Teaching English overseas is a pretty common rite of passage for NZers, particularly as Asia develops further – but it’s a bit rarer among North Americans. Canadians Arienne Parzei and her partner are two who took this path … and the opportunity to tack on some extended travel at the end of it all. Good call!
What made you decide to embark on your extended trip?
For a number of years I had thought about doing an extended trip, ideally backpacking for about six months. Up until this point I had only done two-week trips here and there and a one-month trip down to Peru. I wanted to do something longer where I could really sink my feet into a country and region. When we decided to move to South Korea, we knew it would be the perfect time to tack on a trip after our contracts finished and explore more of Asia and the surrounding areas.
Had you planned it all before South Korea or did you decide while you were over there?
The only thing we planned before South Korea was that we would be traveling for 6 months after our contracts finished. We ended up having a really great time in Korea, so we stayed a second year. While in Korea, we had the idea that we would be backpacking through Southeast Asia and hopefully would have enough money to make it down to Australia and New Zealand. We bought our one-way plane tickets from Seoul to Beijing about 5 months before our contracts finished in Korea and really only planned out our first months of travel through China.
How long did it take to plan/prepare?
It took us about 6 months to prepare for the trip, researching visas and destinations, ensuring we had all the gear we’d need for the trip, etc. But in terms of planning the actual trip, we took a 2-weeks-at-a-time approach in that we really only planned out the next two-weeks. We had a general idea of the route we wanted to take, but usually found accommodations on arrival and went with what we felt like doing at the time.
How did you fund the trip?
The trip was entirely funded from our savings while teaching in South Korea. Moving abroad gave us the opportunity to experience a new culture while being able to save for the ‘big trip’.
What do you wish you knew before leaving? Any advice for would-be RTW travellers?
Hmm, I really can’t think of anything I wish I had known before going. That’s all part of the travel experience. I will say though, that we didn’t expect to be in Southeast Asia for as long as we did. We thought we would be traveling for 6 months. But our budget was holding up and we ended up being on the road for 8 months (5 of which were in Southeast Asia). In terms of advice, I’d say don’t tie yourself down to any set plans. Go with the flow, follow your gut, and don’t race your way through destinations.
What is something surprising you learned on the road?
I learned that there are a lot of amazing people in this world. Kind-hearted people who are willing to open their doors to you, invite you to join in a meal, even when you’re complete strangers. I think many of us approach situations from a skeptical eye, thinking “what does this person really want from me?” And while there are some of those people, more often than not, the people you’ll meet mean the best. I learned to be open to allow those situations to happen.
What was your favourite place (or since I know this is impossible to choose, what’s one place you would return to in a heartbeat?)
Yes it’s hard to choose! We visited 10 countries on our trip and there are 3 that I would return to in a heartbeat; Laos, Malaysia, and New Zealand. Laos for the laid-backness, Malaysia for the food, and New Zealand for the scenery.
What’s still on your travel wish list? Any confirmed trips coming up?
There’s still a lot on the wish list! We’d both like to explore more of our own country, Canada, and we’re talking about a big road trip through the United States. I’d also really like to start exploring more of Eastern Europe.
What’s it been like settling back in Canada so far?
It took some time to readjust to living in Canada again. We were gone for almost 3 years, so we did experience some reverse culture shock. Tristan went back to school and got his teaching degree and he’s now teaching in the public schools in Toronto and I ended up getting a job working at Ryerson University teaching video and radio production. It seems our time in Korean classrooms made an impression on us!
Do you plan to stay put – is this your ‘forever’ city?
That’s a hard question. For most people, deciding to move abroad can be one of the hardest things to do. But once you’ve done it you realize how capable and straightforward it can be. You also learn that you don’t really need too much stuff. Toronto is where our families and friends are but we’re not going to rule out the possibility of moving abroad again one day.