This post includes my unedited answers to seven questions a reporter asked me about being on a “permanent vacation” (his words not mine) and the choice to be an expat.
1. What was your living/work situation when you decided to move abroad? Why did you want to move to this location? How long have you been there?
I was working as a university professor teaching English as a Second Language. Meanwhile, I built up my online business on the side.
I learned about how to run a business online, and I was obsessed with trying to make it work. I wanted the challenge and the opportunity for more freedom, and more income.
In February I was able to confidently leave my job as a professor to work 100% for myself. Currently, I’m in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
I’m on a quest to travel to many countries.. If I spend a little less than a month in each country, I can travel to them all by 40 years old.
My priorities outside of work are connecting with people, seeing how things are done, learning some of the local language, trying the local foods, and exploring.
It was a big leap of faith for me to leave a prestigious university teaching position to work on my own business. Since I did it, I have been amazed at the outcome — In my first month working for myself I’m making about twice my regular teaching salary, feeling much less stressed out since I’m working on my own terms, having a great time traveling, and meeting the most amazing people. I feel like a glass ceiling has been shattered, and now the sky’s the limit.
2. What do you do for work now?
I help people through two different but related businesses — 1) I help people learn language, specifically English language and 2) I help teacher-entrepreneurs to create a business and life they love with more opportunity for freedom and income.
I create digital informational learning materials, some free and some paid. I couldn’t do it without a growing community of wonderful, motivated learners who follow me online.
I believe that the future of education and of work is online. People who adjust and embrace this will benefit immensely. Of course, one of the main benefits is being able to learn or work anywhere with an internet connection.
3. How did you get your feet under you once you were on the ground? How did you find a job? Housing? A network of friends?
My network of friends is everything to me. I tend to travel to places where I know at least one person (even if I’ve never met that person in real life!), or I at least have a clear reason to be there, like to attend a conference or volunteer where I can meet people with similar interests.
Online social media plays a big part in networking. When I was getting ready to come to Vietnam, I posted my plans in a related group online. Through actively reaching out online, I’ve been fortunate to meet an amazing network in real life, including my current housemate!
4. Why did you stay? What are the benefits to being an expat in your location?
I am slowly making my way around the world — slow travel or short-term expat, depending on how you see it!
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to slow-travel the world. Initially I thought that becoming a professor, with breaks between semesters, would allow me to do that. What I didn’t realize is that the demands of the job and the limited income were not enough for me to achieve the lifestyle I wanted.
The benefits to my current location – Ho Chi Minh – are: the weather, the cheap cost of living, relatively safe (#49 safest cities in the world according to The Economist), people are outgoing and happy, great culinary and cafe culture and good expat community. Coming from Tokyo, Ho Chi Minh feels a bit “crazy,” but I’m loving the newfound sense of freedom and the hustle and bustle. It’s a great environment for an online entrepreneur, since it’s a hub for our community and it’s a cheap city to live in while you bootstrap your business.
5. Can you address some practical concerns that people might have? Love/dating? Visa troubles? Internet connectivity? Trips home for holidays?
I think you need to have a flexible and positive mindset to be happy as an expat. Daily life, processes, infrastructure, relationships may be different.
I’ve been really happy with everything in Ho Chi Minh, but I’ll admit that it took me a few days to remember the name of the street I’m living on (since Vietnamese is a totally new language to me), let alone to cross the street by myself (since the motorbike traffic is heavy and crazy). Luckily, people here are so friendly.
I had a funny experience where an older Vietnamese lady saw me waiting hopelessly in the crosswalk, so she came and grabbed my hand and helped me cross the street… I was like, aren’t I supposed to be helping little old ladies cross the street, not vice-versa?
6. What advice would you give someone who’s considering becoming an expat?
Things are actually much better than when you’re on vacation. You have more options. You gain more knowledge. You have time to connect with people on a deeper level, not just skim the surface while frantically taking snapshots of landmarks. People look at you differently when you’re not “just passing through.” You can decide when you want to wear your “tourist” hat and when you want to wear your “local” hat.
On the other hand, people back home may not understand your choice, what you’re doing or why. When people ask how your travels are going, they may not be able to relate to you. As a woman, people often ask about when I’m going to settle down. I am more interested in having a relationship where we encourage each other to spread our wings and fly versus “settle down.”
Conversely, it’s difficult for me to understand when people back home say, “I wish I could do what you’re doing.” I strongly believe that no matter what your situation (unless you’ve been barred from leaving your country for some reason…?), you can be an expat. Don’t let fear stop you.
7. Do you have any sense of being on a sort of “permanent vacation,” or did the stresses of the U.S. follow you when you moved?
The stresses of the U.S. — working a 9-to-5, trying to fit in, win the rat race, etc. have been left behind. I have an inner drive and ambition which makes it enjoyable to work hard on my business. One of the most beautiful shifts in my mindset has been from competition to collaboration. While I often felt a competitive atmosphere working as an employee, I now collaborate openly and successfully with other online entrepreneurs, even when we have the same audience.
In the U.S. I never really felt that I fit in. There was a period in my 20s when I tried to follow American society’s norms, but it didn’t real right. I suffered until I returned to an awareness of my true self and believed in my capability to live the life I wanted.
I have been successful in building a business that fits my lifestyle.
A lot of my friends and family don’t understand what I do. That’s OK. That’s why I know there’s a need for me to keep educating people about the opportunities out there as an online entrepreneur.
I was educated in linguistics, not computer science. I was brought up in a struggling working-class family, not by entrepreneurs. If I can do it, anyone can.