At one time or another, many of us have thought about packing up our things and buying a one way ticket out of Oz in the hope of discovering ourselves overseas. However fleeting, the thought of escaping your hometown for a change of scenery can be pretty enticing. As more of my friends are making the move overseas or heading home after time spent abroad, I wanted to share the varied – but equally inspiring – experiences of four wonderful, world-faring and adventurous women who today take us through the highs, the lows and the how-to of living and working overseas.
From chasing the corporate dream in New York City, to designing your very own gap year to test out a potential career path, to balancing professional development with your unbounded desire to explore the globe, there are many ways to scratch that work/travel itch. And while their journeys have taken each of these ladies in very different directions, I keenly observed a thread of similarity running throughout the four interviews: the need to embrace experience over things.
I’m so excited to share their stories and hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did. I’ve included a teaser below but make sure you check out their complete interviews to gain the full benefit of their experiences.
What first sparked your interest in working overseas? What did you hope to get out of it and has that changed over time?
Bianca – It’s really something I’ve always wanted to do. The most tempting feature (besides professional development) was the opportunity to travel regularly. I knew London would be the perfect base for this. A few close friends of mine had swiftly decided to make the move and before I knew it I was saying “I’m coming”.
Joy – I had no desire to live abroad, however, gradually this changed. The catalyst was when my close girlfriends began making plans to move – I didn’t want to be left behind! I chose New York because of the challenge (you really have to want it to move here) and also because it is one city I wanted to live in whilst I was still young. I’m loving every moment.
Jordi – It was never not an option. To a certain degree, I think my interest in working overseas is potentially a by-product of overexposure to World Vision ads at a young age and growing up in an individualist and prosperous society that sells the idea of needing to “find yourself” through travel. Cynicism aside, my first overseas trip – a family trip to Thailand less than a year after the tsunami – definitely had a profound impact on me and whetted my appetite for seeing more of the world.
Monika – It started out as a tool for travelling and seeing the world. Initially I worked in public schools so the workload wasn’t as demanding. Now, I still see this as a way to travel but I’m teaching at international schools and the the work and workload is entirely different.
What is the BEST part of living and working overseas?
Bianca – The obvious – travel. London was a fab base for exploring Europe (and even a couple of weeks in the States). Second to that however was definitely London itself. Knowing that the move was temporary, much of our free time was spent exploring, living as tourists and getting involved in the busy lifestyle. Adapting from the typical “live to work” attitude in Australia to the “work to live” attitude of the Europeans was enlightening (and super fun!).
Monika – I think that’s best summed up by where I am right now. I’m on summer holidays which I started off by taking a sleeper train down to Hong Kong. I then crossed back into mainland China and into the Longji rice terraces of Tiantouzhai, where I am now. When I have free time, I can do things like that. It’s not quite as easy to skip out on a weekend in Melbourne to visit an ancient ethnic minority living in the mountains.
What is one thing you wish you knew before you left?
Joy – Timing. I should have done more research beforehand such as when it would be a good time to job hunt (i.e. not in the middle of summer which is peak vacation season!). I was so adamant to move at the detriment to other opportunities that I could have considered, however, there is definitely a fine line between waiting for something better to come along and missing out completely.
Jordi – In my case, living and working overseas was harder than I expected it to be. I went overseas to challenge myself and to see if I was able to thrive in the complication and mess of the international development sector before fully committing to a career. I was seeking challenge and I found it. It’s important to acknowledge that life is a process. I think I was naive in thinking that I would dedicate a year or so of intensely pursuing something and at the end of it all, have a clear cut idea of whether this was my sole purpose in life. Wouldn’t it be great if everything was that easy?
Practically speaking, how did you get this whole adventure off the ground?
Jordi – I am not an overly regimented or organised person but when you’re wanting to make other systems work for your benefit, particularly university and government bureaucracies, giving yourself more time to negotiate the paperwork and slow processes provides increased flexibility and opportunity. This also applies to financing such a trip. My overseas travel would not have been possible if I wasn’t studying at a university that values international experiences during a period in which the federal government was (and still is) dishing out a ridiculous amount of money to study and work in Asia.
Joy – Letting those around you know of your intentions is the first step. I had good work mentors and close friends who helped connect me with others in the US and provided the support and encouragement I needed to do this. Also, my partner had recently moved to the US for work and I was in temporary accommodation so I knew I had to take action. Knowing I had a short 6-week period to lock something in (and the fear of coming home empty-handed) was the burning motivation for me to ‘hustle’ in my job-hunting pursuits.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced?
Bianca – I have always been over-analytical and hyper-organised with most aspects of my life, so one of the hardest things for me to do was just to rock up in London with so much left up in the air. No job, no place to live. Crashing on friends couches (and floors!). Of course ultimately everything fell into place, however, there were a few sleepless nights at first!
What have you gained that you couldn’t have gotten if you stayed in Oz?
Monika – Oh, so many things. I wouldn’t have met the people who I consider my second family and love dearly. Hanoi brought us all together. And I wouldn’t have discovered teaching in the same way. Meeting students who don’t have the same privileges as those back in Australia and being able to give them something through education is really quite special.
Jordi – Travelling, particularly as a solo woman, has offered me assertiveness, adaptability and perspective. Travelling by yourself means that you have to take risks, set boundaries and rely on your own abilities to get yourself to where you want to go. Upon returning to Australia, I have begun to reject the notion that there is something fundamentally distinctive about travelling that can’t be gained by simply being adventurous and open-minded in your own country. Travel is an intense experience that forces you to get outside of your norm and be open to new experiences…but at the end of the day, curiosity will lead you to phenomenal people and experiences regardless of where you are.
Bianca – For me, it was an understanding of a different way of life. A super busy yet lower stress and fun focussed lifestyle. I’ve also really gained an appreciation of living with far fewer material items and a greater willingness to allocate money towards experiences. And of course, I have gained valuable experience in my profession which has opened up a number of future career prospects.
Any advice for others wanting to skip the country in search of a worldly adventure?
Joy – Be ready to spend and not save as much as you’d like – it’s a hard truth but remember you are doing this for the experience which is priceless. There will never be the perfect time and things come up, but you only live once so be selfish. Change is good; no one looks back and regrets the years they spent abroad.
Monika – Firstly, don’t think twice about it. Even if you struggle or you’re miserable, it will teach you so many things about yourself and the world. Second, you don’t need ‘things’. I think people worry about what to do with all of their belongings. You can buy new “stuff” wherever you are. Spend your energy on people and experiences and less on material things. Third, go on lots of adventures. And take lots of photos.