Five years ago, I swore I would live the rest of my life abroad; it's an expat's life for me! At that time, I was a student at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. As the only American in my flat (yeah, I said it, FLAT), I was exposed to so much of the world by my multi-cultural, multi-lingual, dual-citizenship friends that I decided living in the US for the rest of my life simply would not do. I caught a virulent strain of the travel bug, spent all my money on planes, trains, and buses, and decided at the end of the year that I wanted to join the Foreign Service. Not so big a leap for an anthropology major, right?
By the time I returned to Hamilton to complete my senior year, I had all kinds of schemes and a depleted bank account. I needed a way to bankroll my wanderlust, pump up my resume, and further my "career." So I moved to China.
Through a program called LanguageCorps, I signed up for a month-long TEFL course in Zhuhai, China. At the end of the course, I found a job in the same city at an English immersion school for adults. I signed a yearlong contract, found a Chinese tutor, and woke up every morning with the same thought: "what's going to happen!?"
Over the course of my 14 months abroad, I came up with some pretty crazy ideas. I looked into different Chinese language programs, I thought about teaching English in other countries; I nearly bought a one-way ticket to who knows where. I was all over the place, and truth be told, I wasn't really happy feeling so "free."
About 6 months after I starting teaching, my school opened another branch in a different part of the country, and the staff was given the opportunity to move up to Hangzhou or stay in Zhuhai. I was torn; up until that point, I was all about being on the move. I wanted to see more of the country, I was looking for the ultimate Chinese experience, I was there to explore after all. I had two weeks to decide.
My decision to stay in Zhuhai, which I did, was in essence my decision to let go of the Foreign Service, the forever ex-pat dream. It took moving to China for me to realize that being an uber-independent, endlessly interesting, rootless government employee was not in my future. Thank God.
And so when my teaching contract was up, I traveled around South East Asia for a month and flew home to dear old New Jersey. I started working at a small engineering firm, which was pretty miserable. When you wake up every morning excited as hell to leave your apartment, switching to a lonely desk job in Jersey is the freakin' worst. Luckily, that job afforded me plenty of time to look for other work. I spent hours every day on idealist.org, scouring the web for jobs at international non-profits; I was sure I wanted to pursue some kind of international, humanitarian career path. The plan was to work for a few years and go back to graduate school for my MA in International Relations.
So 6 months and 80 cover letters later, I started working in NYC at InterExchange, a non-profit organization that sponsors J-1 visas for international students from all over the world. I really, really like it. I get to travel, work with loads of internationals, and wear jeans to work. Sweet.
And yet, what about school? I had always planned to get my Masters in something or other, and for the last 5 years at least I was committed to pursuing IR. As you might have guessed, things did not go according to plan. My passion for all things international began to wane at the same time my interest in nutrition became too great to ignore, right alongside my desire to work for myself.
At the moment, I am currently enrolled in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. As a Certified Health Counselor, I work with clients to get off diets, into their clothes, and on with their lives. It's awesome. My current plans include returning to school for my masters in nutrition and continuing to work towards full-time self-employment!
I remember sitting in the Career Training office, completely clueless. Having the freedom to decide where to spend your first September out of school is exhilarating and overwhelming. There really are so many possibilities. If you've already got your path planned, don't be afraid of detours!