Author: Dian Seidel
Summary: In Kindergarten at 60, Dian Seidel, an internationally acclaimed senior scientist, embarks on a new adventure in her retirement. Seidel and her husband travel to Thailand, where she starts over from scratch — as a kindergarten teacher. Part travel memoir and part second-arc story, Seidel learns how to navigate a new culture, career, and the Covid-19 pandemic all while undergoing marital changes, with Thailand’s picturesque scenery and sweltering heat as backdrop. Written with dry humor, a rich interiority, and sharp prose, Kindergarten at 60 is a moving story of cross-cultural connections, pedagogical and environmental challenges, and a personal transformation.
Today Dian Seidel is a writer and educator living in Washington, DC. Her writing has appeared in a variety of journals, including Passager, Anuk Sastra, Lucky Jefferson, The New York Times, and Bethesda Magazine.
We asked Dian a few questions as part of our topic of the month “Retirement after life abroad”.
What were your anxieties about retirement?
Two issues were at the top of my (long) list of retirement anxieties. The first was the risk of having nothing to do, existing from day to day with no particular purpose, and basically becoming a slug. Before I retired, my days were always full. Between my work, family responsibilities, friends, and hobbies, I was busy, and I liked that. The prospect of a blank calendar was scary.
My second concern was that, even if I managed to keep active, I would lose my personal prestige. Before retiring, I had reached a high point in my career. Though my field (climate science) is relatively small, I had developed some expertise in a niche area of research (detection of climate trends in the atmosphere), and my work was known by my peers and colleagues around the world. I worried that once I left that world behind I’d encounter no one who had any reason to respect me or my accomplishments.
Of course, these were both ridiculous, shallow, and self-indulgent concerns that were easily overcome with a bit of planning and a dose of humility. In the months before I retired, I decided to pursue two long-term interests: yoga and teaching English as a second language. I began working toward becoming a certified yoga teacher and started volunteering as an English teacher. My days were full, and my life was filled with new challenges and new friends and colleagues. Once I started teaching both English and yoga, my students gave me (and still do give me) all the respect, gratitude, and love I could want. I learned that I’m perfectly capable of keeping busy and that I don’t need professional recognition and “attagirls” to feel I have a place in the world.
How did you come up with this idea of teaching English abroad?
I’ve long wanted to live and work abroad. Decades ago, as a graduate student, I spent a year studying in Belgium. As a working scientist, I would have loved to take another sabbatical year abroad, but family circumstances prevented that. In retirement, I was teaching English and meeting students from every continent (save Antarctica), and that experience re-ignited my desire to live abroad. I knew that native-speaking English teachers were needed in many countries, so the idea of teaching English abroad was an obvious way to combine my interest in living abroad with my new vocation, teaching. Since my husband was also teaching English, persuading him to join me was a lot easier than my earlier efforts to get our whole family to try living the expat life. I had hoped to teach yoga abroad, too, but that didn’t work out. Just as well, because teaching kindergarten in Thailand was more than enough challenge for me!