The first time I traveled abroad was upon embarking on a 5 month adventure in Australia. I decided to 'go big or go home' flying halfway around the wold to complete a semester of University studies at Macquarie University in North Ryde, Australia. Since that adventure I've been hungry for more, with no end in sight. My second passport stamp was a year later, this time volunteering in Jamaica as part of an alternative spring break trip. An experience that very well may have altered the course of my future life. I had been studying business, fully prepared to enter the 'real world', put on the grown up clothes and show up everyday, cranking away at those 9-5 hours. After my eyes were opened to different communities and I was able to experience what it was like to help in areas of need, something shifted.
Upon graduating I did the 'responsible' thing, accepted a job at a company many were envious to enter, and started clocking my hours. This wasn't my first choice, but because applications to Americorps and other ventures weren't biting, I settled. I told myself (and my mom) I'd put in a year, but even that commitment was a struggle. True to my word I turned in my two weeks notice during my first annual review with my boss, this is a story I love to share and one that almost always peeks interest. I didn't just quit with no plan in sight, I had already arranged the next leg of my journey, you guessed it another trip overseas.
I soon packed my bags, my whole life in two suitcases, and jumped on board a plane bound for South Korea. Although I knew very little about this country upon my departure, I was confident that I was making the right choice and this year of teaching would be just what I needed. I promised friends and family the year would fly by and I'd be home soon enough, well that was almost 5 years ago and I surprise or not, I haven't officially returned yet.
The two years I spent teaching at Buksam High school changed me, never did I think I'd fall in love with the teaching profession. In America, teachers are often received with a look of pity or sympathy. Despite it being a job that is constantly in high demand, more and more are shying away from the profession. Difficult students, dangerous situations, low pay and questionable benefits are just a few of the reasons I've seen people scoff at the profession, but in Asia it's different. Upon uttering the words teacher I was often praised, thanked and looked up to, all of which made me feel great about what I was doing. Not only that but the students appreciate you, respect you and admire you - well they did me anyway. Leaving my school, co-workers and students was one of the hardest things I've ever done, I mean I cried, on stage, in front of 300+ people - I'm not a crier.
Although it was a difficult decision, I knew my stint in Korea was up (for the time being) and there was more for me to see, learn, taste and experience. I had a one-way ticket to Cambodia, a month long yoga teacher training booked, and a whole new world to explore in SE Asia. Bringing my 'Korea' blogging days to an end I jumped into the travel blog world, one that I was often on the reading end of, and started my own.
That trip was supposed to fulfill my travel desires, I was supposed to come back feeling complete, satisfied, ready to re-enter the working world in America. But you know what? That wasn't going to work, instead, i.n.s.t.e.a.d. I spent the tail end of summer visiting family, and making an overdue trip to New York. My travel bug was still biting so I tried to calm it with three weeks in California, which was fun, but not enough. The friends and experiences I'd had in SE Asia felt unfinished, there were still places to explore and people to revisit. After only a few months home I had already purchased my ticket back, you guessed it, to Korea. I wasn't staying there though, after a few weeks catching up with friends I'd venture off to explore some new lands and revisit some of my favorites, ultimately landing myself in Cambodia for a few months to put my yoga teaching skills to use.
Students and friends were confused when I showed up in Korea, but I think everyone now realizes this place is a second home, somewhere I feel comfortable coming and going as I please. From there I took off for the Philippines, giving Cebu another chance before getting wrapped up in a whole ton of fun and making new friends in Bohol. The adventures continued in Taiwan, revisiting my first ever couchsurfing host and taking a week to teach English to some adorable children. I decided to throw Indonesia into the mix, which presented me with more generous people and amazing experiences. Finally it was time for me to settle in Cambodia, three months teaching yoga and English at Banteay Srey and taking some time to decide "What comes next?"
Living in Cambodia for three months was rewarding, but those rewards did not come without a challenge. My first visit must have been too easy because this time I around my limits were pushed, from injuries to theft, things were not as easy this time. Thankfully though I had friends who were there for me and travelers who shared stories and similar experiences. I thought about extending my travels through summer, floating from Asia to Europe, but things changed and instead I found myself on a flight back home.
I spent the summer avoiding the 'What's your plan' and 'What are you doing now' type of questions, bused about America (it is possible!), watched friends get hitched and prepared for my next departureI bounced back and forth between South America and Europe, I even bought a Spanish book to brush up on my high school studies, but ultimately Europe won - I had to many friends to see there.
By August my ticket was booked and lonely planet guidebooks were decorating my home, where to go, what to see, who to meet? I'm sure you know this, but tackling Europe is no easy task! Also if you didn't know, I have this problem where I want to go everywhere and do everything, seriously - food, sights, people, jobs, destinations, give me all of it. I was stressed just picking a region to visit and believe me, one receives no sympathy from friends and family when uttering the words "I don't know where in Europe to go". Ultimately my travel plans revolved around friends I could drop-in on, Copenhagen, Zurich, Stuttgart and Amsterdam were definite's, while I left the rest to be determined, after all I had time.
Silly me though, before even taking off on this trip I was knee deep in my next venture. A summer spent with an ex-student and other ESL kids left me longing for Korea, and before I knew it I had three job offers on the table. August was a rush of change and by the end of it not only did I have a plane ticket to Europe booked, I also had a contract signed and job in Korea, starting mid October. My trip through Europe was shorter and faster than I had planned, packing 8 countries into four and a half weeks, but it was a good taste of what they have to offer. I was able to explore a few new cities, revisit old friends and travel buddies and of course make some new, valuable connections. The charm was much different than Asia, but I'm glad I got out of one continent and onto another, even if it was only for a few weeks.
After returning home I had only a few weeks to wrap up loose ends and pack my bags, soon heading back to my second home, although in a different city, under very different terms. I spent a year teaching at a private academy in Andong, South Korea - a year filled with ups and downs, new friends, challenges at work, a minor bike to car accident and even my first heartbreak. It was a year that challenged me and made me question how much I really loved this country I was beginning to call home. There were weeks I thought I'd stay forever, but those were matched with days spent on travel websites, planning my next escape. Ultimately I did not resign my contract or look for another to replace it, I decided I was ready to travel, finally visit Myanmar and then drop back home for the holidays - the first time in five years I'd be doing so. As for the new year, 2017, my head was filled with visions of language schools in Korea, backpacking through South America, expanding my yoga practice in India and even snagging some work in America. I really thought this would be the year I'd make it South, but I got no further than Costa Rica, instead, only months after I had left I was on a flight back to Asia. I don't think I'll ever quell the wanderings of my brain, there will always be thoughts of "What about..." with at least 5 options for that blank at any given time, but for now I'm just grateful that I can fill in the blank as I so chose.