I wish I knew before hand that this was going to take place & would not have taken the following post. I had to spend my own money in a hotel (cost me a lot) & had to get HR involved to move me to a cheaper location so that I could save on money.

    Apparently, the lockdown had been happening since July 2021 & was none the wiser. I also have to get my visa extended on a monthly basis.

    I should have stayed working in the Middle East!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I can sympathize. My wife is Chinese and my kids are biracial. My kids are the only grandkids in the family. We’re contemplating going back to the states next summer knowing I might have to stay there for a while. Of course my wife has been out of the U.S for so long I’m not sure she can get in with her Green Card. I suppose I could get back in since my wife and kids are Chinese but it’s still a roll of the dice. One thing I worry about is the quality of teachers at our school. Luckily our kids teachers this year are fine but some of the people new this year you can tell they don’t know what they’re doing or have any background in education.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Yep, I was in the exact same situation in Beijing. I have been doing this for close to 15 years, so I am perhaps not in the same situation as many others, I am at the end of my international career. I decided that my family, friends and time itself, which I cannot get back are far more important to me than the money. I guess I figured, you can always make money but you can never get back time. So I told my school I would be going this summer and that I would come back if I could. They told me that if you went they could not guarantee a position in the fall. Which on the whole, I thought was fair enough. I cannot emphasis how glad I am that I did what I did.
    As other people have written, yes teaching in the US can be challenging, and yes, definingly can be depending on the state and district, not be a viable means of employment. Of course unless you were working here for a long time and or were most likely working in the Northeastern US, and Yes, it is not like teaching internationally. But for me its home and I will adapt as I always have to a culture I haven’t really experienced for quite some time.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I have many friends like you still stuck in China because of similar reasons. I was one of the people who went on CNY holiday and couldn’t come back. I know that it must be really hard not to be able to leave, but you do have an income. Speaking as a person with a family to take care of, that is a blessing. It is easy to say that money does not buy happiness, but it does buy food, clothes, and other necessities, especially when you have several mouths to feed. Perhaps there are still job opportunities in the states, but if you are from a different home country, there is most probably a good reason why you sought employment internationally. This has been a challenging 2 years for so many people in different situations. We all had to find our own way to get through it. Well-paying jobs are precious. it took me 16 months to get back to China, and now that I am back, I think I can accept staying here for an extended period of time, as long as I have financial stability, schooling for my children and the means to make a comfortable life. Do what feels right to you, but know having a secure job and steady income is a blessing!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. We are being told here in Shanghai that when contracts come out, sign with the knowledge that we probably won’t be able to leave again this summer. This is the sad reality. It really tests your values and your endurance as well. Best wishes to everyone during this stressful decision making time.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. This pandemic is an unprecedented situation for everyone. Everyone. So there are undoubtedly going to be some issues and sacrifices to be made. Be thankful that you still have a job, a place to stay, and money coming in to pay for your mortgage and your student loan, and all the rest.
    Maybe this will help us rich westerners get a little bit more perspective of the plight of those poor migrant workers to the Middle East (and other places) who get home to see their families once every few years, even at the best of times.
    Woe is me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You begin by stating that the pandemic has been challenging for “Everyone”. Yet, you can’t manage to muster up any empathy at all for the author, instead highlighting another hypothetical person’s plight to downplay the author’s own feelings. Terrible.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. “be thankful that you have a job”, or “I feel lucky to have a job” would be music to the ears of every school administrator that I’ve ever worked for.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. To the ‘be thankful you have a job is music to the administrator’s ears’ comment.

      How about…be thankful you have a job that – in normal times – pays for accommodation, annual flights home, medical care, 15 weeks paid leave, the opportunity to see the world, the opportunity to save money (paying off those student loans and home country mortgages we spoke of earlier) whilst living above the average local living standard, gives you two days off each week.

      Does that sound better?

      Again, perspective.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. There is a flip side to this. Many of us came home, for any number of reasons, expecting to get back out. Whoops! If I could just get paid for writing cover letters I’d be rich!


  14. Be ready for major culture shock! I left China after having been is Asia for 9 years and I am very sorry I left. My pay here is horrible and America is a mess.. I have many regrets for leaving Asia.. I would go back tomorrow if I could. Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. It was my first time in China 2019 when covid struck. Very scary with all the lockdowns and online teaching! My school warned us not to travel so I stayed put in my one bed flat!!! Bored to death until things went back to normal. Then when my initial contract ended in July 2021, it had become just too much. I packed up and left. I didn’t renew. I’m home with my family now and very happy, feeling “free” but will be “broke” soon. 😅 I’ll now have to go to another country as I’m too old to return to china. I also think even with our financial commitments there are countries still recruiting and work visas are still been issued. 🙏🏽 Do what’s best for you without fear!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Why don’t you consider teaching in the USA. Some parts of the country pay pretty well. If you are willing to move overseas, packing up for a different section of the country should be pretty easy. I have taught both overseas and in the USA. Both had their pros and cons. Don’t believe all the horror stories that overseas teachers like to tell about teaching in the States.


  16. You don’t have to be overseas to be stuck not seeing family and friends for years during this pandemic. We retired from teaching overseas to spend more time with grandchildren we haven’t seen since before this started. Small price to pay for still being alive to see them graduate high school.


  17. Yep, same exact thing here in Vietnam. And we’ve been completely locked down since July and teaching remotely from home since the beginning of this school year. I think we’ll see a rash of departing teachers at the end of this year. Enough is enough. Being stuck abroad, away from family and friends, and basically threatened with our jobs if we decide to visit our home country during breaks just isn’t worth it. No matter how great the school is.

    Liked by 1 person

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