Can you retire early and/or without a large fund to cover expenses? Yes. Can you do this overseas? probably even more easily than at home.
My husband and I are still not old enough to collect Social Security and have kept our retirement savings intact on just his small early-retirement pension even though we have volunteered overseas for the last four years. It can be done and be very rewarding at the same time.
Where we were “coming from”?
I was a teacher and my husband a police sergeant who supervised officers in the school system, when our youngest left for college.
Having always felt we should be doing more or at least something different we decided, although just 50 years old, to give up our stateside careers (my husband qualified for early retirement) and find employment overseas. While we wanted to volunteer, at the time we felt we couldn’t afford to give up some sort of income especially when the organizations we felt qualified to volunteer for seemed to expect us to provide for all our needs, ask others to support us through donations, and/or provide funds to such organizations.
We were hired in 2003 by a school in the Middle East and taught English in an international school there and later in Central America. These were truly exciting days where we learned about different cultures and beliefs. During this time we gained much understanding about other cultures and reinforced our beliefs in tolerance, acceptance, and commitment to helping others. We also realized we loved spending enough time in other countries in order to get to know the culture and the people and planned to continue to do so.
What made us give up an income?
While teaching in Thailand eight years later, we attended a school retreat at a charitable organization with the motto “We Never Turn a Needy Child Away”. We were impressed with the projects they had undertaken. We were impressed by the number of volunteers at the facility, from the USA as well as elsewhere, and talked about how someday we might be able to afford to be volunteers ourselves.
Then we learned that this organization covered room and board for volunteers. Since they needed volunteers to teach English in their vocational school for young people with physical disabilities, they didn’t want short-term volunteers. They wanted people willing to commit to nearly 6 months, an entire school term. We turned to each other and said, “We can do this!”
We were a bit concerned about living in a hotel room, but we knew that accommodations could be much worse—and the price was certainly right!
Where we are now?
That first term we volunteered began in November of 2011. We have stayed with the same organization but have moved from their main site in Pattaya to their new vocational school in Nong Khai. Since that first term of six months we have actually added months to our stay: we usually are in Thailand for at least 8 months with 2 to 3 of the other months spent in the USA to spend time with family and friends. The rest of the time we spend traveling—mostly exploring areas in Thailand but we’ve also spent time in Malaysia, Cambodia, and Japan and plan to see more.
Why we keep coming back and are staying longer?
We find teaching English to physically disabled young adults to be a very rewarding way to spend our time. They are loving, respectful, grateful, and lots of fun. Every morning when we arrive for breakfast, smiling students greet us—in English. Some hesitate to do more than say “good morning” but most will ask us how we are or, especially if it is the weekend, what we plan to do that day. Some are not as interested in learning English, but all are proud when they can say something that indicates they know what we are talking about in English.
While we have, over the years, picked up the Thai we need to get by out in the community, we insist on using only English with our students—many times acting things out and animating gestures to get the point across. While it is tempting to speak the Thai we have learned, we have to be cognizant of the fact that speaking with us is the only option our students have for using the little English they know.