Article by Where To Now? Community member Charmaine Yip
Since graduating in 2012, I have been traveling and working abroad.
My family thinks it is an abnormal, nomadic life that I have chosen, and even though they are supportive, they are tired of seeing me leaving home each and every year. Society tells me that nomadic living is just running away from the mundane 9-5 life and that teaching is for graduates who have no idea what they want to do with their lives. My mentors tell me that I’ve lost a few years and am now behind my peers – I’ve given up moving up the corporate ladder in exchange for exploring the world.
Besides the few people who see living abroad as a ‘cool factor,’ everyone around me is telling me I’m just doing something crazy – I’m living an unrealistic dream by freely traveling the world, and taking advantage of being an irresponsible 20-something.
Perhaps, on the outside, this is what it looks and sounds like. Through my social media updates of the places I have been, and the many things I have seen, it looks like I had an incredible time. Life is easy, amazing and wonderful.
But in reality, I know the truth. Living abroad really wasn’t that great. It wasn’t easy. And it certainly was not glorious.
My experiences came with a big price tag and one that has challenged me and pushed me off the edge time after time. I sometimes describe it as the ‘sink or swim’ experience and it involved a lot of falling down and perseverance in getting back up. These few years had been the most challenging and difficult times of my life. Living abroad as a foreigner – a minority – had forced me to think on my feet and face challenges unprepared, first-handed. I faced a lot of language barriers and isolation along the way and was stripped from my basic human needs such as even having a place to stay.
Every single time I moved out to a new city, a new country, I start again from ground zero. I begin the entire process again. I need to look for a new network of friends, find a new place to live, and learn to adjust to my new environment. It wasn’t easy but I do it because I believe the experience is worth it. Even after many failures, and events that went terrifically wrong, I still hanged on and continued to keep going.
The thing is I believe that the learning curve is so much bigger and wider when I am alone. I see things with a new perspective and that gives me an opportunity to compare and contrast different lifestyles from around the world. By living through hardships and unique experiences, I have a deep sense of accomplishment of how far I have gotten and how much I have grown.
Sure – I can’t tell you how rich I am in monetarily value, because to be honest, I didn’t go to be on the road to be rich. I left home, applied for a work or study visa and traveled because I wanted to feel something within me. I wanted to feel fulfilled within my own soul, because I took the initiative to go outside my comfort zone and to absorb other cultures around me.
Yes, it is true. I’ve lost growing a career in the corporate world, but I have gained so much more. I have gained years of invaluable life skills on the road. I became a problem solver, a planner, a traveler and a world explorer. My journey is tougher than yours because I never know what I will find. I never know where it will lead but I’m constantly looking. I’m in this constant process of elimination – understanding what I like or what I don’t like – and learning more about myself each and everyday. I know that slowly but surely I will get to where I want to go, but it won’t be today. It might not even be tomorrow.
Remember, nomads are not running from the world. Instead, they are not letting the world run away from them.