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Clara Blakelock says she never imagined she would be living in a bamboo hut on the beach with her husband, but says she has never been happier. (Handout)
Clara Blakelock says she never imagined she would be living in a bamboo hut on the beach with her husband, but says she has never been happier. (Handout)

My Career Abroad

Internship in the Philippines led to love and marriage Add to ...

Why did you moved to the Philippines? What spurred you to make this change?

I’m currently living in San Juan, in the province of La Union. I moved here in February, 2011, as part of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) international youth internship program, on a six-month waste management contract with the city of San Fernando. I ended up marrying a man I met here, so my location has been shaped by my desire to stay close to him. I have not spent the whole time here – I have gone back to Canada, as well as working in Hanoi, Vietnam.

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What’s your job title, and what do you do?

Until recently, I was a mathematics teacher at a private secondary school in Hanoi. I taught math in English as part of a bilingual curriculum for Vietnamese kids. Now that I’m back in the Philippines, I am freelancing as a mathematics education consultant, as well as doing some remote work online.

Why is the Philippines the place for you to be right now?

I live in a really special place. It’s a beach town, which is popular for surfing, but what makes it really special is the sense of community. There are several nice hotels here, but the city isn’t dominated by the resorts. It’s a place that many people from Manila travel eight hours to get to every weekend, and lots of backpackers come here intending to stay a few days and end up staying for weeks or months. Unfortunately, in terms of work opportunities, it isn’t ideal. Hanoi was a good alternative for me because there are lots of teaching jobs for native English speakers that pay well, but my heart was always here in the Philippines.

What were you worried about before you left Canada?

I was worried about travelling to a place I knew nothing about, and I also knew next to nothing about the job I was going to be doing. However, it was quite a supportive environment – I knew that I had a job when I arrived, I had people to help me set up housing, and to teach me about how to get around.

After returning to Canada for five months in early 2012, I came back to the Philippines unsupported, having only my savings and the intention of staying in San Juan for a couple of months before going to Vietnam, where I had a friend who assured me I would be able to find work there. It ended up working out surprisingly well: I easily found a full-time job in Hanoi, and I was able to save enough money to spend three months mid-year in the Philippines, and I’m now back here again.

How has the transition been? Any amusing stories?

I still feel like I’m not completely transitioned – I’ve been moving every few months for the past year. Where I live now in the Philippines is in a bamboo hut on the beach with my husband. We get our water from a manual pump and we share a bathroom with our neighbours. So there have been lots of amusing stories in learning to live here, mostly my neighbours laughing at me and my inability to do simple things like wash clothes by hand or shower using a bucket.

If you moved with your family, how has this experience been for them?

I didn’t move with my family – I found a family here. My family back in Canada has been totally supportive of me, although they hope we come home to Canada at some point.

What things have people noticed most about you? And how have you been received?

Initially I got the most comments about how fat and white I am – though that makes it sound like it was really negative, which I don’t believe it was. They were mostly just factual observations. But otherwise, people both in the Philippines and in Vietnam have been very friendly to me and gone out of their way to make me feel welcomed.

What things have struck you about your new home?

How self-sufficient people are here – they know how to do everything, or they know someone who can find out. My husband built our whole house with a couple of friends.

Is business similar or different compared with Canada? How?

I’m not really in business, but I have found the work culture to be different, both in the Philippines and in Vietnam. In Philippines, there is a lot of emphasis on respect for authority, which sometimes clashes with Canadian standards. The way that constructive criticism is delivered is not the same at all in the two countries. In Vietnam, the language barrier made the work environment a challenge. Only a couple of people in my school’s management could speak English, which led to the foreign teachers being left out of communication much of the time.

Have you had to change the way you approach your work or change your actions in any way to succeed?

What I’ve learned living abroad is that there are a lot of different ways you can run your life, more than I ever realized. I’m lucky enough not to have student debt, and so I have the freedom to work sometimes and travel sometimes without worrying too much. I’m not sure I’ve really got it all figured out. But I’ve learned just to be flexible, to value my skills, and not to be afraid of where life is taking me. When I was in grad school five years ago, I never would have thought I would end up being a surfer, and living with a surfer, on the beach in the Philippines, but I couldn’t be happier.

Is there anything you would want to share with someone who might follow in your footsteps?

I think the best thing I’ve been able to do in my life is constantly re-evaluate and change what wasn’t working well. I don’t think my lifestyle is what everyone would want, but it’s what makes me happy.

Do you know an executive or leader who has an interesting career story for My Career or My Career Abroad? E-mail mycareer@globeandmail.com

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