I am super excited to share this interview with my matchmaker friend and colleague, Justine! Like many of us, Justine was saddled down with 66k in debt after finishing her Master’s. Too many of us end up in debt after finishing school with no idea how we are going to pay it off while working an office job and living in an expensive city. It can start to feel like a burden we’ll never escape from.
Justine was able to pay off 66k in debt in under a year while traveling. I think what’s so amazing about Justine’s story is she shows that you can make smart financial decisions, not despite the fact that you’re traveling, but because you are traveling. Justine paid off her student loans because she was able to use travel to reduce her cost of living, while creating a life of more freedom for herself.
Read on for more about Justine’s travels and how she paid of her student loans while living as a digital nomad!
1) Tell us a little bit more about you! What do you do?
Hi! I’m Justine Luzzi, I do a few things! I am an Intuitive Reader + Teacher, helping awakened and sensitive souls navigate this crazy world! I also just started a new coaching venture focusing on Conscious Love & Healing from Toxic Relationships. I’ve been a virtual matchmaker for a long time now, but my bigger mission involves teaching the world what authentic and universal love feels like.
2) What inspired you to travel for 4 months? Why South East Asia?
I have always dreamed of being location independent. Traveling has always been a passion of mine. Needing permission from someone to physically do my work elsewhere felt really limiting. Four years ago I had a corporate job in digital marketing, that could have been done 100% remote and they wouldn’t let me work from home one day a week. I felt trapped.
I began to do some healing work on myself, and realized, I needed more freedom. I quit that job, and looked tirelessly for remote work that would suit my new venture in life. I found it with virtual matchmaking and intuitive card readings. When my lease was up in NYC, I threw out most of my stuff (it was old anyway) and booked a flight to SE Asia. The plan was Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, and Malaysia.
My connection to SE Asia was solidified when I took my first trip to Thailand in 2013, so I made the decision to start my digital nomad journey there. As my fellow travelers know, not all travel plans pan out exactly the way you envisioned it. While in South East Asia, I made it to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam and Siem Reap + Phnom Penh, Cambodia, but after two months in Asia, trying to accommodate my clients in EST timezone started to take a toll and I knew I needed a change.
I decided to spend the remaining months of my trip in Europe where the time difference was much more doable. I spent most of my time in Athens, Greece and Belgrade, Serbia.
I had planned on spending more time as a digital nomad, but the greatest city in the world, NYC, was calling me home. I also started to feel unsettled being in a different time zone, different language, different currency, every few weeks.
3) A lot of people think spending 4 months traveling sounds like a bad financial decision, but you were actually able to pay off all of your student loans (66k!) that year. How did you make that happen?
I lived so cheaply! As a New Yorker, I’m used to a high cost of living. Living in South East Asia and Eastern Europe was actually super affordable! I’m also a travel hacker. I used my credit card points for great deals, ate a lot of street food, and checked travel blogs for the best deals.
The idea that traveling is expensive is just a limiting belief. I lived like a queen and most of my expenses for the month were not more than $500 USD. I was able to save a lot of money and throw it towards my 66k in debt. 3 months after I got back from my travels, I was able to pay everything off!
4) How did travel change your outlook about your life or career?
It changed so much of my outlook. As Americans, I personally feel we have an obligation to leave the country and live how others live. To me, this creates a lot of empathy, gratitude, and inclusiveness. I love feeling like I’m the minority, and not fitting in. It teaches me a lot about humility.
It has also taught me a lot about work-life balance. I’ll admit, I did work a lot while I was traveling, so it was challenging. Some days I had a 10 hour day and never left the Airbnb, except to grab food. But it is important to understand that you don’t have to be in a cubicle being micro-managed to do great work. We’re not caged animals. If a company has hired you to do their work, they need to trust that you will do it. I had a lot of trust from my employer, and that’s one of the things I loved about my company.
I also want to add, it’s OK to get sick of this lifestyle. I found myself beating myself up a bit when I wanted to come home. It’s hard being on the road so much. It’s OK to crave stability. Just lean into what feels good.
5) What advice do you have for anyone who wants to become a digital nomad?
Sooo much. First, don’t make plans so far in advance. You don’t know what’s going to happen. Let it flow. Be realistic within 2 weeks time, but you can’t be that rigid. You don’t want to book an entire place for a month to find out they have bed bugs (that happened to me in Ho Chi Minh). Be alert- pay attention. I tried to cross the Vietnam border by bus with an expired passport- not pretty- I owe everything to the English-speaking bus driver who sorted everything out. Book enough time in a place that allows for a 40-hour work week AND exploring. Oh, and have fun and be curious 🙂
Feeling inspired? You can learn more about Justine and connect with her at her Youtube Channel.
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Is becoming an expat or digital nomad the best thing you’ll do for your personal growth and career development? Probably! Does that mean it’s easy? No, why would it? Travel pushes you far outside your comfort zone, that’s how it forces you to grow. Living abroad as a lifestyle essentially means you are committing to be pushed on a near daily basis. But it is a lot easier with help from the DN who went before you! Read on for the most common mistakes new digital nomads make.
Wanting To See The Whole World Right Away
Of course, we all got into this lifestyle because we want to see the world! But when you first begin your digital nomad journey, it’s better to pick one location to call home for a few reasons. For one, when you move to a new country, it’s common to suffer from transplant sickness (read my post on transplant sickness and how to avoid it here) and too much travel makes it worse. Taking time to settle in somewhere will also help you move through the inevitable homesickness, while developing deeper friendships and connections (not making friends with locals is another of the most common mistakes new digital nomads make!)
Chances are you have never worked remotely or with little to no management before. It’s going to take some time to adjust and find your grove with work. Constant travel will interrupt you every time you start to get in a flow, leaving you feel fried and like you’re falling behind.
Finally, travel is expensive. Settling down, getting into a flow, finding an affordable place to rent or buy long term is going to save you money. When you first get started, cash flow can be inconsistent. Especially, if you are freelancing or starting your own business. There is nothing worse than the stress of travel, compounded by feeling pressed financially and the rigors of starting a new career. Trust me, I’ve been there.
So chill out and stay in one place for your first 6 months to a year. That doesn’t mean weekend trips and holidays are out of the question! It just means you should have one place as home base instead of moving to a new country every week. Sometimes you need to take the time to build a foundation for your dreams before you start living them.
Being Afraid To Invest
When I first became a digital nomad I was working as a freelance writer. I had some background in writing, but not in copywriting, WordPress, SEO, or social media management. All important skills that can help you make a CAREER as a freelancer. If you’re like me and went to a liberal arts college, these are not skills you were taught. I was super resistant to investing much time and money into learning those skills, which means my income basically plateaued and I ended up leaving freelance for a remote job. It wasn’t until much later that I invested money in learning those skills and as a result was able to improve my career & income and start this blog!
But investing doesn’t just mean investing in yourself. Living in an emerging market is a great opportunity to become a first time homebuyer, eventually creating a stream of passive income for yourself through short or long term rentals. As a DN you might find that you’re saving a lot of money compared to your lifestyle before. Make some of that money work for you to create passive income long term through investing in the stock market, both in your home country and in emerging markets.
Choosing An Expensive Location
Becoming a digital nomad is a wonderful journey, but travel is filled with stress, culture shock, and growing pains. The last thing you want to do is add financial burdens to the mix. I know a lot of us dream of London, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, but these locations are pretty expensive as far as expat life goes. Overburdening yourself financially is one of the most stressful mistakes new digital nomads make. My suggestion would be to find a location that is expat friendly, but with a much lower cost of living than where you already are. Some less expensive alternatives might include Cluj, Romania; Porto, Portugal; or Florianópolis, Brazil.
Long term, consider how you can invest the money you save back into your business, skill development, or even real estate, making your digital nomad lifestyle financially smart and viable long term instead of a crazy idea you had in your 20s.
Not Knowing Your Worth
So many people I know who take up remote work are so desperate to leave the 9-5 they settle for any gig that comes their way. Often this leaves them cash strapped and desperate, so they settle for another poorly paid position/gig again. Then again. It becomes a toxic cycle they just can’t beat.
Too many DNs have the wrong perception of remote work. They think if a company lets you work remotely, they are doing you a favor. Wrong. Companies save money by hiring remote because they don’t have to house them in office. Studies have found that remote workers also take far fewer sick days saving organizations big $$$. AND remote workers help companies save money and time because they require virtually no micromanagement.
A recent report from Gartner found that remote work has grown 400% in the past decade as companies realize hiring remote saves them money and helps them attract top talent. Gartner also found by 2021 companies will be able to hire 40% work employees thanks to the money and space saved with remote workers.
A company is not doing you a favor by letting you work remotely. Believing they are is not only a major mistake new digital nomads make, it will make you come across as desperate. Desperation is major turnoff for hiring managers and potential clients. Shift your mindset. Remote work is a win-win arrangement for both parties. 400% growth does not happen as a “favor.”
So all that being said, do not make the mistake of devaluing yourself. Know your worth and work constantly to improve it. Don’t settle for less than you deserve or need to make your lifestyle a reality.
P.S. If you’re struggling with under earning, this book was a game changer for me.
Truth is, being an expat can be lonely. You find that you can’t relate to people back home and new friends are constantly moving away. One of the really common mistakes new digital nomads make (especially before they move abroad) is thinking that being a DN is an endless party. It’s not uncommon to get depressed after the 6 week mark of moving abroad or near the holidays. But even if you are an introvert, don’t make the mistake of isolating yourself.
For me, a hardcore introvert working from home, it was so easy to isolate. It’s actually one of the reasons I moved back to the US. I felt that every time I got close with someone they moved!
But isolating will harm your mental health and your career. One of the hardest things about growing a career as a DN is networking. You need to get out there and meet people every week at events, coffeeshops, and informal meetups.
The best thing I can suggest is working from a co-working space. Not only will this provide a sense of routine and boundaries to your work day, it will also help you to build a personal and professional network. It’s a great way to land freelance gigs as well! When you feel yourself starting to slip into homesickness, depression, or isolation, using a co-working space to socialize and provide structure to your day can go a long way. In the end it is definitely worth the investment.
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June marks my anniversary of working as a matchmaker. Let me tell you, it has been a crazy, rewarding, and deeply challenging ride. I have touched the lives of hundreds of people and curated almost 200 dates!
Whenever I share with someone that I’m a matchmaker, their eyes go big. Telling people you’re a matchmaker is kind of like saying you’re a fairy god mother! The instant follow up question is, “How do you even get into that line of work!?”
I usually just tell people, “Oh, it’s a long story,” because it is, and came at the climax of a long personal, academic, and professional journey that I usually don’t want to go into. But now, in honor of my matchmaker-versary I’m telling the whole story.
There are so so many reasons I became a matchmaker. In fact, falling into this profession was so kismet I know matchmaking is a huge part of my life’s purpose.
First things first, education.
I got my BA in Religious Studies. People thought I was NUTS to major in such a “fringe” topic. More on why I made that choice in a later article. But the fact is, Religious Studies was the perfect background for matchmaking.
While studying religion, I had become weirdly obsessed with the field of Nationalism Studies. The idea of getting a job out of college sounded soul crushing and I didn’t want to continue working in non-profit because I was deeply burned out, so I decided to give academia a chance. I moved to Budapest, Hungary to continue my study of nationalism at Central European University.
The entire time I was in grad school, I was sick with anxiety. Because yeah, graduate school is fucking hard, but also because I was sure I would never find a job.
What kind of job does a person with my background get???
Surprisingly, there were a few options on the table for me after grad school. One of them was even seemingly a “dream” opportunity, exactly related to my field of study and background. I would have made great connections and lived in New York City. But when my would-be future boss called to ask when I could fly into New York to meet the Executive Director and take a writing test, my stomach dropped and time stood still. I couldn’t imagine a future for myself in New York. I looked out at the sun coming through my window and somehow knew there was no way I was going to be leaving Budapest. I had zero desire to live in NYC and frankly, I really couldn’t afford it. I told him I had decided to stay in Hungary, and he said he couldn’t blame me.
But suddenly I was unemployed!
I figured I’d live off of my savings for a few months while applying for jobs in Budapest. In the meantime, I could pick up some freelance writing gigs here and there.
Pretty soon, I was making more money as a freelance writer than I would working an office job in Budapest. And I loved the freedom of it, the ability to control my income month to month. I had full autonomy over my life! I loved all the random gigs I got that forced me to learn something new every day. But pretty soon, I burned out on writing. Something that was once a relaxing hobby became the source of my anxiety.
I hated the solitude of my work; there was no team backing me up. Finding my own clients was exhausting and my income was always uncertain. Over the course of a year, more and more writing jobs got outsourced to Kenya and the Philippines. My wages dropped, I felt like I was fighting for every gig, editors treated me terribly, including sexual harassment, and the once well written essays on international politics I had been contracted for became a gig churning out the fakest of the fake news. Living with a deadline always hanging over my head started to feel like the sword of Damocles. I had constant anxiety.
I was spent and I knew I needed a change.
Thanks to an organization called Remote Year, I knew that more and more organizations were hiring fully remote teams, which meant being able to travel AND work. I started stalking a job board called We Work Remotely. I had no idea what I wanted to do. All I knew was that I wanted to help people and I wanted to be able to work from home (or anywhere). Partially so I could continue traveling the world and partially because I had a really painful autoimmune disease that sometimes would prevent me from being able to work or drive a car.
In the meantime, I had picked up a badly paid job writing about relationships and dating. The pay was embarrassing, but it published with a byline and a gut feeling told me to accept it because it would lead to other things.
On a personal note, I had just gone through a TERRIBLE breakup. I mean truly, I had hit the rockiest of rock bottom. My personal life was a complete mess. I had temporarily left Budapest to come back to the US so I could work with a hypnotherapist and fix my relationship with myself and with men. Most of my free time was spent learning about relationships and making sense of everything I was going through.
One night at 3 am I saw a job posting for a matchmaking company on We Work Remotely. A MATCHMAKING COMPANY. I had no idea that was a real thing AND they hired remotely!!! My dream in high school had been to be a matchmaker, but I had no idea it was a real thing outside of reality television.
I stayed up until 4 am and completed the application mostly just because I thought it was funny. I remembered to include some of my recently published articles on dating in my cover letter. I submitted my application pretty sure they wouldn’t hire me, then fell asleep.
By the time I woke up in the morning, I had been invited to a group interview. I got hired 6 days later.
During my one-on-one interview I spoke candidly about my experiences in abusive relationships and that I thought I could really help women who had been through abuse and were hoping to date again. I reflected on my experiences learning about religion and how it might help me understand my clients better. I led with my heart and was honest about who I was and what I could deliver.
As it turns out, my background in Religious Studies, Nationalism Studies, and politics was perfect for matchmaking. 99% of my client have ethnic, political, or religious preferences, usually, all of the above. If I didn’t have my academic background, I probably wouldn’t be able to serve my clients the high level, bespoke experience they expect. And I certainly wouldn’t be able to understand where they were coming from.
I have the freedom to set my own hours and to work from wherever I want. I help people every day. I get to be creative and to bring more love into the world daily. I actually use my degrees, which are luckily in subjects I care about deeply. I got here by following what I was passionate about and what interested me. I said no to opportunities that looked great, but felt wrong. I dreamed big and believed in myself. And I make the crazy leaps other people might have shied away from. I trusted my gut.
Sometimes late at night I think, “Where would I be if I had listened to all of the people who thought they knew what was best for me?” and shudder.
Whether you know what you want your dream life to look like or not, you can get there. It’s about listening to your inner voice, focusing on your own healing, and taking risks. Never in a million years did I ever think I would be living a life this easy and this magical.
So tell me, what does your dream life look like?
Do you fucking hate #travelcouples on Instagram?
Or do you secretly love the ridiculously romantic shots and seemingly stress free relationships?
Whether you love them or hate them, the reality is, deep down you’re probably at least a little bit envious. Who wouldn’t want to spend their lives traveling to far flung destinations with the love of their life?
I can’t lie, I love scrolling through the heavily edited pictures on Instagram. I love looking at a snapshot of fabricated perfection. But the reality is, travel is never perfect. Neither are relationships. But even though the pictures of travel couples might not be exactly real, it IS possible to travel full time with your partner.
I know that seems like a fantasy for a lot of people, but it’s not. It’s totally possible. I also know it’s hard to believe until you hear the stories of people who actually made it happen for themselves.
With that in mind, I wanted to start a series of interviews with couples who travel together IRL. I wanted to show you that it is possible, but it’s not necessarily as romantic and picture perfect as it seems on the Gram.
While Instagram may make full time travel with your beaux look like a dream, it’s actually pretty challenging. Missed flights, little personal space, and the inevitable food poisoning can either ruin a relationship or take you to deeper levels of intimacy than you had imagined. That’s why travel is such a great exercise for couples.
For the first in this series I had the honor of interviewing my friends Courtney and Andrew. Courtney and Andrew met while they were both working on their environmental studies degrees in undergrad. They’re passionate about travel, urban planning, AND not destroying this planet we all live on (rad). With these passions in mind, they quit their jobs and spent eight months circling the globe together. While on the move, they founded The Homage Project, a really important project about urban development around the world, which provided a beautiful intention and framework to their travels. It’s also a testament to the idea that you can indeed collaborate with your partner without murdering them.
But the real reason I love this interview is that they get real about what travel really looked like for them. Yes, it was incredible. But it had it’s not so glamorous moments (cleaning toilets) and some moments that weren’t easy on their relationship (bad haircuts).
1) You guys are a couple! How did you meet? How long have you been together?
Ha yep, we sure are a couple. We met at Rollins in January of 2013 in an environmental studies class. Definitely wasn’t love at first sight, but Andrew persevered and by December of that year, we were dating. We’ve been together four and a half years though (due to a one-year break in the middle there—oopsies lol).
But actually, the break (which was while I spent my junior year abroad) was super important. It helped me realize how much I valued my partnership with Andrew; how much I valued the experience of being abroad; and how much I wanted to be able to be abroad with him. So then I persevered to get him back, with the full disclosure that I would be going abroad and he better join me, or else that’d be the real end of us.
2) How did you decide to travel together?
I’d dreamed of spending a significant part of my 20s abroad since I was a young teen, brimming with pent-up anger about my suburban upbringing. I didn’t know what exactly the “Abroad Experience” would look like, but I don’t think I envisioned working at hostels cleaning toilets, or “teaching English” in an over-crowded, dirty tube house in far-out Hanoi. But dammit, I knew it would happen!
Andrew, he had no clue. I think he’s missing the gene that makes people obsess over the future. Both a good and bad trait. In my mind, I’m already a grandma.
I originally planned to leave right after graduation, but Andrew wasn’t ready then. He had an urban planning internship in Orlando and wanted to see it through, but agreed to leaving within two-ish years. So I got a job and stayed put, which at first seemed disappointing and lame, but was in fact wonderful. Knowing we wouldn’t be in Orlando indefinitely allowed us to better appreciate our time there, and the people and friends and food and beaches.
The experience of working was also paramount. My first job doing commuter outreach for the Florida Department of Transportation significantly impacted the quest of our journey, and made me realize how fired up I get about mobility. In a practical matter, working also helped cushion the bank account and make the traveling possible financially. So thank you, Andrew from two and a half years ago, for being so wise.
Kotor, Montenegro (courtesy of @homageproject)
3) How did travel impact your relationship?
This is a bit personal, and I kind of wish I had thought about this more or people had talked about this more. I also am not confident enough to openly talk about intimacy on a public platform so I also only graze the surface.
Traveling was one of the best things we ever did for our relationship, and also one of the worst. I was constantly obsessed about our finances and made us track every single expense we made—a practice we kept up even after the traveling. The financial stress of seeing our bank accounts steadily dwindle was tough. And because we were trying to do things on the cheap, we often opted for dorm beds or work-trade situations where we’d be staying in dorm rooms for weeks at a time with no chance of privacy.
That was a hard change from people who had previously lived together in an apartment. In that sense, traveling felt like a step back for our relationship. Plus, the future was so uncertain. Would we get jobs? Would we have to move in with our parents? Would we be able to see each other regularly? Would we want to live in the place where the other got a job? Again, fortunate Andrew and his gene mutation didn’t get weighed down by these pondering nearly as much as I.
But on the flip side, it was the most glorious experience. We got to spend every day for eight months with our favorite person in the whole world. We got to stumble upon beaches in the Balkans that took our breath away, slurp down some kumquat tea in a smoky alleyway in Vietnam, and watch with awe at people and their gazillion bikes in Osaka—together. I wish we could spend the rest of our lives that way: exploring and learning and being together every day.
But oh, there were tough times. Like the time Andrew got a haircut I didn’t like (which sounds minor, but I’m ashamed to say it affected us for about two weeks), or the time I was so stressed about Money and The Future that I couldn’t even be concerned about my partner.
I think we both feel the trip is better in retrospect. Being on the road for so long is tough. Long bus rides; cheap accommodation; lack of typical outlets (like a clean, safe place to go for a run); and other stresses made me feel I wasn’t always the best version of myself. And it’s hard to shine when basic needs aren’t guaranteed. Now that we have a clean, beautiful home, steady income, and constant access to good food, it’s easier to be nice to each other and to ourselves. It’s also easier to look back at that sketchy hotel in Hanoi with moldy walls and sticky sheets and laugh.
4) How did you come up with the idea for the Homage Project? What was it like collaborating as a couple?
We were used to working together on school projects and extracurriculars, so collaborating on the Homage Project was a breeze. (Andrew wasn’t blindsided by my critical, perfectionist nature.) From my time studying abroad with SIT, I knew I wanted to bring a more clear intention and question to the traveling, because I felt that the quest to really learn about place is what made studying abroad way more enriching than just passing through.
Melaka, Malaysia (courtesy of @homageproject)
My job with the Florida Department of Transportation, academic background, and overall frustration with the built environment in Central Florida made the mobility and city design quest of the journey a natural fit. Andrew had a similar academic, professional, and personal interest in planning, so he was also in.
5) What did your family think about you taking a year to travel?
Family members differed. For the most part, our parents were a bit reluctant to see the benefit of such a decision. They didn’t say we shouldn’t do it, but they also didn’t say we should. My mom, though, was all about the Homage Project. She was eager to encourage creative pursuits, and appreciated that we were trying to build a professional element into the very unprofessional decision. She also knew I had always dreamed of traveling for an extended amount of time, and wasn’t surprised when I actually told her I was doing it. I think all of our parents were glad we were going together. Especially for my parents, they were comforted that their young daughter would have someone with her.
6) Any words of advice for people who want to travel full time?
The most important thing someone considering traveling—or just considering life—can do is to ask why. Why do you want to do this? What do you want to get out of it? What do you think traveling will be like? What do you say when you mean “travel?”
We met dozens of other long-term travelers while on the road, and each of them approached the journey differently. Some had been traveling for YEARS, and spent no more than a few days in each place. Some had been traveling for years, but spent a few months—maybe even longer—in each place. I always thought we would rent a room for a month or two and stay put in one place—get to know it and the people there. Because that seems like a true break from work and from your same old town but without the stress of being truly on the road. But for some reason, we never did. We stayed put while working at hostels, but that wasn’t exactly the same as the getaway I had imagined.
We also have a friend who thought she’d do the same thing, and had even begun planning for her departure and journey months in advance. But then, she realized her desires had changed. She liked her life and realized it wasn’t the right time. I found this so beautiful, because if the purpose of traveling is to love each day a little more, then why wait until you’re someplace else to start? You never know what’s going to happen—that big trip you’ve been cooking up in your mind may never come. But today is here, so what are you going to do to make today worth it?
Where Are They Now?
Courtney and Andrew returned to the US and continued traveling for another month while applying for jobs. They both live in LA where Courtney works as an urban planner and Andrew works in non-profit helping people with high barriers to employment (felony convictions, homelessness, drug addictions) get jobs. Their latest project? Conquering car-free living in Los Angeles!
When I was in college, I wanted to work for a think tank in a research role. Today, I’m a matchmaker and expat coach.
How the hell did that happen?
In college, I imagined that I wanted to spend my days doing research. But once I finished graduate school, the last thing I wanted was to do was more research. I actually loved research, (still do!) but I wanted a career that gave me more flexibility, more travel experience, and more human to human interactions.
I had to let go of the idea of what I thought my career would look like in order to find what I really wanted.
But I had absolutely no idea what that was!
Rather than obsessing over the “I don’t know” part, I just jumped in and tried a bunch of different things. I saw each opportunity as a paid learning experience. My only requirement was that I had to be able to work from home.
I ended up spending a year freelancing. I did freelance writing, VA work, and research, before landing a gig writing about relationships for a lifestyle blog. The job did not pay well, but I had a feeling it would lead into something else. It did! I ended up getting a job as a matchmaker a month later.
Matchmaking is not a career I ever expected. But it actually fits in perfectly with my academic background, while utilizing my research and writing skills, as well as my experience in self management developed through freelancing. Matchmaking also showed me that I’m really good at recruitment. Back in college, I would have never expected that recruitment would become one of my major skills and passions. Plus, it taught me how to be an entrepreneur, which inspired me to launch this blog.
I have a lot of friends who struggle with jobs they hate, underemployment, or even unemployment. But when I ask them what they would rather be doing, they have no idea.
That’s the problem. Not that they have no idea what they want to be doing, but that they let their indecision keep them frozen in a situation they don’t like. I work with a lot of clients who have the same issue! The problem is that they need to shift their mindset around work.
If you take a job, you don’t have to be there for 30 years. You may be there for a few years at most, but you always have the power to move into a different field, to quit and travel the world, to go back to school, whatever… You are in the driver’s seat and each job you take, is just another learning experience that will bring you closer to where you really want to be.
Here’s the secret.
I wish someone had told me this when I was job hunting… you’re not going to know what you want to do. In fact, it’s better if you don’t! Finding the career that’s right for you will take trying a bunch of different opportunities. The more you experiment, the faster what you should really be doing will land in your lap. That’s why it’s so important to do plenty of internships and volunteer work when you’re still in school.
Exploring all of those different opportunities is not wasted time. In each of those roles, you’ll get a better sense of who you are, what you’re good at, and what you really want. And you’ll be developing skills that will make it possible to actually get your dream job. Every job, not matter how insignificant it seems is really such a gift, if only because it presents the ability to continue your education (and pay your bills)!
Another word of caution.
I see a lot of people turn down great opportunities just because it isn’t exactly what they want. Most people don’t wake up the day after graduation and find their dream job. I had a friend turn down a job that would have allowed her to travel the world for fun and for work just because she said she didn’t want to work in sales.
Don’t turn down good learning opportunities just because they aren’t exactly what you imagined. Your career path is going to take many twists and turns. I am so far from where I thought I would be and couldn’t be happier about it! Be open to trying new things and trust that every opportunity is taking you closer to where you really want to be.
When I was a senior in college, the idea of getting a job and working full time in an office sounded like literal hell. Even though college had been really hard on me and I was a chronic overachiever, I couldn’t imagine giving up the freedom I had as a student. From where I was standing it felt like my only options were A. Go into massive debt and go to graduate school or B. Take an uninspiring and poorly paid office job. No one told me I had the option to attend graduate school abroad. Even if it had occurred to me, I wouldn’t have known how doing so would improve my career outlook and save me tons of money.
Earlier in my senior year I had been considering graduate school. For the past two years, I had been working for a local non-profit. I thought that I wanted to continue in that space, but I was already burned out. My junior year I studied abroad in the Czech Republic and Poland, so I knew that I wanted to learn more about the region. I had no idea what I would do with that experience or how it would benefit me, but the calling was real, so I knew I wanted follow it. But I couldn’t see any feasible next steps or how this all added together.
My professors and advisors were telling me to go to grad school in the US. Top tier universities in major US cities were suggested. But when I crunched the numbers, it just didn’t make sense. I would have to take out massive student loans, live in a city with a high cost of living, and spend tens of thousands of dollars a year on tuition. Not to mention spend hundreds of hours and dollars preparing for the GRE and applying to schools. Then it would take two to three years to get my degree. That meant when I graduated, not only would I be deep in debt from school, I would also be living in a costly US city like New York or Boston, in a competitive job market with little certainty around getting a job.
Despite what everyone was telling me, I couldn’t justify that kind of risk or financial commitment.
Plus, by taking out huge student loans, I would be sacrificing my freedom. With debt breathing down my neck, I would feel pressured to study something that was “practical” but that I wasn’t passionate about. I would spend the next few years wondering whether I had made an enormous and costly mistake before taking the best paying job that came my way to pay off my debt, rather than pursuing my passions.
I stepped back and took a serious look at what I wanted to do with my life and where I wanted to be. Honestly, at 21 years old, I couldn’t come up with any serious answers. And with a degree in Religious Studies, my prospects didn’t exactly feel red hot.
At the time, I let the pressures of the situation distract me and I was totally out of alignment with myself and what I wanted. What I did know was I wasn’t ready for a full time job, not mentally and not on paper. I also knew I was really passionate about travel, but that felt more like an impractical hobby. And I felt called to continue my study of the Post-Soviet space, which likewise felt impractical.
With all of this swimming around in my mind, a full class load, two jobs, and two thesis projects, I was headed straight for a nervous breakdown.
Somehow, while doing research for a paper, I discovered a small university in Budapest, Hungary. I had never been to Budapest, but it had been at the top of my list for some time. It was an English language graduate school that offered American accredited degrees, but at a European price tag. Plus, it followed the European education model, meaning degrees were 10 months to 2 years long. On top of that, the cost of living in Budapest is significantly less than the average American city. According to Numbeo, the cost of living in Budapest is 68% lower than that of New York City. The university also had way more funding available than the average American institution.
And since the Universe works in magical ways, my university in Budapest was one of only two universities in the world that offered a degree in the specific field I had been studying for the past two years. I didn’t realize that this seemingly random passion I had developed for Nationalism Studies could be parlayed into a graduate degree.
At the time, I didn’t know anyone who had attended graduate school abroad, so aside from my professors, I didn’t have anyone I could run the idea by. Most people thought I was nuts, but the truth is, I wanted to travel and I couldn’t come up with any good reasons to not give this a try. But I really was going into this decision blind. Plus choosing to attend graduate school abroad meant I would be moving to a foreign country sight unseen.
I applied as a failsafe, figuring if I didn’t get a job I would just go to grad school. I played around with the idea of doing AmeriCorps and applied for some jobs, but I felt deeply uninspired by the opportunities coming my way. In the end, I decided on graduate school and traveling instead.
I ended up getting 75% of my degree covered by scholarships, which meant I paid less than four thousand dollars for my MA and finished my degree + thesis in 10 months. While living in Budapest, I also decreased my cost of living by more than 50% each month. After graduating I decided to live in Budapest for another year and half, working as a freelance writer and VA, developing skills I hadn’t learned in school, traveling, and studying Hungarian.
Looking back three years after graduating, I am so relieved I didn’t take the advice of the people around me and go into debt for an American graduate school. Finishing grad school debt free meant I had the freedom to travel and explore different career paths before eventually landing in the matchmaking field. And honestly, the experience of attending graduate school abroad, having discussions & debates with students from dozens of counties, and learning to manage adult life in a foreign country taught me way more than I could have ever learned in an American classroom.
But beyond that, the 2+ years I spent living in Budapest pushed me way outside of my comfort zone, accelerating my personal and professional growth. I know that my international experience has made my resume stand out from the pack when applying for jobs, because hiring managers have shared that with me. One former boss told me she felt inspired by my international experience and it was one of the reasons she brought me onboard.
From both a personal and professional perspective, I have to say choosing to attend graduate school abroad is probably the best decision I ever made.
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