I Owe my Entire Career to Taking a Year Off and Moving to Thailand
It was the end of my senior year in college. And I had two choices:
- Get a “real” 9-to-5 job.
- Or don’t.
OK, looking back, there were more than two choices. Nonetheless, I knew I wanted an adventure: an off-the-beaten-path experience. Not being stuck in a cubicle. This is how I eventually found myself teaching English in Thailand. My experience living and working there led me to where I am today.
(Hint: Where I am “today” has nothing to do with what I thought I wanted, and Thailand showed me that.)
This is why I went, and how it changed me.
1. I Was Unsure of What I Wanted to Do With my Life
I am still unsure, in many ways, of “what I want to do with my life.” And I believe we, as humans, are constantly evolving and always changing what we want to do. Nevertheless, when I graduated back in 2012, I was very unsure of what I wanted to do.
My problem, if you could call it that, is that I like everything. It’s hard for me to stay focused and define goals—though, with maturity, that has become easier.
I always liked everything I studied in school: economics, statistics, English, and so on. Eventually, I ended up majoring in history. Why? Because my dad told me “it was reputable.” Still unsure of what I wanted to do with my life, I was nervous to jump into a career I disliked, so I traveled to Thailand instead.
2. I Feared Jumping Into a Full-Time Job—and Hating It
I recall looking at job descriptions my senior year and saying to myself: “No.” Just no. Nothing sounded appealing; nothing seemed like I could do that for the rest of my life. Or even a year.
But unlike a “real job,” teaching in Thailand was a relatively short-term gig: six to 12 months. I liked it because I had the option to extend my stay if I wanted to. Or heck, if things went bad, I could always leave on the spot.
Knowing this made teaching overseas much more appealing.
3. I Always Had a Passion for East-Asian Culture
Despite all my uncertainty, I knew I loved Asia.
After studying abroad in Shanghai previously, my entire college career became dedicated to Asia. Following that, I spun projects to somehow relate to Asia in any way possible. So for me, to teach in Thailand wasn’t a completely random decision. In fact, I was dying to go back to Asia. To travel more, to live there again.
If you’re like me—unsure about a lot, but have an unwavering interest in one thing, I highly suggest exploring that. Maybe it’s fitness, or cooking. Perhaps it’s skiing. Whatever it may be, you won’t regret pursuing a passion as you search for the work that fulfills you. Even if it doesn’t pan like you had planned.
4. I Thought I Wanted to Go to Grad School
While still being uncertain about a lot, I was pretty certain that I wanted to go to grad school. (I think most people who are uncertain of what they want to do think they want to go to grad school.)
Specifically, I thought I would study economic development in East Asia. So it made sense to go back to Asia and gain more experience living there before heading to graduate school. I never did make it to graduate school. And I couldn’t be happier about it. Moreover, today I do nothing related to East Asia or economics.
Advice to others wanting to go to grad school (or law school) right out of college: Wait. Get a job in the industry—see if it’s something you really want to do. After I was finished teaching for six months, this is exactly what I did: I got a job at a Thai think tank in their economic development department. It was my “dream job,” or so I thought.
Turns out: I was dead wrong. I only lasted in that role for three months. It wasn’t what I thought it would be. But it was there that I first began teaching myself to code—and loved it. As this realization set it, I dropped the GRE classes I had been taking, as well as the many hours a week I spent studying for the test. I asked myself: “Why am I studying outdated vocabulary words, when I could be learning real-life skills?” and began to teach myself how to build basic websites.
I would never have found the work I have and love now if I’d set straight off for grad school first.
5. I Could Go on a Long Trip, Because I Had Few Major Responsibilities
Sure, my boyfriend was not jumping for joy at the thought of me being gone, in exotic Thailand, for over six months. But as a healthy, 22-year-old girl, I knew I needed to explore.
And more importantly, I had little responsibilities:
- No husband
- No children
- Healthy parents
- No mortgage
- And so on
Fortunately, I had the awareness to realize that this was a fleeting opportunity. And to take it. Your early 20s is probably the best time to travel. It is a sweet spot of little responsibility, coupled with youth and overall health. And just enough money to get by.
I don’t care what industry you’re in (heck, now I am in tech): Travel. And do it while you’re young.
There’s a thousand excuses you can make about why “now” is not a good time. But trust me, as you get older, it’s only going to become more difficult. And the next thing you know, you’ll be in your 40s or 50s wondering why you never made it to Europe.
Sure, you can travel when you retire. (And many people do. I plan on being one of them.) But it’s not the same as when you’re young and unbound from all the responsibilities that come with age.
6. I Wanted a Challenge
At the end of it all, I wanted a challenge.
And that’s what I got.
Yes, Thailand is fun. But when I was teaching—which I was for most of my time there—I was in the middle of Thailand. I was not living on an exotic beach or partying every night in Bangkok.
Rather, I was completely isolated as one of two Westerners in my town.
Even more, I:
- Was the only Western female in the town
- Was in a town where only two others could speak English fluently
- Lived alone for the first time (and I lived in a house without a sink or toilet flusher)
- Dealt with snakes, cockroaches, huge freaking lizards, and packs of stray dogs (who would snap at you) on a daily basis
- Had to bicycle to get almost everywhere—and this was not some cosmopolitan area with bike-friendly roads
When I decided to teach in Thailand, I didn’t realize what I was signing up for. The truth is: I tried to not think about it and just deal with it when I got there. But to this day, I try to embrace this mindset: Take action, don’t think about all the “what ifs.” Like many people, I tend to overanalyze decisions. And, as a result, fail to take action.
One of my favorite sayings is, “Good things take time. Great things happen all at once.” The riskiest decisions (within good reason) tend to be the best in the long run. And if not, it’s a lesson lived. As long as you walk away learning something new, and can bring this knowledge with you into the future, it was a worthwhile experience.
7. Living Alone in Thailand Forced Me to Find Myself
In the end, spending nine months in Thailand changed me as a person and it changed my life and career trajectory. Afterward—and even still, to this day—I had a sense of confidence and independence from that experience.
Sometimes, I still tell myself, “I fought off wild dogs! I got this!”
Ultimately, going outside of your comfort zone allows you to develop as a person. By itself, traveling alone or working somewhere new alone is empowering and challenging, but most of all, rewarding.
Whether you decide to travel like I did, move to a new city for a new career, or even do something totally out of the ordinary—like take an improv class or skydive: Being scared is good for you.
Being scared, or living with uncertainty, pushes you to the next level. It allows for new self-discoveries—discoveries that just don’t happen when you’re sitting in the same office, or living in the same city, in the same house, with the same people.
For me, living alone in Thailand for nine months led me to where I am today: doing content strategy and front-end development.
As disparate as the two may seem—economic development and website design and content strategy—being completely alone for the first time gave me the chance to explore areas I had never considered, which I now consider my greatest interests and passions.
When you’re totally alone, you learn a lot about yourself. When you can’t communicate with people around you, you are forced to “communicate” with yourself. Despite it taking several months, being alone in Thailand led me down a path of self-discovery. If it weren’t for Thailand, I wouldn’t be where I am today.