I was hanging out in my favourite coffee shop in Da Nang and spotted a rare foreign customer in the place – a young man in his late 20s or early 30s with a Western accent in English. Turned out that Sean Murphy is also from Canada, so we had a lot in common – more than I would have ever guessed!
We actually come from the same hometown in the province of Ontario, Canada, so sitting in a little local coffee shop 15,000 kilometers away is about as likely as being struck twice by lightning in the same place!
Once we got over that incredible coincidence, I expected one of the standard English teacher expat stories: taking a break from the homeland, doing something different, difficulty finding a job post-graduation, or another similar motivating factor that sent Sean overseas.
The real story is much more unique than that. Sean and wife Jazz just picked up and left Canada in 2016 and set sail for Da Nang having never visited the city and with no living experience in Vietnam to bank on.
“We had no jobs, no local knowledge nor any local language skills. We had no friends, job leads, colleagues, or connections. What, me worry?” laughs Sean.
Pulling off a move like that takes a lot of courage but Sean didn’t seem fazed by the obvious obstacles in the way. He was almost nonchalant about it. Then he dropped this little bomb into the conversation:
“Oh, and we brought our 11 month old daughter Georgia with us.”
Dozens of things zipped through my mind: airports, tickets, airplanes, visas, baby food, doctors, landlords, toys, luggage, apartments, leases, playmates. Who would be crazy enough to take on all that?
Well, Sean and Jazz are crazy enough and they’ve made the very most of it.
Sean already had a good chunk of experience overseas including a 3-year stint in Thailand and a 6-month stay in Nicaragua. So did Jazz – in fact, they met in Thailand before returning together to Canada for 5 years.
“I was working on tours in Thailand and Jazz was one of my customers on a multi-week tour. After Jazz returned to Canada, we arranged to meet a month later in the Philippines, then again after that. I already had made job plans in the province of Alberta, Canada, so after a few meetings in Asia we were in the same city all the way back in Canada.”
Sean shares more background: “We’d already had it on our minds to go abroad as English teachers at some point, but the idea hadn’t yet turned into a clear plan. Then I got laid off from my job in the oil industry in Alberta early in 2016, so we agreed that the time was right to make our move overseas.”
They’d seen a documentary about a couple who travelled around Asia with their baby for a year during their maternity which provided much inspiration.
“If they could do it, so could we,” says Sean.
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Sean continues: “We considered going back to Thailand because we are both familiar with it. But we did a lot of research and learned that the job market for English teachers in Vietnam was stronger than in Thailand. We also thought it would be good to add a new country to our work and life experience.”
And so it was concluded that Vietnam would be their new home. Then came the task of deciding where to go in Vietnam. After analysis, Da Nang got their vote because the couple feels it is the most liveable city in the country while boasting a strong economy, provincial feel, beautiful skyline, and gorgeous beaches.
So that was that.
“We weren’t totally in the dark about Vietnam. I’d already spent a few weeks researching before travelling around so I had an idea about what to expect. We anticipated a provincial vibe in Da Nang, somewhat laid-back, not a concrete jungle like the biggest cities, and we were right on with that expectation.” adds Sean.
Sean explains how welcoming the locals in Da Nang are with the biggest chore being fielding the endless questions about themselves, their lives, and, of course, what they were doing half a world away with little baby Georgia, now well known in the Internet world as “Our Curious Georgia.”
“People in Vietnam are extra crazy about kids,” says Sean with a grin. “They would just scoop up Georgia while we were in restaurants or parks without a second thought. It took some getting used to, but after a while it was fun and a great way to meet people.”
“All this may sound like nearly insurmountable challenges to you,” he goes on, “but it was easier than we thought, and, oddly, Georgia was more of an asset than an obstacle during our settling in period.”
“We found jobs, apartment, shopping places, and were comfortable in daily life within a month of arriving in Da Nang,” he says “and people were very sympathetic with our situation as young parents with a baby in tow. People were more willing to take an extra step to help us get settled because of Georgia – it was smooth sailing most of the way.”
Sean already had a part-time online teaching assignment and quickly scored another job in a language center in Da Nang. Jazz has part-time jobs as a virtual administrative assistant with two companies in the U.S. and one in Australia. The couple juggles caring for Georgia because of time zones but it works like a charm.
So, after a year and a half in Da Nang, what’s next?
“We’re expecting another baby in August so we’ll leave Da Nang, do some travelling in Asia, and head back to Canada where high quality health care is almost free,” explains Sean.
“We also have a lot of family in Alberta, so it’s once again the right move at the right time,” exclaims Sean.
I was surprised to hear what would be the biggest challenge about returning home: “Friends and relatives will expect us to settle in one spot as they did when Georgia was born,” says Sean. “Even more so with a second child in our family.”
Sean leaned over nearer and in a stage whisper says: “But it’s in our blood now and we have the confidence in ourselves gained by this experience.”
“So don’t be surprised if the two of us meet again in a year or so for coffee again.”