Moving abroad or traveling long term has been something I have thought about for a long time. When I graduated from undergrad, I was going to move to London and do temporary work… but the UK cancelled that visa program just before I graduated. Fortunately, I soon heard about a graduate program where I could spend ten months living in Italy AND walk away with a Master’s Degree. I ended up doing that program and it was without a doubt one of the best years and experiences of my life.
When I finished, I toyed around with the idea of teaching English abroad. I looked into different certifications and what types of jobs I could get. I was going to teach in Europe! In Asia! Around the world! I actually pursued it far enough that I was offered a position as a camp counselor for an English summer camp in Italy.
I turned it down.
I turned it down because life got in the way. I got caught up in trying to be more responsible and look more professional. I ended up teaching English, but as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Fairfax County, Virginia. I lived with my parents for a while as I completed that program, worked other jobs, and eventually got hired for my first “real” job as a Public Policy Analyst with the USPS Office of Inspector General.
I had a real salary! I rented an apartment and moved out of my parents’ house and in with roommates. I got my own car insurance…then sold that car… then got a new car and new car insurance. I started paying for my own health insurance and contributing to the federal retirement system. I paid taxes, I paid into the social security system, and even bought a house y’all.
For six years, that was how I lived. I had my house, my family, my friends, my job, and plenty of social activities outside work to keep me busy and happy and healthy. I was the very definition of adulting.
But I kept wondering what if.
What if I had taken the job at that summer camp in Italy? What if I used teaching English (or some other type of work) as a vehicle to travel the world? What if I got the chance to see new things, go new places, and meet new people? Could I have a life of adventure? Would I be more successful? Would I be happier?
There was only one way to find out. So, I figured one day I would go for it. But there were three things holding me back: one very beloved elderly dog that I did not want to leave behind, a mortgage I had to pay, and a job that tied me to the Northern Virginia area.
Well a year ago today, my beloved dog passed away. Literally a few weeks later, I received a letter saying people were interested in buying in my condo building. The real estate agent who said to call or email him if I would consider selling. I thought: What kind of nonsense was this? Does anyone answer these letters? I threw it in the trash. But it nagged at me – what if?
What if someone wanted to buy it at a good price? I pulled the letter out of the trash, and emailed the agent. We met and discussed what my “make me move price” would be. The second couple he brought to see my condo offered me that price.
What if that was a sign? I am not usually someone that believes in signs, but the timing of everything sure was adding up. At the same time, I was feeling ready to leave my job. I had been doing essentially the same thing for six years and no longer felt like I was growing. I wanted new challenges. I also don’t have a husband or kids complicating my life, and my parents are in good health and don’t need any extra care. I had some money saved up to provide a bit of a buffer while galivanting around if I needed it.
I decided to start looking for different opportunities. After hours of online research thinking about the things I could do and the places I could go, I decided I wanted to teach English in a Spanish-speaking country and found a program that I was interested in: the English Opens Doors Program in Chile. It was the first thing I applied to, and I got it.
Signs, man. It was like the universe was hitting me upside the head Gibbs-style with them (NCIS fans, anyone?) Six months after my plan was set in active motion, I had my teaching program lined up, my house sold, and was about to give notice at my job (I decided on leaving outright rather than taking a leave without pay situation because, mentally, I wanted the clean break).
Are things perfect? No. Am I happier than I was before? Some days. Some days I miss home too much to think about all the cool things I am doing and exciting opportunities I have. Am I learning new things? Definitely. Am I being challenged? Daily. Do I have any regrets?
Not a single one.
I find teaching very difficult. Lesson planning and trying to get students motivated about speaking English is a challenge every day. My fifth-grade classes are more zoo-like some days, and classroom management is a constant test of my patience. But every week gets a little easier.
I get by with a little help from my friends. The teachers I work with are extremely supportive and give me whatever supplies and assistance I need. They also invite me out to parties, events, and trips around the crazy Chilean desert. My host family has been wonderfully welcoming too, going above and beyond to feed me delicious meals and make sure I am included in conversation. And every week my Spanish gets a little better.
Making the transition to travel was scary, but once I decided to go for it, doors started opening. I took advantage of things that fell into my lap (or mailbox, as it were) and turned my research into action. I was surrounded by supportive people who encouraged my daringness. My mom was not a fan of the idea at first, but I think demonstrating that I had a plan that I was committed to not only eased some of her concerns but made me more confident in my own choices.
I was afraid, too. It is not easy to leave a stable, well-paying job for something that could potentially look problematic on a resume… but things have a way of working out. This path of not only world exploration, but also self-exploration and growth has been unbelievable. I am so glad that I made the leap and I can’t wait to see where I end up next! For now, Chao from Maria Elena.