1. Where do you currently live?
I live in Tbilisi, Georgia (the country).
2. How do you make a living?
I am an English teacher, teacher trainer, and artist. The art hasn’t quite taken off yet, and is work in progress, but the teaching and teacher training have been very successful. I’m currently self-employed and take contract work.
I’ve always been fascinated by the human experience and how culture shapes our lives.
The perks of living in Tbilisi is that only 2 hours away is the wonderful ski area of Gudauri.
3. Why did you choose this career path?
I’ve always been fascinated by the human experience and how culture shapes our lives. Not being a trust fund baby, I had to figure out a way to fund my travels around the world. Teaching English seemed like a great idea because I like teaching; it allows me to become a part of the community in a way that most travelers can only dream about. I am also in a position where I can give back and empower the teachers and the learners with whom I work.
4. What advice do you have for someone who wishes to pursue the same career path?
If you want this to be your profession, get a master’s degree. While you are doing your master’s, seriously consider tutoring or working as an English teacher on the side. Many international jobs prefer (or require) that you have several years of experience. If you are a U.S. citizen, consider doing the Peace Corps Master’s International program. You do two years of Peace Corps service in the middle of your program, and you graduate with international experience. For those who are not U.S. citizens, your government may offer a teaching opportunity that you can explore. For example, there are teaching Fellowships in Hong Kong or at the University of Macau.
If you are not interested in teaching as a profession, but would like to teach around the world for a few years, get a CELTA or DELTA certificate to teach English as a foreign language. These are widely recognized and will give you more flexibility in your choice of a job.
5. How has living abroad added to your life? What are some of the perks to living abroad?
Aside from the incredible life-long friendships I’ve made with people from around the world, living abroad has challenged me to grow in a wide variety of ways. I’m certainly a more flexible person than I was in college. I also learned to eat tomatoes; got a scuba certificate; learned about and experienced Chinese medicine; crewed yachts alongside pink dolphins in Macau; raced on a cross-country ski team for the Diplomatic cup; started my Private Pilot Licence; bonded with an elephant at a training center in Thailand, and felt the joy of buying a fresh mango smoothie on the side of the road.
Some perks have been experiencing cities in detail by walking miles and miles on their streets; in other places, having a driver for long distances, who also doubles as a local guide. I hate driving.
One of my favorite things about living abroad is that my sense of history has grown exponentially. One of my most touching moments in Ufa, Russia, was visiting the monument to the fallen soldiers of WWII and meeting some of the surviving soldiers who returned to honor their comrades. My grandfathers fought in the war and, at that time, the U.S. and Russia worked together. Meeting with the Russian vets, I felt a tiny connection to my grandfathers.
I’ve also become more patient. When nothing is working, there’s sometimes nothing you can do about it. You move on and look for a different way to solve the problem, or, instead of forcing a solution, you find a way to enjoy the moment. Black out? Enjoy the stars; do some yoga; read a book with your battery headlamp; or go to bed early and surprise your body with a wonderful 12 hour night!
6. What advice would you give to someone who knows that they want to live abroad, but doesn’t know where to start?
I think this depends on your level of tolerance for the unknown. For those who don’t mind not having a plan, research volunteer positions, development projects, or other international workplaces and go to the country where you would like to live and try to get a job. I have seen this happen successfully many times. I do not have this kind of tolerance for the unknown. I started with Peace Corps as a volunteer and networked with people in China, where I was stationed. Through these networks, I eventually made contacts that I needed to grow in the way I wanted as a professional. Also, doing a master’s was really helpful for me. My first overseas job after graduating came from a suggestion of a fellow student.
When I first started teaching I was an English Language Fellow in Hefei, China. My friends from all over the world joined me for dinner parties at my university apartment.
7. What has been your most challenging experience living abroad? How did you deal with this challenge?
Living in a couple of war zones was probably the most challenging experience for me. I had to make sure to add exercise, yoga, and meditation into my daily activities to stay healthy and to stay in the present moment. I used Marianne Elliott’s experience in a high profile position at the UN when everything fell apart and, with grace and strength, she focused on strengthening herself and the Afghan communities she worked with as an example of processing. This is all wonderfully described in her book: “Zen Under fire: A Story of Love and Work in Afghanistan.”
8. How do you make friends and socialize abroad?
I like sports and outdoor activities. I find people who enjoy these things through Internations, CouchSurfing, and other social media. I met some interesting people through hashing as well. The group that I walked/ran with didn’t mind that I didn’t drink. Art and dance classes have helped me make friends.
I’ve also found a bunch of amazing teachers and students around the world that I have been lucky to befriend. Moments spent with them will always be cherished.
9. How do you stay connected to your friends and family at home? Have any come to visit you?
I mainly stay connected through email, Skype and social media. I try to go home for at least 3 weeks every year to reconnect personally with family and friends.
10. How has your living abroad affected your friends? Family?
I’ve always felt that a true friend is the one that, when you have a reunion after a month, a year, or a couple of years of limited interaction, as soon as you see each other you just totally reconnect, can share your experiences with each other, and can celebrate spending time together. I actively try to see the friends that I have made who are important to me by going to visit them. This has been great because they live all over the world!
11. Please add anything that you think women considering working, living and traveling abroad should know that has not already been covered by the questions.
Just go and do it. Everyone will still be there when you get back. Things will have changed, but that is life–we are always in the midst of a change. It will actually be harder to return than to leave.
This may be extreme, but I always think to myself, “if something happens to me and all I have is memories, I want them to be extraordinary.” I want to be able to live the amazing moments of life again instead of feeling regret for what I could have done, but did not do. I want to feel fully myself. Much like how Walter Mitty stopped daydreaming and started living. I daydreamed in school, I’ve been living since.