The Undiscovered Frontier
For three years I’ve been living in Southeast Asia. Many challenges I’ve faced along the way. Most people wouldn’t be surprised hearing that and disregard the idea until they realized what lies beneath. That rule applies more so in my circumstance. Not only am I a Westerner living in another culture; I have a higher-functioning form of autism called Asperger’s Syndrome. Though the DSM-IV nixed that term and labeled everyone on the spectrum as having Autistic Spectrum Disorder, I still use it as old habits die hard. The city where I’ve been the past two years, Ho Chi Minh City, is still referred to by locals as Saigon. Most of them prefer one to use the latter as they’re not fans of the Northern Vietnamese who renamed it after the Fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. The same is true about the locale where I first lived in Thailand – Nakhon Ratchasima. Most people call it Korat because that was its original name, and the latter is easier to say than the former.
Facing Hard Times
How does this relate to me being autistic? Simple! People are resistant towards change because what’s familiar is what’s most comfortable towards the average person. A dear friend explained to me most adults on the spectrum live with their parents. I saw her post a meme on Facebook yesterday stating the percentage was a whopping 87-percent. Yours truly is guilty as charged. For five years, I stayed with my mother in my hometown Austin, Texas. I graduated from Texas State University in December 2009 with a Bachelor’s Degree in geography. My original goal was to become an urban planner, but that was short-lived as I’d attained my diploma during the worst part of the Great Recession. My mother had me move back to Austin with her in early 2010 where I worked on the assembly line at Dell Computers’ last campus. That was there last bastion of employment before outsourcing the jobs to Malaysia.
Woes Here and Woes There
Over the course of five years, I worked menial jobs each from which I was terminated. Texas is a right-to-work state meaning employers can fire anyone without cause. For whatever reason, I didn’t fit into their niche. They saw that as an impediment. One of them was as an AmeriCorps VISTA for a non-profit organization in Chicago for at-risk youths. That was just another no-go, but that’s another story for a later blog. The majority of my gigs were that as an overnight security job. All the while, I battled depression not only because I was overqualified. I felt locked out from that American dream. I was over 30 living with my mother which I found degrading. Nobody said it to my face, but I knew behind my back my peers thought I was a man-child with no ambition. My own brother and two siblings gave me periodic lectures about my lack of motivation or long-term goals. There’s a stigma in American culture about adults who live at home. It even affected my dating life. I couldn’t find a significant other because it killed my self-confidence. I was too embarrassed to admit I stayed with my mother, and the women I went out with told me they felt no chemistry. That killed my mojo further. I don’t suppose it would’ve helped had I explained many employers fired me the moment they found out I had Asperger’s because nobody wants to deal with it.
My Biggest Breakthrough
Finally, in the fall of 2014, my mother suggested I become an overseas ESL teacher after I withdrew my application from the Peace Corps for personal reasons. I did volunteer teaching for a non-profit organization known as Manos de Cristo assisting adults in English while working towards my TEFL. I fell in love with it, and the rest is history. Over the next six months, I acquired new skills and took them with me for my first assignment in Thailand in April 2015. I’ve since never looked back after moving abroad. It was the best thing I ever did. I was on the wrong side of 35, but I got my first big break after conceding that I broke the cycle of underemployment in Austin. I had to go out of bounds to make it happen. I took a risk I don’t regret for a second. The only thing for which I feel any woes is not doing it sooner. Had I known then what I do now, I would’ve worked on my TEFL my last semester in college and moved abroad five years sooner, but hindsight is 20/20.
Outside the Comfort Zone
The important thing is I proved to myself and everyone else around wrong in that I wasn’t a lazy bum who lacked ambition. It’s easy for them to pass judgment when none of are on the spectrum, and they all graduated college during the late 90s and early 2000s when the economy was great. I didn’t have half the luck or resources my siblings did, but I pulled through in the end. If what my friend says is true that 87-percent of adults on the spectrum live with their parents, then I must have accomplished the impossible. Thus, I wish to inspire others on the spectrum and encourage them to do anything they want. How does calling my current city Saigon in lieu of Ho Chi Minh City and my first locale Korat rather than Ho Chi Ming City relate to this? How does wanting to use the continuation of Asperger’s Syndrome as opposed to autism correlate with this? The same way having to move abroad to make things happen does. I had to try something unusual and go way outside my comfort zone because the usual method would never get me anywhere.