Digital Nomad Stories

Retirement Reimagined: A Journey from Government Job to Kindergarten Teacher in Thailand

August 28, 2023 Anne Claessen Season 2 Episode 145
Digital Nomad Stories
Retirement Reimagined: A Journey from Government Job to Kindergarten Teacher in Thailand
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Get ready to be swept off your feet as we journey with Dian Seidel, author of Kindergarten at 60, who dared to retire not just from her career, but from an entire way of life. 

Picture this: saying goodbye to a government job, packing up, and setting off on an unexpected adventure teaching kindergarten in Thailand! Dian spills all about the trials and triumphs of adopting a new culture, climate, and lifestyle, turning what could have been a typical retirement into an extraordinary chapter of her life.

Connect with Dian:


Connect with Anne:

Speaker 1:

Hey Nomads, welcome to Digital Nomad Stories, the podcast. My name is Anne-Klaassen and, together with my co-host, kendra Hasse, we interview digital nomads. Why? Because we want to share stories of how they did it. We talk about remote work, online business, location and dependency, freelancing, travel and, of course, the digital nomad lifestyle. Do you want to know more about us and access all previous episodes? Visit digitalnomadsdoriesco. Alright, let's go into today's episode. Hey, hey, nomads, welcome to a new episode. Today I'm here with Diane Seidel. She is the author of Kindergarten at 60 and she actually moved abroad when she was retired. So she retired, moved to Thailand, made a career switch and, I think it's safe to say, changed her entire life by moving to Thailand. So I'm super excited, diane, to have you on the show today and to talk more about your time in Thailand and how that was and how you made that move and what you experienced there. So welcome.

Speaker 2:

Thank you, Anne. I'm really excited to have this conversation with you and to share my experiences with all the digital nomads out there.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, amazing. So can you tell us a little bit more where you are now? Like, where in the world are you?

Speaker 2:

Okay, I'm home right now. I'm in Maryland in the United States, just outside the Washington DC border, and I've lived here for a long time. My adventure abroad was a little slice of life that carved into my basic American existence. I spent a total of five months teaching kindergarten in Thailand.

Speaker 1:

And how come what happened that? You thought you know what I'm going to do. I'm going to change everything, like the country where I live my career, definitely what day to day looks like. So why did you make that decision?

Speaker 2:

Okay, well, it wasn't actually a decision. It was what happened. The plan was a little bit different, and ending up in Patung Thani, thailand, teaching kindergarten wasn't actually the plan. I had been a climate scientist. I worked for the US government in a research lab studying climate change, and I did that for about 30 years and then I retired. When I retired, I started teaching English as a volunteer at a school in Washington that teaches adult immigrant to this country, and I loved it. You know I really enjoyed that change meeting new people from all over the world, making a difference in their lives, making new friends. And after I started doing that, my husband retired. He started teaching at the same school and he loved it too, and together we thought well, this is very fun.

Speaker 2:

I had always wanted to live abroad again. I had done so briefly, as a graduate student. I lived in Belgium for a year and that was really interesting for me. But I never had the opportunity during my adult existence to live abroad for an extended period and I thought okay, now we're retired, we no longer have children at home, we can do this now, and my husband's seed was game to try that too.

Speaker 2:

So we started applying for jobs teaching English to adults. That was our plan. And our plan was also to go to a country with a temperate climate. I don't really like hot weather, I don't really enjoy tropical climates, and so we started applying for jobs in temperate countries, mid-latitude areas of the northern and southern hemisphere, teaching adults. And I'm sorry to report, but even though we had been told that we're well qualified, we have certifications, we've had experience, we're grownups, you'll have lots of job offers, we got zero job offers, which it didn't work out. But, long story short, we ended up in Thailand. When we got to Thailand, we didn't know where we would be teaching. We were part of a larger program and they made the placement. The only job they could find for us was teaching kindergarten. So Thailand, very tropical country, 13 degrees north latitude, kindergarten, not grown up, not what we were looking for. And actually in Thailand kids start kindergarten at age two and a half. So at least from my perspective, that's not even kindergarten, that's preschool.

Speaker 2:

So we had a really different experience, from a really different outcome from what we had hoped for, but it all worked out. It was a challenge and it was a joy and it was a very interesting experience living in a completely different culture, a climate that took some getting used to, and working with very little children, very active.

Speaker 1:

In our sixties. Wow, yeah, that sounds like a huge change, especially when your plan is to teach adults in kind of like a mild climate and then ending up in Thailand teaching. I mean two and a half, I mean that's really young.

Speaker 2:

Okay, not everyone was two and a half. There were kids that were four and a half, so they were a little sick.

Speaker 1:

Oh wow. Anyhow, yeah still, but I think it's very different than what you plan. How do you handle a change like that, where you have one plan and it doesn't work out and then you end up somewhere else doing something that you also didn't plan? How did you adjust?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, you know, and I think it wasn't too difficult to adjust and I think the reason was because we were retiring, because we had had careers that we had completed and moved on from. We felt like we had. This period in our lives is a period for exploration. It's a period for trying new things and if they don't work out, you try something else.

Speaker 2:

I think that's kind of a nomad mentality. Anyhow, you could always move on and if you go into something, you know thinking this may not be what I had hoped for or wanted, but it's something and it's new and it's different. There'll be something to learn and something to enjoy there, and that's how we try to approach it. Of course, maintaining that attitude every single day wasn't always the thesis, but especially when it was exhausting running after these little kids but still, I think that that was part of what made it quite doable and really quite enjoyable, with just having some life experience. It wasn't. We never felt that this was veering us off our life path Because we didn't have a particular goal in mind. You know, kind of living in the moment, trying to enjoy what was before us.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I love that mindset of just going with the flow and just seeing what happens, like if maybe this is it, maybe not, but then we'll try something else, we'll do something else, we'll leave again. That's always possible and I think that's such a great mindset to have going into whatever it is, if it's teaching kids, or if it's moving to a new country, or all at the same time. How was it to all of a sudden live in Thailand in a completely different culture?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so we had actually been in Thailand before once before earn our honeymoon. We've been married 30 years, so it was three decades earlier. So we knew a little bit about what Thailand is like. We had only spent a couple of weeks there the first time and had only visited a few of the kind of highlight places in the country, but the country had changed a lot, so we did encounter a lot of new things.

Speaker 2:

The culture difference I would say the main cultural difference that we encountered and that really impasted us strongly was Thai and somewhat Asian Eastern collectivist way of living. So the Thai society is very much about avoiding confrontation, making sure that the group is happy. So it's much more important that the group be happy than that I achieve my own personal goal. So in the US, I think in Western Europe, it's a fairly individualistic society where people are focused on their own goals and working towards them and that's respected, I think, by other individuals.

Speaker 2:

In Thailand there was a strong collectivist sense. Everybody should be happy and let's not fight, let's not disagree, let's try to make peace. When you're a new teacher in a school a small school, and you're trying to understand what's going on and maybe you have ideas about how things could be improved. Sometimes you can run into a little bit of difficulty dealing with this kind of let's not make waves attitude, which sometimes happens. So I had to learn how to just chill, just accept the system as it was and do my best to contribute what I could, given the structure that I encountered there, and work within that structure.

Speaker 1:

That sounds like a pretty interesting lesson, though I think that sounds not easy, but still a great thing to do away from that experience. Maybe Was there anything else you learned in Thailand that you take with you.

Speaker 2:

Yes, well, one thing that I did learn was just to make do with a lot less. We were living in an apartment that was part of the school campus. There was a teacher's housing building, rather minimalist, not a lot of furniture. Kitchen was rather minimally equipped. We only brought two suitcases with us, one full of clothing and one actually mostly full of things that you know, like drugstore items and medications that we thought we might not be able to have the set. So we had very few objects with us and we didn't want to acquire much.

Speaker 2:

We decided we'll make do with what we have, and that was really different from our life back home, where we have our home that you've filled with many years worth of accumulated stuff, most of which we don't really need. But living in Thailand, we really kept things simple and in a way that was very liberating. I didn't miss having a lot around me and I liked not having to worry about taking care of stuff, taking care of a lot of clothing, taking cleaning big spaces. It was really very liberating to be able to live a less materialistic life, I would say.

Speaker 1:

Mm-hmm. Yeah, it's also.

Speaker 2:

Pardon me, I was just going to say it's the nomad concept of going light in the world. You know, traveling light, not carrying a lot with you.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, absolutely. Is it also something that you still, or did you make a change? When you came back to the United States, where I don't know, did you like sell a lot of stuff that you had lying around or did you make like any change? Good, question.

Speaker 2:

I think gradually over time and accelerated by the time in time land, I have come to appreciate more and more not accumulating stuff and purging things from my life. So as time goes on, I continue to try to do this. Do I do it successfully all the time? I can't say yes to that. My mother is elderly, she's 99 years old, and she definitely has this concept in her mind too. She would like to divest herself with more of her object. So in part to make things easier for those of us who remain after she's gone and I take that lesson from her. It's a little bit sad to think about, but on the other hand, she has a very valid point. You don't need to leave behind a pile of stuff right for other people to deal with, and so, gradually, I'm incorporating that philosophy into my own life.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, interesting, I have that same experience. When I'm no manning, I'm always like, oh, I don't need much. The last trip that we took was six months and we only had hand luggage and that went really well for, I would say, five and a half months, and then the last two weeks we went shopping and came back with another suitcase, with an extra. So it went really well for a while. But I always go through this cycle where just before we leave, I get rid of a lot of stuff that's just lying around because I want to make sure that there's not a lot of stuff lying around when I come back and then I travel and I'm like I don't need anything, like this is great, minimalistic. And then I come back and I still have that mindset and then over time I don't know, it just kind of like creeps up on me that I order things or go shopping and I don't know, just buy things and then I go through that cycle again. So it's pretty interesting.

Speaker 2:

But Anne you're cycling through. It sounds like a very wise move. You keep reminding yourself of how to live lightly on the earth. It has consequences beyond your own personal life. It has implications for the global environment and everything, so it's a great lesson. I will say. That was one thing about Thailand that was good. It's much easier to travel light in a warm country than it is in a place where you need to keep. You need a coat and you may need boots, need heavier things, but certainly the lighter the better in terms of staying cool in a place like Thailand.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and, like you said, it feels so freeing to not have to carry around a lot of things. That was really nice. So, Diane, do you have any tips for people who are also moving to a new country no manning, or maybe they're moving long term to another country? Is there anything that you learned that you think oh, I wish I knew that before I went and that you can now share with other people?

Speaker 2:

Well, here's something that I learned, and it wasn't on purpose. I didn't socialize much with other expats. Where I was living and teaching there weren't other Westerners Thai people call us Pharang foreigners and there weren't other Pharang in our neck of the wood. We did travel to Bangkok regularly and encounter many more international travelers, but we lived most of our week with Thai people. It wasn't like choice, but I think it was a good thing.

Speaker 2:

I think hanging out with other foreigners. As many other teachers we did do an orientation with other Western teachers and most of those people ended up socializing with other foreigners in their non-teaching time. We didn't have that opportunity so we didn't do it and I think those folks ended up living kind of a Western lifestyle with other Westerners. It's possible, of course, everybody does what comfortable for them, but I think there was a lot of value to not hanging out with other Westerners, particularly other Americans. We can encounter Americans back home. That's not why we're in Thailand to encounter other people. Of course, when there's a language gap, that's a little harder, but you can get a distance. You can make some connections with limited language skills and a lot of body language.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, so more being in or participating in a local culture and not just talking to other expats. I mean, you have a good point. If you want to talk to Americans, then you should probably go to America.

Speaker 2:

But I'll also say and that by traveling with a partner and that's the extent I was with my husband we spent most of our time together and I think if I had been traveling on my own I would have much more readily made Thai friend. I think I would have sought out more opportunities to socialize. Other people would have been more open to socializing with me because, you know, here's this American couple, that's just this one person that you've all by herself. I think being a solo nomad may sound off-putting, but I think in some sense it opens you up to a richer experience.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, absolutely yeah. I mean, when I started nomadding, I was solo, so I just traveled around by myself and it was so easy to make friends. And now I travel with a partner and it is different. It's still really fun and you can still make friends, but it's definitely very, very different. People don't come up to you as easily. I mean, I would also not go up to a couple when they're sitting in a restaurant and eating. But if you're alone, like that happens all the time, that is definitely very, very true. But maybe it's also nice to have someone else going through the experience with you and that you can share it with, especially when there's a language barrier, right?

Speaker 2:

Yes, gifton, especially when you're confronting some challenging situations. I will be the first to admit that I was a failure at teaching kindergarten for the first month, at least, two months at least. I mean I had no control in the classroom. I really didn't know how to manage and, as I mentioned before, the other teachers were a little bit hesitant to tell me what to do because they didn't want to make waves. I could have used a lot of instruction, I could have used support, but and I think if I had been there by myself, I would have said you know, I can't do this job. This is beyond me. I'm going to leave. But because there were two of us and I'll have to say my husband fared much better. He actually has a teaching degree and has taught young children before, so he was able to manage. We were able to support one another in that and we got through it and eventually, you know, I managed to moderately well deal with the cases and moderately well maintain some semblance of order in the classroom.

Speaker 2:

But yeah, so having someone there to get you through the tough times and tell you you know it's okay, we'll manage together, we'll manage that does help. So there are pros and cons between traveling solo and traveling with others, but you can manage.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, true, and what made you leave that for five?

Speaker 2:

months. Well, it was always our intention not to stay for very long. I mentioned my mother, who's elderly, and that we never wanted to leave her for more than six months or so. That was always our plan. As it turned out, our contract at our school ended on March 1st of the year 2020. We, in February of 2020, actually in January 2020, cases of COVID had been detected outside of China, and guess where they were? They were in Thailand. So we were aware of the virus before. Some others around the world were more earlier than we would have been if we had been at home, and although we had thought about extending our stay if things worked out well with this virus circulating with my mom back home, we decided we'll come back as scheduled. In fact, we came back one day earlier than scheduled and we were home for 10 days, and then, march 13th of 2020, everything in the US shut down. That was when this country went into COVID quarantine. So I would say, to some extent, it was planned to come home, but the pandemic sent us home, although not earlier than expected. Yeah, and actually, in a sense, that was a blessing. Well, pandemic was not a blessing to take that back, but there was a silver lining to that because, coming home, we were not able to resume our normal activities that we would have otherwise.

Speaker 2:

I had been writing letters not letters, emails that I would send home to family and friends every month. I called the missus from Thailand and friends and family kept. They enjoyed them. They said oh, diane, I can't wait for your next missive. When are you going to write again? It's so funny they're so you know. I was basically complaining about all the problems that were turned by this, a kind of humorous way. Anyhow, come home, I've got all these missives collected up. People enjoyed them. People are saying you should write a book. It's the pandemic. I can't go anywhere, I can't do anything. So what can I do? I can write a book and between March of 2020 and now 2023, I put my notes to the grindstone and kept my butt in my chair and my hands on my keyboard, and that was the silver lining of the pandemic for me. It's been a creative and productive and very enlightening time learning about the book world.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, perfect. Yeah, you had great timing. I was also in Thailand at that time, by the way. Just the pandemic, yeah, and where were?

Speaker 1:

you, I was in Koh Lanta, so more in the south. I think we were not very close, but yeah, I saw everything happening. I saw the news and I was actually for a day in Phuket and it was a ghost town. It was so weird. Phuket is always so touristy and busy and there's people everywhere and there was just no one. Like all the restaurants were empty. It was very creepy actually. Yeah, and yeah it was a weird time to be anywhere, probably, but I found a really weird time to especially be in that part of the world where it felt like China felt really close and it was I don't know. It was very weird. So, yeah, we shared an experience a little bit.

Speaker 2:

China is really close. It doesn't actually border Thailand, but it's close and close culturally for sure. As you know, and I'm sure many Thai people have Chinese ancestors, and the Chinese Thai community is very prominent and they're actually quite well to do in general I won't say everybody, but Chinese New Year is a very big deal in Thailand. In fact, they tell a story in the book about one of our students one of the youngest, one of the most difficult to deal with who went to back to China with his family for the Chinese lunar new year in 2020 to celebrate with his grandparents and when he returned, there was a big hubbub at school. Should we let this child come back to school? Because during the time when he was away was when these first cases of COVID appeared in Thailand and was kind of friendly. The initial responses well, maybe we won't have him in class with everybody else, but he really misses all of his friends. So let's let him come back to school. And how about this plan? How about? In the book? I call him Panit. How about? Panit spends all day long, every day, with Diane, teacher Diane, in the office. She'll enjoy that and he'll be back at school.

Speaker 2:

And I'm thinking this is the most difficult kid to deal with. He's like always running around everywhere. He maybe has COVID. I don't know what that means. I maybe could get COVID. If I get COVID, you know I'm going to spend it. This was like the craziest concept ever. Anyhow, we talked him down for a bath non-confrontational video, but that was kind of my first COVID encounter. Was this tiny little boy? He wasn't exposed, he was fine, you know, but he wasn't in Wuhan. It was all good, but there was that initial like whoa COVID. We were calling it coronavirus COVID hadn't even been coined as a term then. So yeah, global response then was interesting and you mentioned the place is being empty. That must have been after I left because Thailand took a while to close its borders to tour. They rely heavily on tourist, tourist bot, tourist funds coming in and they kept the borders open longer than some other country did.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah, I think the borders were so open, but just people were not going anywhere. I think they were just staying put because there was just this really weird fearful vibe going on over the islands. Where it was, I don't know, people just didn't want to see other people. It was weird. Yeah, absolutely so, Diane. What is coming up now? What is coming up next for you? You have written your book, you finished your five months of teaching in Thailand. What does life have in store next?

Speaker 2:

So I still do love teaching English. I also love teaching yoga that's something else that I do and I went back to white school here in Washington it's called Washington English Center and I'm back teaching the grown-up that I love. Now we have students from Ukraine, from Afghanistan, from Iran, from all over the world, and they're lovely. I am enjoying that. I would like my husband and I both would like to continue nomadding. I love that verb, true nomad. That's the first time I've heard it, anne, so thank you for introducing me to that vocabulary. We would like to nomad a little bit more and we did, this past winter, spend some time in Fiskoli in Italy teaching middle school students English the conversational English classes from middle school, which was much more. I could manage that much better than I could with the kindergartners. They were a riot, these little Sicilian middle schoolers. So that was a great experience. I think we'll continue to do that as long as we can.

Speaker 2:

You know what we like about it and I'm sure your audience appreciates this. When you're doing something like that, when you're working and living towards some extended period of time somewhere, you're not a tourist, you're doing I like the word so journey, you're staying for a while You're becoming somewhat part of the local community. You're still a guest, you're still treated like a guest, but it's a nice way to be part of a culture while at the same time being a visitor. I would like to continue doing that for as long as I can, seeing other parts of the world teaching English. There's a lot of demand for English teachers In many of the foreigners. You have your digital nomads, your techie type, and then you have a lot of teachers and I would love to be part of that community as long as I can.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, what's on your bucket list? Where do you want to go next?

Speaker 2:

There are places I want to go but that don't require English teachers. Well, I'm not even sure if that's true. I've always wanted to go to India. As I said, I'm very interested in yoga, I teach yoga and I've always wanted to study yoga in India. Of course, english is an official language in India and I'm not sure that I can bring English teaching skills to that country the way I could elsewhere. But that's part of my bucket list. And let's see where else.

Speaker 2:

I've never been to Japan and I'm old enough to remember a time in, say, the 1970s and 80s, when everybody was fascinated with everybody in the West was fascinated with Japan. The country was thriving economically, the culture was very interesting, and I've never been. I shared that fascination and I would love to go to Japan someday. And I've also not spent too much time in South America a little bit, but not enough. I encounter people from Central and South America all the time in my classes here in the Washington DC area. We have a very large immigrant population from that part of the world. I was like to experience their culture in situ at some point, more so than I had in the past, because these are some of my bucket list locations.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, very cool. Still. Lots to travel, lots of countries to go and teach, maybe, and travel for a while. That's really exciting. So, diane, before we hop off, I also want to know where can people find your book? I ask well.

Speaker 2:

It's available wherever good books are sold I should say so online through the major retailers Barnes, noble, amazon, bookshoporg for independent bookstore support. There will be an audio book available through all the outlets that deal in audio book. You can walk into any independent bookstore that you're choosing and I'm a big fan of indie bookstores and ask it can be ordered easily for you. So thank you for your interest in the book. I hope people enjoy it. I hope they can take away some lessons learned about Thailand, about teaching and retirement, about coping with a partner 24,000 in a different community and about dealing with little kids in kindergarten.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, yeah, I highly recommend the book. I've read it, of course, before this interview and I'll make sure to add some links in the show notes of where you can get the book if you want to read about Diane's full story, and I'm sure if you enjoyed this interview, this episode, then I think you're gonna love the book. So, diane, thank you so much for coming on the show today. It was great hearing your story and talking a little bit about your time in Thailand and your book, and thanks so much for your interest and I really appreciate the opportunity to speak with you.

Speaker 2:

It's been really fun. Take care.

Speaker 1:

And that's it for today. Thank you so much for listening. I appreciate it very, very much. I would appreciate it even more if you could leave a review on Apple Podcasts for me. That way, more people can find this podcast, more people can hear the inspiring stories that we're sharing, and the more people we can impact for the better. So, thank you so much if you are going to leave a review. I really appreciate you and I will see you in the next episode.

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