Monkey Abroad

Videos and stories of the life abroad – food, culture, travel & work

The Privileged Life of an American Living in Asia


If you’re an American living in the United States, I’m sorry, but you probably aren’t using your nationality to its fullest potential. Sure, you get to honor the flag during baseball games, barbecue hotdogs on the 4th of July and express your loud political opinion. But ultimately, the best way to celebrate your Americanism is to leave the USA.

There’s no reason for me to be living in Rizhao, Shandong, China. Logically, I should have nothing to do with this country or its people. If I had a sane mind, I’d be living in a Dallas suburb, working in a cubicle, joking about how the Cowboys always choke in the latter part of the season.

The feeling of being American didn’t emerge until I left the United States. I took my inherent nationality for granted at home. When I came to Asia in April 2013, my perspective on the world’s cultural and socioeconomic diversity broadened in a such a way that it’s hard to confine to words.

The world is an unbalanced place, and people raised in the United States—along with many other native English-speaking countries around the world—have an unfair advantage.

If you’re a native English-speaker from the USA, your demand in the overseas job market is probably higher than in your own motherland. Due largely to a skill you’ve mastered since early childhood—your language—you’ve significantly upped your chance for employment in almost all of Asia, as well as many parts of Europe and South America.

Moving to Asia to teach ESL is exhilarating, but it’s also bizarre. I hardly speak Chinese, my degree has nothing to do with ESL education (although I do have a TESOL) and I’m only 24 years old, yet I’m considered perfectly qualified to teach the next generation of China’s youth. Yes, according to the Chinese government, I’m an expert at what I do.

As an American living in Asia, I am a legally recognized “foreign expert.”

On one hand, I could live in America, enjoy an average existence and never take advantage of the global worth of my inherent language skills. On the other hand, I could live in Asia for a while, learn a new language, eat like a king, and be widely respected for my prestigious light skin complexion and nominal expertise. Talk about perspective.

american living in asia

“Captain America” Japanese movie poster.

Even with the current influx of English-speakers working in Asia today, demand is still ascending for “foreign experts.” It’s like a smorgasbord for hungry English-speakers, and there are enough leftovers for seconds and thirds in Asia. But in the USA, you’ve got to scrounge for job market scraps.

In my opinion, it’s fair to call China and most other Asian countries insular, but the USA is guilty of the same closed-mindedness. People from the States need to stop competing with each other and compete with the world. Get outside the bubble of homogeneity and explore the global job market, eat spicy green curry and play fútbol!

All humans are equal, and anybody in the world with a shred of national pride thinks their own respective home country is the best. I respect that, and I’m not about to say that the United States is the best country in the world. I’m just pointing out that English-speakers—especially Americans—have an unfair global advantage and that it’s possible to immediately boost our socioeconomic status purely by migrating to Asia.

I’m in China because I can be. As vanilla as that sounds, it’s a privileged truth. I’m a free man living in Asia, doing whatever I want, due largely to my innate language skill. That’s a cool reality for me, but it reveals a dark reality for much of the world. If I’m sitting here enjoying the easy life in Asia, somebody must be suffering.

Author: Kevin Cook

I want to inspire you to pursue your own dream of traveling and/or living overseas!


  1. Made me want to start humming a bar of “‘We are the world. . . . we are the children. . . .”

  2. Would you say having a TESOL or TEFL is a necessity in China and Thailand or just a good thing to do in order to get some teaching experience?

    • Hey Jason,

      I think a TESOL is more-or-less just a good thing to have, but you can probably negotiate a higher salary if you have one. Plus, it gives tons of confidence if you have zero teaching experience.

  3. Enjoy being an “expert” at what you do as long as you can!

  4. Could not agree more with this article. And foreigners seem to get special treatment just by looking different and being foreign.

  5. Just a correction: as an American living in China you are a “foreign expert”. Not as an American living in Asia. Japan is part of Asia, and the government here makes no such distinction for native-English speakers who happen to teach. Expats in Japan teach under any number of residency classifications (student, instructor, spouse, specialist in humanities/international relations, permanent resident). “Foreign expert” is not one of them, because it does not exist.

    What may be the case in China should not be extended to the rest of Asia.

Let me know what you think


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