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I’m Moving From Southeast Queensland to Southeast Asia

I can’t believe we’re leaving Australia in a few days (again, I know). I’ve held off writing anything about our move until it was a bit more concrete. In January I was offered a new role at a wonderful International School but it’s taken months to get all the documentation organised for my work permit (it’s been doubly more bureaucratic than Thailand), and it still hasn’t been approved. However the job offer letter is signed, the flights are booked, my visa is approved, and I sent my shipping yesterday, so I guess it’s on!

The move this time feels very bittersweet. I’ve cried a few times already! I’ve really got used to life in Oz now and there’s so much I’ll miss. I first moved here 11 years ago (more for the Sailor) and it feels very much like home now, I’m welling up just writing this.

But I know it’s the right time to head out for a while. As much as I’m sad to go, I’m also very excited for the next chapter. If it’s anything like our years in Thailand and Malaysia, which I’m sure it will be, then the experience will be life-changing.

Alexandria Bay beach in Noosa National Park, Queensland
Alexandria Bay in Noosa

Let’s go back to the beginning .. why we’re leaving

We didn’t actually intend on moving overseas again this soon. Last August, the Sailor and I drove 5’000 km from Perth to the Sunshine Coast to start afresh. We’d come off the back of probably two of the most challenging years in Western Australia (promise I’ll write about it all, there’s a lot to unpack), and after that, all we wanted to do was finally settle down somewhere, get a dog, buy a house and all that stuff. We decided to return to Queensland because we really missed the lifestyle we had here and out of anywhere in Australia, it feels the most like home.

We knew the property market on the Sunny Coast had gone gangbuster since Covid so we managed to secure a lovely temporary rental to stay in for the first few months until we found our feet. We applied for a couple of jobs before we came but didn’t hear anything back which we presumed was down to us not physically being there yet.

Once we got to Noosa, we spent the first weeks checking out towns and suburbs along the coast to figure out where to base ourselves, while simultaneously applying for jobs. From a lifestyle perspective, we loved every moment of being back and instantly felt comfortable here.

We figured it was probably best to hold off signing a lease until work was secured first as it was proving more difficult than anticipated. And that’s where we got stumped. We thought there’d be more opportunities for us here but sadly that wasn’t the case.

Cooroy Mountain in Noosa hinterland with a rainbow above it
View from our temporary pad in the Noosa hinterland

What was particularly challenging for me was the hiring process of working in a state school. As a Primary School Teacher, I’d previously taught in Far North Queensland and applied for that position online like I normally do, however it’s quite a different system in the metro Southeast.

Unlike the UK, or the rest of Australia, state schools here aren’t allowed to list vacancies themselves, and the vast majority of jobs aren’t even publically advertised. The whole process is managed by the QLD Department of Education- teachers need to register to be in their ‘pool’ to be considered for a role, and they decide whether to put their application forward to schools.

So I got into the pool as soon as I arrived and reached out to schools, but I later learnt that it was pretty much all a waste of time anyway.

What I didn’t know was that to secure a permanent contract, most teachers from interstate or those new to the profession end up working regionally or remotely for some time first. This is because the Southeast is so hot in demand and there’s a shortage elsewhere. Then after a few years, educators can apply to get redeployed back to the Southeast via the teacher transfer process. So basically, Principals only end up looking at transfer lists to fill positions instead of new CVs like mine.

It took me months to figure that out and by the end I was just gutted. Having spent the past two years in remote WA, I didn’t want to move regionally again- and, I’d already had a pretty crappy experience teaching up north. I found the education system here to be quite behind what I’m used to anyway, but that school was like I was back in a ’60s classroom. I’m sure there are many wonderful regional state schools, however, I didn’t want to risk repeating that experience and it’s one of the reasons we didn’t end up returning to Port Douglas.

The private sector on the Sunny Coast is equally as limited, most of those schools are religious and to get in, you have to prove a commitment to the big man upstairs (which, I can’t).

a young joey koala hugging its Mum at Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast

Similarly, the Sailor wasn’t having much luck. A couple of interviews but they didn’t want to pay anywhere close to an honest salary, especially when they had hundreds of other candidates competing for the same job. It was easily the most frustrating transition we had in over 17 years together!

Anyway, as all this was happening, our citizenship application was being processed. We thought it’d take about a year, but then I received an email on my birthday (of all days) to say it had been approved, just four months after I applied.

We previously talked about moving abroad again further down the line. With everything up in the air here, it didn’t seem like a bad idea to head out now.

We knew what kind of life we could expect overseas, and I’ve spent most of my career teaching internationally. So far, it’s where I’ve felt most fulfilled professionally and they’ve been the most progressive schools I’ve worked at. The Sailor was also in the process of setting up his own online business so could work from anywhere, and thankfully he felt the same as me.

We knew it made sense. With the cost of living the way it is here too, it’s impossible to save in Australia and everywhere you turn it feels like you’re being mugged. We knew we could save somewhere else in one year what would take 7+ years here.

Of course, there’s also the excitement of moving overseas and experiencing another culture.

We figured that Australia is home now, and we’re very fortunate that we can go back anytime.

Swimming at Artist Cascades rock pool in Conondale National Park, Sunshine Coast

Deciding where to go

With my work, I’m quite lucky in that I can close my eyes and point to a map and there will most likely be an International School. Choosing the right one was just as important as where we moved to though, and it’s hard to get a real picture of somewhere unless we’ve visited that place before.

So I spent a lot of time researching last year. There were several places that I was considering which took us as far as the Caribbean and Mexico. But in the end, once we seriously narrowed it down, we knew we wanted to return to Southeast Asia.

Having lived there twice before and travelled around a lot, we have a very good idea of what to expect. There’s just something about the region that resonates with us. We love the energy and the colourful culture. It can be overwhelming at times, and there are frustrations and language barriers, it’s not always easy. But when I’m most out of my comfort zone, immersed in a culture that’s so different to my own, that’s when I grow the most as a person.

Lantern lined street in charming Hội An, Vietnam

Friendly fruit sellers in Hội An, Vietnam

While we really enjoyed living in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), and have lived in Pattaya (Thailand), we wanted to try somewhere different this time. We’ve visited Vietnam on a holiday a few years ago and really enjoyed our visit. Then when I started researching more about it, the more I thought it’d be a great option for us.

Our trip to Hội An on the central coast gave me a flavour of Vietnam. The way of life reminded me a lot of Thailand, yet it’s distinctly different, being a former French colony and a communist country, with a challenging history to boot. Vietnam is now experiencing a period of rapid growth and it’s rated as one of the top countries to live as an expat.

During our visit, I was intrigued by the culture, history and fascinating everyday quirks. We had a fabulous week cycling around the rice paddies to the town. It had a charm about it like George Town in Penang and felt equally as authentic with hauntingly beautiful historic buildings, restaurants, boutiques and galleries. The locals were kind and genuine, and I feel like what you see is what you get with Vietnamese people.

We didn’t try much street food (as we were still hesitant foreigners at that point!), but what we did eat was super fresh, fragrant and aromatic. This was one of Anthony Bourdains favourite countries and the street food culture here is said to be one of the best in the world.

The riverside at Hội An Town in Vietnam

In Thailand, I worked with two British teachers who moved to Vietnam, and one is still happily living there with her family of four, eight years later. When I researched more, I saw there were a number of excellent schools up and down the country.

There are two major cities in Vietnam where most International Schools are located – the capital Hanoi in the north, and Ho Chi Minh City in the south (formerly called Saigon, which the locals still refer to it as). I was considering Saigon more because we love the tropical weather and many expats say they prefer living there. Plus, it’s also closer to the main kiteboarding spot of Mũi Né which is just a four-hour drive away – the Sailor wasn’t budging on that, wherever we moved had to be within reasonable distance of a kite spot!

Travel from here will also be plentiful. Vietnam is littered with mindblowing mountain landscapes and I missed riding a scooter and the freedom of hitting the open road like our adventures in Thailand. It’s also well-connected for international travel – you can get back to London on a 13-hour direct flight, or to Australia in 7-10 hours, or within 2 hours to Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.

There was one school in particular I was really hoping to work at. Within two weeks I was invited to an interview, and then put through the most rigorous recruitment process I’ve experienced. It was so nerve-wracking, and thought I fluffed the 1st interview! But I was absolutely ecstatic when I got offered a position there. It’s hard to tell what a school will be like until you get stuck in, but I had a really good feeling about it from the staff I met.

A ice cream shop in a historic building in Hội An, Vietnam

So, we’re moving to Vietnam!

Since I got the job my school have been brilliant. I thought the HR at my old school in KL were probably the most organised and helpful I’d experienced, but these guys have been equally as awesome.

They’ve been coordinating the work permit and visa approval for me which is very bureaucratic. Although I signed the work agreement in January, the official contract won’t be signed until I get there, once the work permit is approved- which everything is riding on. It feels a bit weird that my flight is in 3 days and it won’t be finalised until I get there, but the Principal says it’s normal, so I guess it is. I’ll hopefully write a post on the process at some point, it’s been quite involved.

The school have also sorted out our flights and first week’s accommodation, and I’ve heard that finding a rental is quick and easy, which will make a very welcome change. I’ve been leisurely window shopping property rentals in Saigon and seen quite a few apartments and townhouses that have a gorgeous Indochina style (like this one). Some also have an open courtyard area in the middle filled with plants or Parisienne balconies. You can rent a lovely apartment in the city for roughly 1/5 or 1/4 of your salary (or less), depending on your requirements, and they usually come with a free weekly clean. More than anything though, I’m looking forward to finally unpacking my bags and to have somewhere to make a home again.

An shop in a historic building in Hội An, Vietnam

Banana sellers in Hội An, Vietnam

Where we are now

Since I got offered the job, the Sailor and I have had to move another 7 times in Southeast Queensland which has been tiring. I officially have moving-itis!

We’ve been in Brisbane for the past 4 months as we couldn’t find anywhere to live on the Sunshine Coast until July- partly because of the high competition, partly because it was the high season and all the short-term lets properties were taken up with holidaymakers.

But I’m glad we came down, and wish we did from the start to be honest. Apart from living in a caravan and Airbnb-it for a while, we managed to secure one rental for three (whole) months, and the Sailor found a great position at a not-for-profit company which he can take with him overseas, which was the final puzzle piece. Funnily enough, his first day on the job was when the company put on a function for the local Vietnamese community (another sign!).

The Pilot vintage caravan Airbnb in Paddington, Brisbane
Our first home in Brisvegas

A couple of British mothers contacted me recently through the blog who are relocating to Kuala Lumpur in the coming weeks. One is moving with her family from Dubai, and she’s really excited for the change. The other is from London, and she’s feeling more anxious and unsure about the move.

Both of these ladies sum up the emotions I’ve felt over the last few months. It’s a tidal wave! One minute I’m excited and doing happy dances. Then next, trying not to think about it so I don’t get overwhelmed. And then I’m bolt upright at stupid hours of the night, stressing about something I hadn’t thought about yet. And then there’s the tears when I least expect it when I think about what I’ll miss about living here.

It’s our last few days in Brissie and I’m trying to make the most of it. I know our first few months in Saigon will be crazy busy and new and another rollercoaster. But I’m really excited about our new adventure and chapter in Vietnam. ✤

Sherri and Jan at Alexandria Bay in Noosa

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