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Wanted: Experienced, adventurous workers

Candace Dean’s first teaching job was in Shanghai, China. Now she’s in Prague, where she was photographed this month.

Special to the Times

Candace Dean’s first teaching job was in Shanghai, China. Now she’s in Prague, where she was photographed this month.

Older than 50 and can't find a job? Do what I did: Leave the country and teach abroad.

I struggled with finding work in my 50s, and by the time I turned 60, my education, ability and experience counted for nothing. If I could even get an interview, it was with someone 20 or 30 years younger than I who wanted a friend, not just an employee.

I could see it on their faces: Why would I want to work with someone my mother's age?

When I was younger, I was a radio news anchor and reporter. Then I worked in media relations, but my colleagues became younger and younger.

Every job I had took spunk. I figured I had at least a little left.

I found myself quite alone: divorced with no children or other family (my mother died three years ago). Even my dear cats died of old age.

The upside was, I no longer had anything to tie me to one place.

I had always loved traveling and had a Hemingway image of living in another country — ah, the romance of it, the adventure!

Well, now I can say there is all of that, but there are other things to contend with as well. Reality has a way of interrupting our fantasies.

I didn't really know how to go about getting a teaching position abroad, nor did I know where I wanted to go. I researched online and bought some books, but it all looked impossible to me.

First of all, I had no teaching experience. It turned out that it didn't matter. In China and other parts of the world, the fact that you are a native English speaker and willing to travel there may be the only prerequisites.

I actually got my first teaching job in Shanghai, China, purely by accident. I met a Chinese-Canadian woman at an art museum in Seattle. We chatted, and she told me she taught at a private school in China.

She gave me the contact information. I inquired, and a couple of months later the school offered me a job, but I had to come right away.

I did it. Yes, I was a bit apprehensive, but I figured it would be okay.

I loved Shanghai but yearned to live in Europe, where I felt more of a connection. I also wanted to travel around Europe, quite impossible to do while living in China because of the expense.

So I taught in Shanghai for only one semester, about seven months, and returned to Seattle, determined that I could make it work the next time.

I simply had to try harder and improve my resume. Meanwhile, I signed with a temp agency and was sent to a retailer's warehouse for backbreaking manual work. The agency said there was no office work available.

Someone suggested I should go to Prague, in the Czech Republic. I did a bit of research and found a small school there that offered a teaching certificate in four weeks and job referrals.

I gathered my college diplomas and birth certificate, bought a one-way airline ticket and left, three weeks after finding the school.

I have been living and teaching in Prague for almost 1 1/2 years. This country is a haven for Americans. There's plenty of work, a relatively low cost of living and a sort of wild creative spirit.

But things have changed just in the time I've been here. Many Americans have left, largely because of the sinking dollar. Another reason is the difficulty in becoming a legal resident alien.

The Czech Republic, as part of the European Union, has tightened visa and work regulations so it is much more difficult to muddle through all the red tape.

But life is pretty good, and most of us expatriates find the trouble worth it. Prague is a cafe society and has great architecture. And then there is the cheap, tasty beer . . .

Adjusting to another country comes in stages. First, there is disorientation: You have no point of reference and have to learn where everything is.

Nothing makes sense. Your ear is not tuned to the sounds of the Chinese or Czech languages. But slowly the sounds start to mean something. You learn a few words at a time.

Next there is the honeymoon period. You're excited about being in this new place. Every bit of food is exotic, and every place you go is exciting. You feel an exhilaration that you have gone so far from home and are doing well.

Then comes disillusionment. Things begin to go wrong. You encounter obstacles. It might be as simple as trying to get an appliance fixed but not being able to get anyone to respond. You begin to miss how easy life was back in the United States.

Doing simple things takes a long time and often is a huge hassle. You think, "What am I doing here? I want to go home."

Finally, you adjust. You begin to see the unique aspects of where you are as well as the problems, which you learn to maneuver around and through.

With help from co-workers and new friends, you survive and prosper. You learn to live with things not being perfect, or with people not doing things the way you would like. Now you are on their time; they're not working on yours.

Still, I am thinking of coming back to the United States. I need some roots and some good friends. I'm undecided where to go.

Deep down I wonder if I can readjust. Will I feel at home anywhere in the United States, or is my fate to have no home?

Finally, I ask myself if I can find work and a way to survive. Can I afford to live in my own country?

Armed with a teaching certificate and experience, I may have to go again to some place where age doesn't matter. I hear Korea is nice.

Freelance writer Candace Dean remains in Prague while she decides her future.

Wanted: Experienced, adventurous workers 07/28/08 [Last modified: Thursday, July 31, 2008 3:41pm]
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