I cannot believe that we are already approaching the last month of the year. I have the feeling that 2017 just flew by. As I am planning the upcoming last month of the year, which will by nature also involve me looking back, I started to look back to my travel and moving journey. In this week’s posctard, I would like to share my journey from a normal teenager in a small town in Austria to becoming an international professional.
If you had told my teenage self where I would end up from my mid-twenties onwards, I would have probably laughed out loud. At this point in time, I lived in a small town near Vienna, Austria. It was the time when it became more common to spend a high school year abroad or work as an au-pair in your gap year. My parents tried to encourage me to spend one year abroad. Unfortunately, I was not mature enough to see the benefits. I did not want to leave my friends in Austria and was quite a shy and insecure teenager. (Yes, I was terrified of travelling on my own and meeting new people.) My life goals as a teenager where actually quite straightforward: study, get a job, earn money, buy an apartment or house and have a family. All of these, of course, in Vienna ideally.
After high school, I regretted it so much that I did not take the opportunity to go to school abroad and decided to study International Business – a course that would force me to go abroad. The first time I needed to travel somewhere on my own was a two-week intensive language course in Spain. I remember that I was nervous about that trip days before I left. But looking back, it was one of the best experiences I ever had, where I met friends with whom I am still in touch. The travel bug had clearly bitten me and it started to turn me into a different person. I had travelled a lot with my parents but this was a totally different experience. The next thing was an internship in Brussels and then I left for an exchange semester in China. Why China? Well, I could give you a great “professional” answer: because of its economy, because of the language, the culture etc. But I simply wanted to do something different – and it had to be far away. And again, I met people who showed me so many new perspectives to life, career and friendships.
Asia started to fascinate me and even though I was based in Austria for another three years, I went to back to China to do research for my doctoral thesis. And after that, what I call “the moving or rather long-term travel carousel” started: Germany, China, back to Germany, Hong Kong, Vancouver, Vienna, back to Hong Kong, Singapore and now Thailand. I did it the comfortable way with a company paying for all my moves and packing up my whole apartment. But I have also done it the digital nomad way with a job that allows me to work from wherever I have wi-fi: getting rid of everything that does not fit into my suitcase and one other bag to be flexible for all the travels and moving. I was fortunate to have travelled to so many places already and I have now friends in almost every corner of the world.
Sometimes, I do think about how life would be if I had stayed in Vienna. Would I already own a house, would I have kids already? When I started my corporate job in Finance, I was asking my mum for advice if I should take out a loan and start investing in a flat. My mum was actually the one who then encouraged me to live my life in a non-standard way. “You don’t know what will happen in two years. And maybe you get stuck in a job that you do not like because of a loan. Wait until you make such a decision.” And she was right. Almost three years later, I quit to start and invest my savings into my own tech business. Moving abroad also changes the cycle of your life – while it is perfectly normal to get married in your late twenties if you are already settled somewhere, a different clock defines your time abroad. Most working expat women I know start thinking about family and kids in their mid-thirties. (Let’s rather call them international working women. I have my issues with the term “expat”, because I have met so many locals who are very international as well.)
This international career and dating someone from a totally different country brought a life concept which might be difficult to understand. Why would you opt for this nomadic life? To be honest, sometimes I do ask myself this question. Would it not be easier just to stay in one place, finally be able to furnish an apartment the way you like it and know how long you will stay? I do not say that this is not at all what I want. I know that there will be a point in time when I can and will make exactly that decision. But for now, I think it gives me the opportunity to learn so much – not only about other countries, cultures, languages but also about myself. I learned to adapt quickly, move quickly (sometimes within three weeks) and try my best to find new friends and get around in a new place while still working full speed in my job. Even if it can be tough sometimes, I do not want to miss these adventures.
What I am trying to tell you here is be open for the things that might happen. If you have the chance to travel or live abroad, do it. Even though the thought of it might be terrifying for you in the first place. And most importantly, do not over-plan your life. “Life happens when you are busy making other plans.” – it is trite but very true. I had to learn this the hard way. Every time I tried to plan the next step, it happened in a way I could not foresee it – especially if you base them on your teenage goals 🙂 Whether you choose to settle in one place or live out of a suitcase as a nomad – do what your heart tells you and enjoy the journey!