Change of Plans

After an absence of nearly six months, I’m back! And I have updates and explanations for my disappearance.

One of the main reasons I haven’t had time to update my blog was because I went back to the United States for six weeks. There was some personal business I needed to take care of for my husband and me, and since he’s working and isn’t able to take time off, I did.

Everything went smoothly and I was even able to take on a short-term contract position to make up for the cost of my trip. Then, while I was home, we made a big decision–we decided to move back home to the U.S. this coming summer, after the school year ends. It will be our fourth transatlantic move in five years.

Because I was in the U.S. when we made this decision, I was able to take some time to begin laying the groundwork for our move back. I visited a few schools that seemed like a good fit for my son (our county public schools system is very large, with over 160,000 students, 27 high schools, 40 middle schools, and 134 elementary schools; all schools are grouped into zones, with various elementary schools and middle schools feeding into one high school for each zone, with the exception of special programs such as IB, magnate, gifted, language immersion, and special needs programs). I also viewed a couple of rental apartments within the zone of the school we want our son to attend.

This decision was agonizing to make. We had been thinking about it since the second semester started in January, and it wasn’t a decision we made lightly. There are many, many reasons for our decision, the two main ones of which are the air quality and the quality of the school where my husband teaches and that my son attends.

Before we moved here, we were told that the air quality here is a concern only during the winter months, mostly from December through February. Well, we were in for a big surprise! Starting at the end of September/beginning of October, the air quality here declined, with some days better and some days much worse than others. Starting in November and going through much of March, the air quality was “red” most days. It was smoggy and hazy outside through much of the winter season. Even in April, the air quality continued to go up and down most days; it was very unpredictable.

The air quality had a huge effect on our quality of life–we weren’t able to be outside for most of the winter months, and still need to keep an eye on the air quality index on a daily basis. Strangely enough, everyone else–both locals and expats–ignored the bad air quality or refused to acknowledge it. We were the only ones at the school to wear masks on “bad air days.” People felt uncomfortable seeing masks on us. It was strange and isolating to feel as if we were the ones doing something odd, even though we weren’t.

Then there’s the quality of education at the school. The school isn’t able to provide to the students as many resources as one would expect of an private, international school of its reputation. The curriculum it uses at the elementary level feels outdated, there are few after-school clubs for the students, and the library isn’t as well-stocked with reading materials as one would expect a school library to be. The school isn’t very good at communicating with the parents, isn’t very open to new ideas, and provides a fairly narrow education to the students. It also has a very local culture, so while it claims to provide a global education to its students, it makes no effort to do so in reality.

Of course, we recognized that next year might be different because my son will be starting middle school next year–a new beginning–so we decided to speak with the middle-school principal prior to making a big decision about schooling next year. We were, once again, disappointed. The principal feels that “academics aren’t really a part of middle school.” He also rambled on when asked about specifics of what the school offers and what the kids are doing. He showed a lack of knowledge about what is going on at his own school, which is not a good sign, in my opinion.

Then there are the other factors that made us decide to leave–the values and priorities of the other expats and the local families at the school; the lack of connection we feel to Taiwan and to its culture and people; the lack of community among the members of the school; and the lack of support from the school when we need it.

When we decided to leave Thailand and go back to the U.S. three years ago, we were very torn about the decision and uncertain it was the right decision. This time around, we feel no doubts and it feels right. And since making this decision two months ago, something happens every day that confirms that we made the right decision. Almost every day, we thank our lucky stars we didn’t sacrifice our family’s well-being to stay here another year.

People here also have reacted strangely to our decision. When we decided we were leaving Thailand, we felt sad to be leaving good friends we had made, friends who had become like family. It was emotional and heart-wrenching, but we knew we would always stay a part of each others’ lives. But here, everyone was strangely nonchalant about it–there was almost no reaction to our decision. Of course, this non-reaction was probably due to the fact that we haven’t truly connected with anyone here, so it was understandable, to a certain extent. But my son has made a few good friends here, friends who would invite him for sleepovers and outings. Once we informed their parents that we were leaving, all those invitations stopped. His friends continue to hang out with him during school hours, but they and their parents no longer ask to see him or us outside of school.

Living here this year, we’ve had some good times, of course. But it’s also been aggravating, frustrating, strange, and surreal. We will chalk this up to another learning experience. We are very much looking forward to moving back to the U.S., settling down for a while (we will continue to travel, of course!), and enjoying our friends and families.


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