This past week, I’ve seen sooo many post on Facebook to the effect of “There are no good men out there!” “I don’t know any happy couples!” “Finding the right person is a matter of luck!”
Well, if you know me, you know I think all of that is BS. Finding the right person takes work. Being the right person takes work. Being in a relationship takes work. Having the life of your dreams take work. Welcome to planet Earth!
No, I don’t mean your life or relationship should be a struggle. The kind of “work” I’m referring to is working on yourself, being emotionally honest with your partner, taking big risks, being brave enough to love unconditionally. These things aren’t necessarily easy, but personally, I think doing your self work is a whole lot easier than playing the victim.
Anyway! The fact is trauma is real, depression is real. I know when you’re in the pits it can be hard to visualize a better relationship or better life for yourself. But it’s important to get your imagination moving in the direction of the life you want. And I think the best way to do that is by hearing the stories of real people who have accomplished beautiful things. That’s why I’m doing this series on real travel couples. That’s right. Couples who like each other enough to commit AND travel the world together. Wowza.
This week I had the pleasure to interview a Canadian couple Shawn and Steph. They are happily married and hold down “real” jobs, while still making the time to travel the world together and collaborate creatively. Follow them on Insta here for daily #relationshipgoals inspiration.
Their interview also reminded me that the real beauty of traveling with your partner isn’t the awesome shots for social media or even the incredible places you’ll visit. It’s in the experience of slowly uncovering deeper and deeper layers of intimacy with your partner. This interview is seriously beautiful guys!
Read on for their amazing story and awesome insights into love, life, and travel!
1) What has travel taught you about love? About intimacy?
Each and every time we travel together, we always come home with a deeper love, and deeper connection for one another. We think this is because it tones down the stresses and anxieties of our everyday lives, and allows us to be grounded and present to truly focus on each other. It gives us more time to be alone, emotionally, and physically & allows us to reconnect, especially if we’ve lost track due to the business of the real world.
When traveling together you get to see and experience all of the raw moments of another person’s life. Their insecurities, their fears, their excitements – there is no hiding it when you’re with a person 24/7. This is the true test. If you love them after seeing all of them, I think the relationship could be amazing. I’ll never forget bursting into tears because we were in an area of extreme culture shock and discomfort, and looking at Shawn gave me that sense of “home” I needed in that moment. That’s what love is.
2) How has travel shaped your relationship?
Each time we went on a trip together while we were dating, those were the moments that solidified myself wanting to marry him.
I always thought, if we could get along for x number of days, and enjoy each others company, AND have fun while doing it, then I want this for life! What could be better than a life travel partner and a best friend all wrapped into one?
However, travel really does teach you if you are well suited for each other. Our interests and wants on a trip have always aligned and I think that helps immensely. I’m sure everyone can name a friend that they know they absolutely cannot travel with. We are by no means an athletic couple – so we opt for the shorter hikes. We LOVE food & drinks – so we always research neat places to eat etc. Discussing what you want out of a trip before you go, will really make it that much more successful.
3) How did you know you wanted to travel together?
We didn’t, but we thought we’d give it a try! With Shawn, it always came naturally. I was the anxious planner, and he was the relaxed, laid back type. I think we really compliment each other well.
We’d just finished university (where we met), and had been dating for about a year. Our first big trip together was to Western Canada- to see Banff & Jasper. I remember thinking, if this goes well, he could be the one! (Spoiler: we got married last August!) It ended up being a very successful trip and one of our favourite memories together! If you’re hesitant, take the risk – it will either make you a stronger couple, or teach you what you need to work on together – either way an amazing learning experience.
4) What has it been like collaborating creatively with your partner?
We definitely have our parts when it comes to collaborating creatively. Shawn is more of a behind-the-scenes camera man. He takes the majority of our photos for us. I like to do the research for finding cool places to shoot, and the editing. He’s very supportive and definitely brings positivity, even when at times I get down on myself comparing our work to others and thinking its not “good enough.” He’s like our little cheerleader, always reminding us that we started our account for a reason – to share our love of travel with the world & inspire others to step out of their comfort zones – not to care about how well or not well a photo does on Instagram.
5) How do you balance working full time with travel?
So I am a teacher, and Shawn is an engineer. I have a very strict schedule for when I can travel – Canadas education system has fewer breaks than other countries. I have July & August off, 2 weeks at Christmas, and 1 week in March. This is when we travel. It also happens to be the most expensive time to travel, which is the only downfall to the time I get off.
Shawn has 3-4 weeks off a year. So while working, we save up as much as we can so we can go on our next adventure! Seems manageable but it is a struggle sometimes. It is VERY hard to produce content during the week. We come home exhausted from work and don’t want to film stories, or edit and post photos. We do the majority of that on the weekends.
One thing that REALLY helps us, is that we focus on creating and producing date nights and date ideas to share with others aside from just travel. We choose 1 weekend a month to explore or go to places near our hometown of Toronto. This gives us more content to share when we aren’t traveling, and allows us to go on a date – win/win!
6) What’s Your Next Adventure?
Our next adventure is happening in July – we are exploring France/Italy for 3 weeks! I’m Italian and have been to Italy once, but Shawn has never been. We are even staying with some of my family that I’ve never met before, so it will be quite the experience.
We are starting in Nice, France & ending in the Amalfi Coast. I am definitely most excited to explore Cinque Terre – it has been on my bucket list FOREVER!
If you want to follow us on our adventure, be sure to check out @thethompsontrotters for all of the pasta and bread and wine anyone could wish for!
Image creds: @thethompsontrotters & @durandstudios
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!
I love the book Eat, Pray, Love.
I think it’s a fantastic exploration of healing, travel, and heartbreak. It has inspired people to heal deeper, travel more, and live more fully.
But the movie version? Well the rom-com version of Eat, Pray, Love kind of makes it seem like healing can be tied up with a nice little bow. Like you can have a grand old time traveling the world while healing your heartbreak in perfect hair and makeup. Oh, and at the end, there will be a sexy, sexy Brazilian soulmate waiting for you.
Anyone who has embarked on a healing journey knows that it is hardly picture perfect. Throw travel into the mix and well, it can turn into a hot mess.
But people still want to know…
Can travel help me heal?
The answer is yes, but…
Yes, travel can help you heal, but probably not in the way you’re envisioning.
I’ve known a lot of people who felt like they were at an impasse in their lives. Maybe post breakup, just got fired from a job, or some other trauma. Their solution to their feelings of stagnation, fear, or heartbreak was to drop everything and travel. I’m not saying that travel isn’t the right decision in those situations, maybe it is. But travel is not going to be a balm for your wounds that helps you forget your troubles. Travel brings you face to face with the root of your trouble… yourself.
I talk to a lot of people who want to travel because they want to run away from their pain and their problems. Well, unfortunately, the Universe doesn’t let you run away from your problems.
Whatever you’ve been running from will show up again and again on the road.
That toxic boyfriend you left behind? You’ll meet him several more times, in very tempting packages. Your abandonment issues? You’ll see them every time you miss a flight or break away from a travel companion.
You can’t outrun your problems.
Guess why? Because you, my friend, are pretty much your only problem…
And the only solution. Even when life throws things at us that are outside of our control, it’s still up to us to heal the pain, shift our mindset, and manifest something different.
“Wherever you go, there you are.”
You can’t ever escape yourself. The only way to escape your patterns, your trauma, your relationships, is to face them, and to heal them. Travel wakes you up to this reality because no matter how far away you get from your old life, your problems keep showing up. That’s when the healing work really begins.
For me it took two years abroad before this reality set in. I couldn’t figure out why my problems kept showing up again and again despite my constant motion. I had always been a runner. From my problems, from my relationships, from myself. How many guys had run after me literally yelling, “You can’t keep running away from me!”
Once I realized that I was the problem and I was never really going to be able to outrun myself, I moved back to the US. The resources I needed for healing weren’t available to me where I was living, although nowadays the Internet has made almost any healing modality just a few clicks away.
Moving back was a really painful decision for me. It felt like a failure. I had to put my ego attachment to being a “traveler” aside in order to get myself the healing that I needed. I did hours and hours of hypnotherapy. I got certified as a theta healer and a spiritual life coach. I did acupuncture, reiki, yoga, and more. And the journey still isn’t over for me. I had to put the physical journey aside in order to take an internal one.
That being said, travel can be an incredibly powerful first step in your healing journey, even if it isn’t the ultimate solution.
Travel does give you the space to heal.
There are times when you might find that you want to heal, but the people around you are sabotaging that. It’s not that they don’t want you to heal, it’s that they are used to a version of you and they don’t want things to change. They might even lash out, “Who do you think you are?” “Wow, you’ve changed so much.” Especially the people who were able to take advantage of a weaker version of yourself. In that sense, travel takes you away from the routines, jobs, and people that have expectations of you, and don’t necessarily want you to do the healing work. Travel creates the space to heal, analyze your relationships, and become a new version of yourself.
What about past lives?
If you find yourself fixated on visiting one particular location, you might have experienced a powerful past life there. If you can’t shake the desire to go there, it’s a sign from your soul that you have some healing work to do around this particular past life. I would recommend working with a past life regression therapist to figure out what happened. Once you do that you may find that you still have an unbelievably strong desire to visit that location. At which point, I would recommend heeding the call. You might need to step into the physical energy of that spot to complete your healing.
Journal About It:
- Where do you want to visit? Why?
- What in your life do you want to leave behind?
- Do you ever have vivid dreams about a place you’ve never been?
- What part of your being is asking you to travel?
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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