When Connie White’s husband passed away just over three years ago, she was plunged into despair.
“For over a year I was totally lost, completely desolate. When you spend 40 years with someone, it’s like losing part of yourself. I just existed going through the motions, I had no purpose.”
One day some old friends paid a visit to Connie and introduced her to International Living Magazine. They had retired to Thailand and were telling her how special their life in Southeast Asia was. “I told them all the coaxing in the world wouldn’t get me to live in a foreign country. I’d been to a Thai restaurant once and the food was a bit spicy. I told them ‘no way.'”
However, one day, out of the blue, Connie had an epiphany. “I remember it vividly. It was freezing cold and miserable and I was walking back with my shopping when I saw a sign advertising sneakers. “Just do it,” the advertisement shouted back at me. It hit me like a ton of bricks: I had the best years of my life ahead of me, I had just turned 60, I was fit, active, and healthy.”
Connie made the decision to give Thailand a try. However, she knew she’d need an income as her savings were meager. “I enrolled at a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) class in Chiang Mai after a lot of deliberation. To be honest, it was not that easy for me. I’d left school at 15 and had not been involved in study since then. It was a great experience, though; my teachers and classmates were fantastic and were a great help. After a month’s study, I proudly graduated with an internationally accepted certificate to teach English as a foreign language.”
Connie came alive in Chiang Mai. “It was like I was walking on air. I no longer just existed in a mundane world—I was alive. The friendliness of the people, the culture, the weather, the food and markets, all a bit different from my regular trips to the supermarket back home.
She started a part-time teaching job in Chiang Mai, teaching eight-year-olds. “As my confidence grew, I even started taking myself off on excursions to Chiang Rai and Mae Hon Song, both near the Myanmar border. Taking the bus was a great way to interact with the locals who were so patient and affable.”
That was over a year ago. Since then, Connie has started taking yoga classes, going to the gym, cycling to work, attending Thai cooking classes, and taken up golf.
“Participating in all these activities I met so many friends from all over the world. The kind of people I would never have run into at home. There is a strong expat community spirit and many of us meet up in places like the Chiang Mai Writers Club and Wine Bar, or other bars and restaurants around town. It was here that I met Greg, a very kind man and fellow teacher from Manchester, England. As a widower, he has a similar story to mine. It was the icing on the cake being able to share my life with someone again.”
Connie says that Chiang Mai is very affordable. Her monthly budget averaged out at just over $700. She paid less than $500 for a one-bedroom apartment that included a nice pool and a small gym, as well as cable TV, WiFi, and furniture.
“One great thing about Chiang Mai is that there is a 7-Eleven convenience store, or its equivalent, everywhere you look. We do our main week’s shopping at Big C. We eat out most nights. A delicious Thai meal for two is around $10 to $20 and that includes a few beers. But I love showing off my Thai cooking skills and we eat in a few nights a week. Not bad for someone that had been to a Thai restaurant only once and found the food too spicy.”
Six months ago, Connie and Greg decided to try their luck in Vietnam, taking teaching positions near the ancient town of Hoi An.
“It is most interesting comparing the two cultures,” she says. “Vietnam is cheaper. We have a similar-style unit, but we only pay $300 a month. Greg loves having a couple of beers after work and they are half the price they are in Chiang Mai.
“I feel like I am sucking the marrow out of life. Every day is different. The household chores, the same old TV shows, worrying about the next electricity bill are long forgotten. Now I am constantly learning something new. The sumptuous lifestyle we live here would only be a dream at home.
“For me it has been a journey of renewal and hope for the future. I’d recommend it to anyone. I know it can be a big step—I packed and unpacked many, many times before I actually got on the plane—please don’t have any doubts…just do it.
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