In this episode of the Expat Empire Podcast – finding your ideal international lifestyle, we will be hearing from Thomas Morris. Thomas was born and raised in Texas and left the US for South Korea after graduating from university.
After a few years in Korea, he moved to Romania for several months before painfully readjusting to life back in the US. He then moved to Prague to be with his partner where he experienced life as a digital remote employee and eventually decided to join a local Czech company. Hear his stories of living in three very different countries, losing his religion, the successful and unsuccessful relationships he’s had along the way, and his ongoing search for an ideal international lifestyle that suits him best.
LEARN in this episode:
✔ The real story about what life’s like as a graduate student and worker in Korea
✔ Why you can never “go back home”
✔ What you can gain from learning three very different languages from scratch
✔ Why the remote work and digital nomad lifestyles aren’t the right fit for everyone
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Video Episode Transcript – Finding Your Ideal International Lifestyle with Thomas Morris
Welcome to the Expat Empire Podcast, the podcast where you can hear from expats around the world and learn how you can join them.
Hey guys, before we get to the interview, I want to remind you that we’re offering free 30-min consulting calls to anyone interested in moving abroad.
Whether you’re thinking about retiring somewhere warm, starting an international career, or becoming a digital nomad, we’re ready to help you think through the next steps in your journey.
Send us a message at https://expatempire.com to schedule your call today!
With that said, let’s start the conversation.
Finding Your Ideal International Lifestyle with Thomas Morris – Conversation:
David McNeill: [00:00:46] Hey, Thomas, thanks so much for joining us today in the Expat Empire Podcast.
Thomas Morris: [00:00:50] Yes, man, good to be here.
David McNeill: [00:00:52] Well, it’d be great if you start by telling us a little bit about where you’re from, where you’ve lived around the world so far, and where you’re living right now?
Thomas Morris: [00:00:59] Yes, for sure. Well, where to start. I’m originally from South Texas, Corpus Christi, Texas. Let’s see, I grew up there. I went to university and stuff mostly in Texas my entire life, we just lived there in the US. Then after I finished my bachelor’s degree, I got offered a kind of scholarship program in South Korea. So, I went there, moved there, and did my master’s there for two years, then worked for a bit and then left, move to Romania, which I’m sure we’ll get into the details of all that. And then afterward, move back to the US, but now I’m living in the Czech Republic in Prague at the moment.
David McNeill: [00:01:44] Awesome. Yes, excited to get through all the different parts of your journey. But I’d love it if we could just start a bit about where you got your initial interest in living abroad. Because I know that we both had originally quite an interest in Japan. And it led us to practice some Japanese together, be able to take a trip together during our university years. That’s where we met each other. So, I’d love to know where that interest in maybe Japan or just living abroad came from, and how that developed for you over the years.
Thomas Morris: [00:02:11] Yes, for sure. I like how you say practice Japanese together when the reality is that you were way better than I was.
David McNeill: [00:02:14] Well we did a little bit.
Thomas Morris: [00:02:18] But yes, so let’s see. I guess growing up, I was really into anime, man. And video games and stuff. And so, I was like, I had this huge love for everything Japan growing up. And oddly enough though, that wasn’t a factor in me moving away, it was kind of just more coincidental. But I guess that kind of first sparked my interest in foreign languages and whatnot, even though I tried learning some Japanese, as we said, but I’m of the mind that you can’t learn a language very well, unless you actually, like live in a place and you’re using it every day and this whole thing about like, well, I’m just going to go and use a, what is it Rosetta Stone, three hours a day but regardless, yes so, there was that kind of interest. But what got me to move away was, well, this may sound weird, but I used to be religious growing up. And I mean, I’m not anymore. But at the time, while I was offered this kind of scholarship thing. There was this part of me that thought that I could hear God talking to me and I thought that he wanted me to move there. So, that kind of was the first impetus to go, it wasn’t anything cultural. It was just more of, well, I got to because that’s what God says.
David McNeill: [00:03:53] Because I remember thinking back on that time that you were also thinking about potential other opportunities following University graduation, potentially staying around Austin, Texas, where we went to school. So, I’m curious how did you initially get this opportunity to go to Korea in that case? And how did you decide that that was the spot? What was sort of your decision-making process and ultimately, I guess feeling God’s call as you felt it at the time?
Thomas Morris: [00:04:23] Honestly, the way that it all kind of happened was super coincidental, which probably also further contributed to my feeling that it was like, it must be a sign, but it was weird I was getting close to graduating from University and needed a job. And I just got some random email from the career’s finder services people in the university, the ones that help you find a job after you graduate. And they just said, hey, there’s this scholarship program from this one company, if you’re interested sign up, and I just thought no, I need to submit my resume to a lot of places, what’s the harm?
And so, I did, and they’re like, hey, these people want to meet you for an informal interview. And I was like, man, I got to rush between my classes. I don’t want to do this, but fine, I guess. So, I met this guy. And I was like, sweaty, because it was late spring, almost early summer, Austin, Texas, walking around outside, and I met this guy, like, and I was huffing and puffing and 10 minutes, 15 minutes, we talked. I walked away thinking, right mind, that nothing’s going to come from this. And then boom, right they’re interested for you to come to California and do some interviews, man. So anyway, this whole thing happened and eventually, they were like, hey, they want you to move to Korea.
And I was like, ah, no, I don’t, now I actually have to make a decision. And it was weird, because okay, yes. As we said, I was religious at the time and I thought that I was going to, I had it in my mind that I was going to stay in Austin, and me, and some Christian friends, were going to live in this house and take care of homeless people. And that’s all well, and good, and stuff. But one of the things that swayed me was my parents, they were like, everybody who’s graduating from University is probably going to stay in Austin. So, it’s going to be hard for you to find a job. You should take this Korea deal. And I was like, no, no way. But eventually, long story short, I ended up somehow thinking, yes, God wants me to go there. So, I did and, yes.
David McNeill: [06:37] Yes, makes sense. So, in terms of doing the experience, what was it like to transition your life to South Korea? Have you visited the country before? Or was this all brand new for you for the very first time?
Thomas Morris: [00:06:48] Completely brand new. Let’s see. Well, you and I took a trip to Japan a couple of years prior. And I guess I could probably say that Japanese culture and Korean culture share a lot of similar touchstones, let’s say, it would make sense, there was a lot of colonization at the hands of Japan to Korea for a long time. But ultimately, when I moved there, it was a big adjustment. What can I say? It was kind of weird I guess, before I moved abroad, I got this feeling like, well, they’re different cultures. But that just means that like, the food’s different, and they people maybe like over there they bow instead of shake hands I can get used to that’s no problem. But there are so many other, just subtle facets of life that I never took into account before. One of the things is, the way that we white people do conversation, it’s pretty common, like in the US, you say something or you ask a question, and the other person responds, and they ask you a question. It’s kind of like tennis back and forth. In Korea, none of that. There were times I like, ask somebody a question and they would just be like, yes, I don’t know about that. I was just like, okay, cool. So, what do you think about that? And they would just be like…
David McNeill: [00:07:19] Was this somebody that you already knew? Or this was a new person that you were just meeting for the first time?
Thomas Morris: [00:08:32] That’s also funny you should mention that. I think this was maybe after I’d moved there, I’d been there about two weeks. And one of my labmates in the lab I was working at, at the university was there. So, yes, I’m sure by his standards, I was pretty much a stranger. And so, he probably had less reason to be friendly or hoping or forthcoming with me. But I guess for me in my American, overly friendly mind, I was like, he just doesn’t like me. And then the next person, I was like, they don’t like me either. And everybody I met, I was like, nobody likes me. Why doesn’t anybody want to talk to me or be my friend? So, that was one of the big things.
David McNeill: [00:9:17] So, how did you make that group of friends that you hung out within Korea? Were they mostly other expats or other students? Were they coworkers or colleagues at the lab? Did you have a lot of local friends’ Korean friends? How did that work for you?
Thomas Morris: [00:9:31] Yes. I think when it first started, I was elitist in a sense, I saw a lot of other expats that were there and they only hung out with expats. And I was like, man, what’s wrong with you? Why did you bother traveling, if you’re just going to hang out with people that are similar to you, you’re kind of missing the point? You travel to foreign places, so you get to know foreign people and learn foreign things and after living there for about six or eight months I understood why. It was a tough man; it was isolating. And I tried to make friends with Korean people and it never clicked. I think just the cultural differences were just so huge. And it was weird because I felt like a lot of other foreigners, I knew they felt the same thing.
You know how if you see somebody walking a dog go by, and there’s somebody else that’s walking a dog, then they go by and normally, the dog they’re just was like, no, whatever and like, yes, there are humans around, but they don’t really. But as soon as they spot another dog, and they start interacting and going over, that’s exactly like foreigners in Korea. It was weird, you would go to the foreigner part of town, Itaewon was the name of it. And you could just sit in a coffee shop and walk outside, and you’d see some white person walk across, and then there’d be somebody else that comes along and they would just be strangers. And out of nowhere, they just are like, whoa, you’re like me let’s be friends. And it was weird. They didn’t know anybody, they were just so desperate for connection, that they were just willing to do that?
David McNeill: [00:11:15] Did you find it difficult to communicate on a day-to-day basis in Korea? And did you learn much Korean? Or did you make that a priority for you during your time there?
Thomas Morris: [00:11:23] I did yes. I did make a lot of efforts to learn Korean. Let’s see I first took a couple of classes and then I started doing language exchanges with people, which is surprisingly super common in Korea because there’s a lot of Koreans who want to learn English. But I think ultimately, despite my efforts and stuff, listening in foreign languages has always been my weak point. And so, I would maybe be able to express some basic sentences. But when they would respond to me, I would just be petrified. So as a result, most of my conversations with people did take place in English. And I found, though, that the majority of people in Korea have a really good command of the English language. I think they’re kind of taught from a young age that, if you want to be successful, you need to have every advantage you can. And if you want to make it in the business world, English, you got to do it. So, communicating in English wasn’t so much of a problem. I don’t think it was even a language barrier issue. I think it was more of a cultural barrier if you want to call it that.
David McNeill: [00:12:41] Sure. So, what was it like for you to study in Korea? How would you compare that to the experience of studying in the United States?
Thomas Morris: [00:12:48] Yes, so in Korea, it was quite different I of to admit. I mean, granted, when I was going to university in Texas, you would oftentimes get professors that were there, because they were brilliant researchers pushing humanity forward in science and whatever. But they just also had to teach and they didn’t want to be there. They would just phone it in every single class, or they would just mumble at the chalkboard and you would get that now and again. It was often the case in Korea, you would get that a lot. But also, on top of that. I think, like, in Korean culture, there’s a very strong sense of hierarchy. It’s normal, you meet someone like, Hi, what’s your name?
My name is so and so. Cool. How old are you? And it’s what we do because as soon as you meet someone, you got to find out where you are concerning them. And whether you should use the polite form with them or you can use the familiar form or what suffix you should attach to their name all that stuff. And so, as a result, this hierarchy thing in the classroom is also important. And guess what, if you’re a student, you’re below and the teacher is above, and so if you don’t understand it, tough luck, man. You’re just too stupid the teachers doing their job. And it is not your call to tell them to repeat themselves or to clarify, you just got to do it.
And I think that was one of the big things. There was also a kind of a feeling to that. There was a lot more feeling of just rote memorization. There wasn’t so much this thing of here are the concepts this is how the concepts bind together underneath so you can come up with new ideas for yourself, or you can critically think about the pieces. It was just like, here are the facts, learn them, and the test is just going to be about the facts. And as a result, that was also a bit disappointing for me because I don’t know, I just felt weird going to a test, and yes, sure I pass it but afterward, I’d be like, I don’t remember how to do any of this.
David McNeill: [00:15:02] Before this program, did you think that you would go back for a master’s degree? Or was that just out of the pure opportunity this program provided you?
Thomas Morris: [00:15:12] It was purely to get a job, man. I had no interest or planning to get a master’s degree. But it was just these people were offering me to, I was going to get a master’s degree and then work afterward. And so, I was like, well, this is my path to a job and if I get a master’s degree along the way, cool, why not?
David McNeill: [00:15:34] So, let’s talk a little bit about how the job was. So, how was it going from graduating with your master’s degree into the Korean workforce? Tell me a little bit about that.
Thomas Morris: [00:15:45] Yes. It was interesting to me to see how in a way, man, I feel like I’m trashing Korea here. So, I’m going to try to say some positive. In case your listener, you didn’t get this feeling already. I didn’t have a great time in Korea. But I’m just trying to be honest here. Please get the most information you can if you want to move there. So, one positive thing I’d say is that I did feel like in the workforce, it was kind of expected that you would be friends with your coworkers. So, there was a lot of just after work, we’re going to this restaurant, and we’re going to get drunk together and that would happen often. And so, as a result, it was meant to like, kind of make you closer with your coworkers and whatever, but this would often happen multiple times weekly. And it was also enforced, in a way, it wasn’t company policy, but if you don’t do it…yes. Did you also experience something similar when you were in Japan?
David McNeill: [00:16:50] Yes. Japan’s totally the same on that. I didn’t have too many of those experiences with the company that I was working at a time. But this notion of the mandatory voluntary company parties. That was definitely a big topic in Japan as well.
Thomas Morris: [00:17:06] Yes, for sure. So, it’s not like you get fired, but people are going to think you’re weird and you’ll be an outsider if you don’t go to these. So, that was kind of tough, honestly for me, because I would usually show up and it was just awkward. We’d gradually get drunker and as we get more drunk, the walls would kind of come down, and you would sort of be able to talk with people. Especially the fact that it was kind of made mandatory, I usually just did my best to avoid them if I could. So, that was unfortunate. Another part about working in Korea is that there’s sort of this unspoken thing, at least when I worked there. One thing that is interesting about Korea is that they’re changing rapidly as a culture.
So, who knows? It may be completely different now. But I mean, I was living there, years ago, like 10 years ago. One of the things was that it was kind of expected that if you’re working, you don’t leave before your boss leaves. And so, as a result, if the boss is like just hanging out, even if he’s just there at work, looking at Facebook, or whatever, you know late because he just doesn’t feel like going home. You got to stay there, and you got to look busy. And I was not a fan of that, it was more about the appearance of being a hard worker rather than well, are you getting things done? Are you doing something useful here? So, that was awesome. I didn’t jive with me too well, honestly.
David McNeill: [00:18:49] So, were you on a team completely otherwise filled with Korean people? Or was it a really sort of foreign-friendly environment?
Thomas Morris: [00:18:58] So on my team; there was this other guy from Russia. And he and I became good friends. He introduced me to his other Russian friends, and we all kind of formed this little group hanging out, like post-Cold War, group hanging out. But aside from that, it was me and Igor, and everybody else who’s from Korea, and they kind of treated us like zoo animals. They’d be like, hi, good to see you. Here’s this little assignment now, go and don’t bother us too much. Just let the adults talk and so I’d say as a result, it wasn’t too foreigner-friendly in that way. But I was glad that Igor was there because otherwise, I wouldn’t have had any friends.
David McNeill: [00:19:47] Yes. So, I guess you did that for something around two years that you worked there as well as two years in the master’s program. So, how did that lead to you moving to Romania, following that experience in Korea?
Thomas Morris: [00:20:00] While I was living there in Korea, I happened to fall in love with a Romanian girl. And it was kind of a long and complicated story. But ultimately, she and I met while we were both doing our masters, and we kind of kept in touch, she had to leave. She eventually came back and we ultimately decided to get married just for papers, originally, because she had to keep leaving Korea. And I was like, well, I’m here, let’s do that so, you don’t have to keep leaving all the time, but it’s just for papers that’s it. And I wish I had not done that, so we did that.
And then eventually, when we decided to leave, I was under the impression of, you know what, I kind of want to just make it on my own. I want to either make a business or do freelancing. I don’t want to work for the man anymore but we’re going to be in financial freefall. And hey, things are way cheaper in Romania than they are in the US. Let’s move to Romania.Wait, what your parents are there and we can stay with them for free. Great. And so, we moved to Romania. And it was great. I don’t know what else to say. I loved living in Romania.
Let’s see, we lived with her parents for about six months while I was trying to make it on my own, and I was just completely unsuccessful. Self-employment life is just not me, I’m just doomed forever to be a slave in the ant colony. But yes, so we ended up moving to a small town in Transylvania, which is I feel a bit embarrassed to say this, but it shows how they don’t teach us enough in school growing up in the US. I thought that Transylvania was just a fictional place growing up, I didn’t know it was an actual real place. I feel so embarrassed getting that. And then she’s like, I’m from Transylvania.
David McNeill: [00:22:10] Yes, now, you know, better. So, it’s all good.
Thomas Morris: [00:22:12] At least I’ve learned something. Yeah, I just insulted this woman who would later become my wife when I first met her. So, we ended up moving there and lived with her parents for a while in the village up there in Transylvania. And then, later on, we moved to a bigger city called Cluj, which is kind of the main big city in northern Romania in Transylvania.
David McNeill: [00:22:35] And what was your daily life like, there? We’re trying to build a business. You were in this sort of relatively new marriage at the time, but what was it like for you to try to integrate into that new society?
Thomas Morris: [00:22:49] Moving there and being with them, I think integrating into that society was so much easier. Because it was just like moving to a new place with training wheels on, her parents were fantastic. They almost became my best friends while I was living there. And they didn’t speak any English at all. So, pretty much, when I started, the second day I got there, they would just point at random things. They’re like, Baja, jam, and I was just like, my God. Alright, I guess we’re doing this but they were patient they were nice. And over time, I was able to at least have some grasp of the language. I think when I was at my height, I was maybe seen one level Romanian.
David McNeill: [00:23:43] That’s great.
Thomas Morris: [00:23:45] Well, either sink or swim. But luckily, they were nice and patient with me. And so, they kind of gave me an into Romanian culture as a result. And even when we moved to the next place, my wife at the time already had her friends so her friends became my friends and all that. This may be jumping the gun a bit, but after we got divorced, my god, spoilers. We got divorced later on. But even after that, I found that with Romanian people, it was just super easy to make friends, the Romanians, whereas, in Korea, I didn’t know a single foreigner who had any Korean friends. I didn’t know anybody who did who had any Korean friends in Romania, well, one, there weren’t too many foreigners but I didn’t know a single Romanian who did not have a foreign friend. They’re welcoming, easygoing, chilled out. Also, I think, yes, they’re not so used to foreigners being around so they’re much more just open. And they’re like, wow, where are you from? Let’s talk to you. And overall, I think it’s much easier probably for someone from a Western background to come into a place like Romania.
David McNeill: [00:25:03] When you were living there, did you have an opportunity to travel around the region and keep the travel going? Or were you more focused on your life there in Romania?
Thomas Morris: [00:25:10] Yes, definitely, I would say that it was when I was living in Romania. That was when my interest in traveling started to bloom. So, my ex-wife was working as a documentary filmmaker. So, we would occasionally go to different places here and there. She would go to different filmmaking workshops or on different projects and so as a result, yes, we do get to travel mostly around Europe. But we got to go to a few other places. I mean, honestly, traveling in Europe is just so easy compared to anywhere else that I being to and so, if you go to Romania, it’s easy to just hop on a low-cost flight and go anywhere. So, we went to the UK, we went to Spain for a bit, went to France, Germany, Hungary, just a bunch of different places and I think it was at that point, that I was like, man, this whole EU thing is nice. It’s nice being able to just travel where you want to do and work where you want to. That’s great. So yes, I think that was a big turning point for me.
David McNeill: [00:26:19] So, even though unfortunately, that marriage didn’t work out for you in the end, it sounds like you had a great life that you built for yourself in Romania. So, I’m curious how it ended up that you moved back to the US shortly after that experience?
Thomas Morris: [00:26:31] Yes, well, at last, all good things must come to an end right. No. I would say it was mostly me getting divorced. At first, I was like, you know what, I don’t want to go back to the US, I like it here, I’m going to stay for a while and so I did. And it was hard at first, I didn’t know a whole lot of people because of all of my then ex-wife’s friends. For some reason chose her over me, God. And, but yes, I say for a while start to build another group of friends. But then it probably shows that I just make decisions way too off the cuff without thinking that through. But I went home for Christmas one time and it was nice being back around, my friends, around my family.
Even just kind of little things like being able to overhear conversations of people nearby. That was never something that I could do in foreign countries and so I got this feeling I was like, man, this is this kind of nice. Maybe I should move back, at that point, it’s been like six years that I’ve been living abroad. And I was thinking well, okay, maybe I should come back and put down roots. Again, reconnect with old friends build this kind of feeling of community, I guess, that I’ve been longing for a while then and so I did. It was a bit tough to say goodbye to everything there. But I guess I thought that I was moving towards something greater and we connect, reconnecting with who I am.
David McNeill: [00:28:17] Yes. So, you moved back to Austin. Right. Was there any particular reason behind that outside of the fact that we went to university there? Or was that where most of your friends were, I guess?
Thomas Morris: [28:29] Yes. So actually, when I first came back, I moved back to my hometown, Corpus Christi. And I stayed there for a bit, maybe about six months or so. But while I was there, things were not quite working out. We’ll get to that in a second. But I just took a trip to Austin, to visit old University friends, and while I was up there, I was just like, man, I got nostalgia feelings completely and just like, I was so great here, it was such a fun time of my life, Austin, such this like, cool, quirky town wow. And I was like, man, I should move here. And also, simultaneously, kind of back home, I still have wonderful friends back there I love them. Well, a lot of them had stayed behind there in my hometown, and for the most part, and I had left and I had changed a lot.
And as a result of them not changing, they’ve stayed more or less the same, they grew in their way. But I kind of felt that there was this sort of disconnect, there were parts about me I wanted to talk about things thoughts that I had about, what’s like living other cultures or man, these people think that’s crazy. And just felt like my friends had no interest in it. And so, I started to feel this vague disjunct between me and my friends. So, I thought you know what? Okay, I’ll go back to Austin. It’s a bigger town more fun. Also, I’ve old University friends up there who may just try that. So, that’s what led me to get Austin, at first.
David McNeill: [00:30:15] And how was that for you? Did you find that it met your interest or desire in the ways that you want to connect with people and in your career?
Thomas Morris: [00:30:25] Man, not at all. Yes, so I moved back there and there’s this old phrase that they say, you can never go home. And my God, man, it’s true. I moved back there thinking that things were going to be just like they were in college and it’s going to be so much fun. And I’m going to go to all these places, I’m going to learn so many things and I realized, like, that’s just not possible. Because that entire experience serves me while it did, because I was a kid when I moved there, it was this feeling of, wow, my God. You mean, I can hang out with my friends every night and I can stay up past and I can eat ice cream and watch movies on a Tuesday? Wow. And you know somehow when you’re 28-29, it just doesn’t do it for you anymore.
And so, I realized that a lot of my feelings of this, the halcyon days of university. They only felt that way because it was new and exciting back in the day. But when I moved back, well, for one, a lot of my university friends can’t blame them for this at all. I was gone for six years and they kind of moved on with their lives, they had their friends. And I was like, hey, let’s hang out. And they’re like, busy, sorry. And it was tough and I felt that will also in the intervening years, I lost my faith. And so, a lot of my old University friends were Christian, and I wasn’t anymore. And there was also this kind of just like disjoint and worldview, that made a lot more I don’t know, I want to talk about deep things. And it was just kind of hard. You know, when every conversation would be like, well, that’s just what the Bible says. And I’m like, well, I don’t want to talk about the Bible.
David McNeill: [00:32:29] Did you consider maybe moving to a different city in the United States to try that? I mean, we know, as we said, in the beginning, that you end up back in Prague, rather. What was your thought process in terms of okay, I’ve tried it back in my hometown? I’ve tried it here in Austin. What’s next for me?
Thomas Morris: [00:32:48] Yes, that’s a really good question. So, at the time, I was working remotely for a company in Columbus, Ohio. So, as a result, I had to go there every couple of months and it was a decent town. I kind of liked it and there was a hot second where I was thinking, well, maybe this would be nice, maybe I should move up here. There’s this weird feeling of guilt associated with that because I did still have these friends that I cared about back home, even though things were to change. And I somehow felt weird, this idea of being like, hey, I’m here, guys actually, I’m going to move to Ohio, but I’m still going to be in the country, this is weird. And so, there is that feeling, there was also this scary feeling of having to start over again.
And there was also this creeping feeling of, either I had changed or the US changed or something. But just overall, the culture and everything didn’t feel good. At first, I chalked it up to reverse culture shock. I chalked it up to I’ve been gone for a while, I just need to readjust. But after eight months, nine months, I still felt weird, people did things and it just bothered me and pissed me off. Also, it was especially around the time that things exploded with people becoming much angrier at each other politically for everything and I was just like, sick of that. And there were just a lot of things about American culture in general that I saw that I didn’t like. And it made me start to think back to how things were in Europe in Romania. I was like, man, people are just so much more down to earth and so much more seen there. And they are here, maybe I should come back to Europe.
David McNeill: [00:34:42] So, how did you make that move? And how did you decide on Prague ultimately?
Thomas Morris: [00:34:49] The thing that swayed my opinion was, okay, well, past a certain point, I was like, I want to move back to Europe I’m not sure. Even though I do miss Romania it feels like maybe I’d be taking a step back. Because ultimately, isn’t that what I did when I came back to Texas? I went back to where I was, didn’t work, maybe I should go somewhere else. And I was strongly considering going to Spain because the few times I’ve been there, I liked it. Wonderful weather, friendly people, food’s great, beautiful architecture, insert reason here. So, there is that. And also, my partner, she was living in Prague. And so, we were already long distances for a while. And I was like, well, we still make it work long-distance, I don’t know. But ultimately, weirdly, feelings just got involved. And I was like, yes, it would be nice to move to Prague. There was sort of this weird trial version thing, where for a summer, I just decided to come and stay in Prague for two months, and just see how it goes living separately from her. And while I was there, I was like, yes, this is nice. I think I could see myself living here. And so that was ultimately what clinched it, I guess for me.
David McNeill: [00:36:09] Yes. So, how would you compare the life there to the one that you had in Romania, for example?
Thomas Morris: [00:36:15] Yes. It’s similar but there are some differences. I would say the infrastructure in the Czech Republic is a lot better than it isn’t in Romania. Well, for one, at least, where I was living in Romania, up in the northern part, there are almost no highways or interstates, pretty much every road that you travel on is just some not very well maintained to kind of like back roads. And so, as a result, if you want to drive anywhere, like the fastest, you can go fastest if you don’t want to break your car. It is maybe 45-50 miles an hour. And so, as a result, if you want to get around it takes forever, if you want even just get out of Transylvania, it takes three hours or something. Whereas if you had an actual highway, it would take like an hour.
So, they’re things like that, the fact that it’s much easier to get around the train system is a lot more modern. I noticed though, that culturally it is different, in a way. I noticed that whereas in Romania, they’re very self-deprecating, actually one of the things that you commonly hear, if you get in a taxi talking to the guy, they’ll be like, man, only in Romania, would you see this crap, or whatever. And I was surprised to see that, but as a result of them being high, self-deprecating, they’re like, foreigners, that’s cool, let’s learn about you. I’m interested in this. Whereas in the Czech Republic, there’s kind of more of this feeling of, just sort of disdain for people who aren’t in Czech. And yes, there’s also just a lot of racism there compared to what you’d find in Romania. And so, that was also something to deal with. Yes, I’d say those are kind of the main things.
David McNeill: [00:38:18] Do you find that you like living in this city more or in the city that you were in Romania, overall?
Thomas Morris: [00:38:25] Yes, it’s tough. I think, overall, I prefer living in Romania. That’s not to say that I’m not happy here. Okay. So, there are a lot of different factors to consider. Prague, the great thing that has going for is, it’s beautiful, like every time you go downtown, you walk across the river, you feel like you’re in a fairy tale, it’s beautiful. The public transport is fantastic, you can get from one side of the city to another, through Metro or tram in 30 minutes. It’s not bad at all and it’s cheap in terms of transport. Also, on top of that, the cost of living is not that bad, except for rent is terrible in Prague, but everything else, if you want to go out for a night of drinking with your buddies, it costs about, let’s see, 500. It’s about 20 US dollars.
It’s not bad. The bad thing, though, is that there’s kind of more of this, parochial, if it’s not checked, then there’s probably something wrong with-it kind of mindset. Whereas in Romania, you get people that are friendly towards outsiders, but that would kind of come at the cost of, well, it’s not as beautiful. public transports not as great. But plus, things are way cheaper if you live that way. So yes, it’s a lot of trade-offs but I think overall, for me, what’s most important is having good friends and having a good time with them. All the other stuff is nice to have, but it’s still kind of secondary.
David McNeill: [00:40:02] So, I’d like to talk a little bit about your job. I know that originally you were working for this company remotely in Ohio, I believe. And then I think you’ve transitioned into working for a local company they’re in the Czech Republic. So, if you could just walk us through how you did that, and your thought process while you did it, that would be great?
Thomas Morris: [00:40:20] Yes, it was ultimately all because of visas. I was working remotely for this company. I was making an American salary, which was nice, I don’t mind saying it. I mean, after-tax, it was probably about $4200 a month or so and that was great. And especially for living in the Czech Republic, that’s good, but there was this constant, just weight on my shoulders of thinking, I felt the hands of father time clicking down whenever it came for me. I’m going to have to leave soon because my views are going to run out, my God. And eventually, it got to the point where I was just like, you know what, okay, it’s probably best for me just to get a job here if I’m planning on staying here for the long haul. Also, working remotely, just not for me. People talk about a jetsetter lifestyle and that’s cool if it does it for you but for me, it’s a lonely man. Oddly enough, I prefer to go to an office and be around coworkers that I like and to just chill out, laugh, talk, whatever. Have a good time grab a beer after work if you feel like it. Not if you’re mandated by the company, and better have fun. So, as a result, I was like, well, I should probably just search for a job here and I did. And I get all that at the current place I’m living at well, not right now because it’s COVID. But I did back before this plague hit the world.
David McNeill: [00:41:57] No, that makes a lot of sense. I think as you’re saying, some so many people are trying to do the digital nomad jetsetter lifestyle, and as a result, it does fit some people great and other people, it doesn’t fit so great. And I think people should go for what they want. And it’s great to try everything, basically, just give it a shot. But if it doesn’t work, don’t feel bad about it either. You should go for what you want.
Thomas Morris: [00:42:20] Exactly. And that was the hard part. I think for a long time, I thought what’s wrong with me? Because I saw the Instagram style pictures and like, working from the beach today, hashtag, remote life, or whatever. And I was like, yes, I’m doing this, but I still feel just awful all the time, maybe I’m just not doing it right. And I can accept that. Yes, it works for some people and it doesn’t for others, and I just happen to be one of these people it doesn’t work for.
David McNeill: [00:42:49] Yes. 100%. So, what was it like to restart the language learning now? So, many times, you’ve gone to all these different countries that all have their language? And you can get around, as you’ve said, In English, in many situations, and other times you’re forced to learn and maybe sometimes it’s more of an option. So, how do you kind of think about that, in terms of diving in for a third time in a brand-new language?
Thomas Morris: [00:43:17]Yes, it’s been kind of useful in the sense because having to learn Czech when I moved here was three years ago now, from having done it twice before in Korea, and in Romania, you do kind of start to get an intuitive feel for what are the important things to learn? What are the phrases that you use a lot? Or what are the sentence structures that you would commonly use versus not? And you learn those verses because you’ll get the most bang for your buck. And so, I’d say as a result, it’s made language learning a lot faster, and a lot more streamlined. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still not an expert. And I think I’m probably like B1 in Czech right now. I don’t know if your listeners are familiar with the European system of language learning.
David McNeill: [00:44:09] Maybe if you could describe it a bit what does B1 mean? What can you do? Or why do you not feel comfortable doing it?
Thomas Morris: [00:44:17] Let’s see. So, B1 means that you’re like an independent learner. So, more or less, you’ve learned the main grammatical rules of the language. You know how to piece together sentences, you can more or less do all that the main thing, and for the rest of your life is just going to be learning vocabulary, and all these other words. And so, as a result, at that point, you’re like supposed to be at a level to where you can kind of learn on your own as you learn from interacting with people from having conversations with people in your target language, you do all this stuff. Again, because my listening is just awful, it’s a lot harder. I’d say maybe I’m B1, speaking, and probably A2 listening, which sucks. But, yes, so A1, A2, B1, B2, and then C1, C2 on top of that. So, even though my production, my speaking, and my writing and reading are here, my listening is below that, so it makes it belabored. But if you’re b1 level, you could directly go to the post office and send a letter or package, you can set up a bank account, you can potentially call a customer service line if you have some issues with something, that kind of thing. Whereas the higher levels are like being able to have a political discussion or whatever.
David McNeill: [00:45:45] Yes, that sounds like a pretty good way to describe where that is. And I’m curious, okay, you’ve gotten to, let’s say about B1 level. But it sounds like in general, may be compared to the Romanians that you met, the Czech people are not quite as open to other foreigners as you might hope. So, I’m curious how you developed your friend group and what that looks like now?
Thomas Morris [00:46:07] I’ve been really lucky with how things have turned out for me here. Because when I talked to other foreigners here, most of them say it’s kind of similar to what it was in Korea; they don’t have any Czech friends. I was really lucky because where I work is actually, they just kind of have this culture where people are chilled out and friendly and you go for beers after work or whatever. And as a result, I’ve made a few Czech friends. Also, the funny secret of former Czechoslovakia is that there are the Czechs and the Slovaks, and there’s a lot of Slovaks living here. And they’re the more sociable, cooler like cousins of the Czechs, and there’s a lot of Slovaks where I work, and I’m friends with more Slovak. And so, as a result, I had pretty lucky just in the fact that my coworkers are pretty cool. And that’s how I’ve made most of my friends around here. I still have some other expat friends. This Dutch couple is being my partner hanging out with a lot. Another old friend of ours who’s from the UK, that kind of stuff?
David McNeill: [00:47:15] Yes. Well, just to wrap this up here, do you have any general advice for people that want to try to live abroad? Or maybe specifically in some of the countries that we’ve talked about today?
Thomas Morris: [00:47:24] Yes, I would say so. I found for me that whenever I moved to a new place, whether that was in Korea, or even moved back to the US, or here if you don’t feel like you’re making friends at first, that’s okay. It’s hard at first, but I went to a place of, no, there must be something wrong with me, everything must be messed up, maybe I should leave. But I found that usually, after about six months to a year of living in a place, that’s when things start to kind of click, and you start to make deeper, closer friendships with people. So, the first six months, it’s hard. It’s isolating, just waded out. That’s all you can do and just do your best to make friends that way. Also, another thing too, that’s been helpful I found is meetup.com. I don’t know if your listeners are familiar with it, but if you like sushi, for instance, you can make a sushi group on meetup.com.
And you just make some event and be like, hey, let’s all go eat sushi next Thursday at this place. And whoever happens on the website can find it and they’ll just show up. And you’ll immediately have the stuff to talk about because you’re both interested in sushi. And you have like a springboard. You don’t have to go through the awkwardness of, do I talk to, I don’t know, I don’t know how to start a conversation. Because you’re already there, they are there to hang out too. And it’s a great way to meet new people, even when I’m just visiting a place for like a week or something. I’ll still go to a meetup just to like, to meet people and hang out and do stuff. So that’s also a nice way to get to know people.
David McNeill: [00:49:05] Yes. Now, there’s a great piece of advice and I agree, 100%. I’m a big meetup fan and also, I think it takes at least one year, honestly, for you to get settled and have a core close group of friends. So, I agree. And you do start that investigation of yourself, am I doing this wrong? And then I have to remind myself every time no, it takes time. Even at the stage have to remind yourself so…
Thomas Morris:[49:31]And when you’re in it, too, it’s just so much harder as well. Because it just feels like time stretches out indefinitely, whatever, but you just got to stick with it.
David McNeill: [00:49:40] So, what is your plan look like for the next few years? Do you plan to still stay in Prague for the foreseeable future?
Thomas Morris: [00:49:47] Probably not. Let’s see. I’m happy here now. Things are pretty good. My partner and I have a good friend group and stuff that’s nice. There’s a lot of good things to like about Prague. I think ultimately, in the long run, though, we probably won’t end up staying, my feeling is that I would still like to see a couple of other places and there is still kind of something about the Czech mindset that bothers me. So, we’ve been talking about where we’re going to move. We might potentially be moving to the UK in a couple of years, because, well, my partner’s from there, and she wants to explore some career opportunities. Another possibility is the Netherlands because we’re moving to these places that have terrible weather. But from what I’ve seen with the Netherlands, at least living there, it’s a great, beautiful place. Also, to me, it just feels like this, in terms of like, the Dutch mindset, whenever I think about like the EU and everything, I like about it, I kind of think of actually the Dutch mindset, the sort of cosmopolitan, easygoing, just cool, you can do your thing I’ll do my thing it’s nice. So, it might be one of those two we’re not too sure about.
David McNeill: [00:51:06] Okay. Awesome. Well, look forward to seeing where you end up and how things go for you there in Prague while you’re still there. Appreciate you so much for coming on the show today and talking about your experiences sharing about your time in Korea and Romania in the Czech Republic and even a bit back in the US. So, look forward to keeping in touch and take care.
Thomas Morris: [00:51:25] You too, man. Take care.
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