One year ago today I quit my job in telesales with no real plan for the future. I spent the majority of the time in my cubicle wanting to cry, yelling at people on the phone, or browsing BootsnAll forums and looking at pictures of places I wanted to visit. I was wildly unhappy. After suffering through nine months I decided, with the support of my fabulous parents, to leave the corporate world. A year later I’m halfway done with my teaching contract in Seoul and 161 days away from beginning my backpacking trip around Southeast Asia.
What are the biggest reasons I decided to take the plunge and live in a country I’d never been to (nor knew a word of the language) and for a job I was wildly unqualified for?
1. I’m not going to do something just because society tells me I should.
I sent my resume in for my “real world job” while I was living in Rome as an au pair. Things were falling apart with my job there and I was deciding between finding another family and taking a job back home. This wasn’t a position I was interested in, but with a history major and little to no real world experience, I was in no place to be picky. Plus, I’d been told, sales was totally great experience for anything else you’d possible want to do in the future (right…). I ended up deciding to “do the responsible thing” and take the position. I left my comfortable life of cappuccini and pastries at 10 am and living on 50 euro a week for corporate America because I thought this is what I had to do at 23. Life after college is supposed to be cubicles and happy hours, isn’t it?
Maybe for some people it is, but not for me. I soon realized that this wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted. I didn’t want to do sales. I didn’t want to sit in front of Excel spreadsheets and corporate software for 9 hours a day. And after nine months I realized that just because this is what my friends are doing, this doesn’t have to be what I do.
2. I wanted to live outside the USA again.
The second the wheels of my plane touched the runway at O’Hare as I returned from Rome, I wanted to be gone again. I don’t dislike the United States. I like free refills, air conditioning, and being able to eavesdrop on conversations with ease. But I also like figuring things out. Not understanding what is going on around me at all times. Wandering around a new city. There is something satisfying about going to the grocery store and having to look at the pictures of everything to figure out what it is. Maybe I’m a masochist. Or maybe it just forces me to slow down.
Whatever it was, after months of driving to suburban shopping malls and eating Chipotle for dinner multiple times a week, I knew I needed a change. Living in Europe again wasn’t in the cards (damn you, EU and your visa requirements!) and after some research I decided on Korea, a country completely foreign, and thus completely exciting, to me.
4. The travel bug bit. Hard.
I’d spent the better portion of 2009 jetting off to a new European capital every weekend or taking the train around Italy on one of my many days off. This made the 2 weeks of vacation I had when I started my job in early 2010 even more shocking. I wanted the freedom of being able to get away when I wanted to. And to be able to take a vacation day without worrying about what it would do to my numbers at work or how many emails would be waiting in my inbox when I returned. This, coupled with the aforementioned incessant browsing of far off destinations, gave me a serious case of wanderlust.
I didn’t have the money at the time to immediately set out on my dream 18 month around the world expedition so I decided to teach English in South Korea. The money is good enough that I’m able to easily save for an extended trip after my contract, I’m not sitting in a cubicle, and for the 12 months I’m here I am still experiencing a culture enormously different from the one I’m familiar with.
I’m not a wildly successful travel blogger (yet?), but I am a lot happier than I was toiling away at a desk and in a few months will be able to achieve something I’d always wanted but never thought possible, the goal of traveling long term.