Living and Teaching in Asia

Okay, so I had attempted to find a suitable article about living and/or teaching in Asia for my book. After an exhausting, several-day search, I have concluded that I am probably the best resource for this task. Don’t get me wrong. There are countless sites and blogs related to living in Asia. Unfortunately, the content is so widely dispersed, you’d have to spend hours combing over the material just to get an idea of what to expect in Asia.

There are definitely some places expats should not live in Asia, albeit these places comprise a minority on the adventure scale. Needless to say, they exist. When one travels overseas, he needs to identify those places. Having lived and traveled in Asia for several years, I believe I’m qualified to discuss an overall perspective of Asia. Admittedly, I’m slightly biased, as I have spent the majority of my overseas life here. Moreover, most of my experiences have been positive. Given that caveat, I’ll attempt to place my opinions on the shelf and present an unadulterated perspective.

Basic Advice

There are definitely various approaches to handling your first few days in Asia, regardless of your location. Prior to going to South Korea, which consequently I had not chosen to do (military tour), I was told that I should enter the country with an open mind, and that’s just what I did. Because of this, I was able to navigate the stark, cultural contrast of an often mysterious and profoundly unique country.

Although adventure is exciting, and the non-existent plan sometimes equals an escapade, one should definitely have, at the very least, a mediocre plan once the feet hit the ground. From taxis to dining, newly arrived expats should have some idea of what to pay, who to trust, and what to eat. Doing so will lead to a more favorable trip. From my experience, people who enter a country blindly, normally find their way to some expat forum with misconstrued complaints about how they were mistreated, abused, or otherwise clapperclawed.

Here are some down-to-earth bullet points that will assist in navigating Asia.

• Expect the unexpected and smile

• Everything is negotiable

• Smiles are universal in every situation, good or bad

• Most people want to help

• Adventure is everywhere, sometimes even unwanted

• Safety measures sometimes are rare

• Your clean is not everyone’s clean

• It’s okay to say no with a smile

• Some places have toilet paper, some don’t

• Some places have toilets, some don’t

• Most everything is for sale

• When in doubt, turn that sad-clown frown upside down; it’ll make all the difference

I could go on, but the fact of the matter is, you’re entering Asia. Things are much different when compared to the Western world. Like anywhere, there are positives and negatives. Personally, I have experienced far more positives than I have experienced negatives. Let’s talk briefly about food in Asia.


It goes without saying that Asia offers a diverse menu. If it’s edible, you’ll find it in Asia. From chickens’ feet in Jakarta, to dog in Seoul, the adventurous traveler is bound to find any taste to suit his desires. When it comes to food, my theory is that I’ll try anything once. One of my most memorable overseas experiences occurred on the beaches of Jeju Island, South Korea. Eating freshly harvested clams purchased from the 70-year-old haenyo (traditional female diver) is something my son and I will forever cherish. Munching on 10 varieties of kimchi at the North Korean restaurant, Pyongyang, in Jakarta is a brilliant conversation starter. Arguably, food defines culture. Many of our nostalgically-driven memories often come from different seasons, gatherings with friends, family, and most notably, food.


I hesitate to even discuss people, as people are people wherever you go. On average, most people I have encountered in Asia are very friendly and more than willing to help in any way possible. My good friend Steven talks about a family with whom he spent the day while on adventure in Japan. He had just met the family and they offered to show him around for the entire day! This is common occurrence in Asia. There are some downsides to these good intentions.

In Indonesia, you might find five people offering directions to one location and receive five different instructions leading in opposition directions! This culturally-rooted desire to help often prevents people from saying, “I don’t know”. Whatever the situation, remember, a smile goes a long way in Asia.

Lifestyle and Cost of living

Interestingly, an expats lifestyle in Asia is often similar or better than in his home country. That said, it is likely that your lifestyle in Asia will probably rank is the upper twenty-five percent when compared to the rest of the population. Employers know that westerners require a familiar lifestyle, some anyways. So yes, you can find toilet paper, Starbucks, and a Gold’s Gym just about anywhere in Asia. Your cost of living varies on your needs and wants. Overall, the cost of living in Asia is less expensive than many Western countries. With the tide of a changing, global economy, this is beginning to shift.


It is easier to find an English teaching position in Asia when compared to anywhere else in the world. Moreover, your wildest adventures will likely take place somewhere in Asia. This is not to say that adventures don’t abound in other places throughout the world. It’s just that many places in Asia are less restrictive, warmer, and more willing to accept expat oddities as normal behavior, a glorious benefit for all the socially awkward. Teaching in Asia is flexible in terms of knowledge and experience; a welcome comment for many readers, as this article is likely geared towards someone considering an overseas trip. Of course, this doesn’t suggest that you receive “adventure money” for nothing; it simply suggests that your native English ability, coupled with a basic bachelor’s degree or English certification, is often the foundation for employment in Asia.

Whether you plan to stay overseas for a year, or plan a lifelong adventure, Asia is a must visit location for fun, adventure, and a uniqueness not available anywhere else in the world.

Satria Permadi

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