Living Abroad: Daniel & Reed II

This week, I’ll have them talk about their lowest and highest points during their experience, and what the implications were, if any.

Thanks for joining us for another week as we learn a little bit more about Daniel and Reed’s experiences abroad.

This week, I’ll have them talk about their lowest and highest points during their experience, and what the implications were, if any. If you didn’t see part one of this exchange, go take a look first: Living Abroad: Daniel & Reed I


As you know, I had my own experiences living abroad. My first month in Hanoi was pretty much consumed with finding a job.

It wasn’t enough to pay the bills, so to speak. I was doing that back home. I wanted to do something different. However, it can be a tough balance holding off on what is offered in preference for what you want. What you want may not be there after all…

Thus, I was interested to find that both Reed and Daniel cited their career paths as a major contributing factor leading to the lowest and highest points during their travel. I wanted to explore this more.

When thinking back on his career abroad, Daniel expresses a lucid, clear understanding of his successes and failures abroad.

I spent nine years working for United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education, as an Instructional Leadership Coordinator. It was my greatest success. [My family and I] got to know what it is like to be rich and live an enchanted life […] It is also my greatest failure because I let materialism control my life and I did not save any money from that time. I was making 120,000$ a year in Dubai. I saved enough to buy our farm in Isaan, but I could have been retired by now if I didn’t live in a Villa next to the Arabian Gulf and drive a tricked-out Hummer for nine years.

 

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The Hummer

While he concedes that he doesn’t “regret the Hummer” because it was the “best vehicle” he ever owned, he is also quick to point out why his greatest success was his biggest failure. Perhaps owing to the humility he learned from at one point having it all, he admits that nobody “cares if you wear a Rolex and drive a Hummer.

 

These days, Daniel opts out of caring what other people think, preferring, he says, to “take care of [himself] and [his] family.” To him, the whole thing was “a learning experience.

When asked about his successes and failures, Reed admits that he was motivated by his fear of failure abroad.

Failure to me would be having to go back because of lack of money or with nothing to show. This drove me to make sure that I succeeded and gave everything my all. There was a time that I was working 4 jobs 7 days a week so that I could afford to live here and still pay bills from back home. But I didn’t want to go back home.

He continues, owing his greatest success to a position offered to him by an Export company in Hanoi, as Marketing Manager. Having a stable job wherein he could make connections “paved the way for many of [his] successes” abroad.

For Reed, however, his job at the Export company, would eventually lead him to a period of intense worry as he left to pursue the possibility of starting his own company.

[…] I freaked out and was questioning everything. Is this a smart move, should I just go back to the US and make more money there, how can I get my girlfriend a visa there… I was so freaked out I even emailed an old client in the US about job opportunities. I mulled it all over and realized that I would regret more not taking a chance with starting a company here than if I just went home for quick money.

 

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Reed’s girlfriend, Ly

Like Daniel, motivated by the need and desire to support his family, Reed had other motivations. “I had met the girl of my dreams.” Together, they created @HanoiHandbook, a resource for travel in Vietnam, which they still run.

 

Reed closes by admitting he is “sacrificing things like financial security” by living abroad, but his desire to “shift [his] career” into a new direction motivates him beyond that.

One of the last questions I asked Daniel and Reed has to do with hindsight. I asked them to think back on their first weeks abroad and think about what advice they’d give their eager, uninitiated selves.

Reminding us of the very real phenomenon of Culture Shock, Daniel’s advice is to go out and “make friends with the locals as soon as possible.”

I don’t think its day 1 that you have to worry about, it’s more like day 29 when home-sickness and culture chock set in. Culture shock is very real and like any form of shock you don’t realise that you are in it. It can and will lead to depression, especially if you are prone to depression. Don’t worry it will go away.

As you will see when I explore Culture Shock in another entry, some get it early on, others, like myself, get it over a year into their travels. For Daniel, “six to eight months” is all he needed for “the chaos and oddities” to “become normal,” and allow him to “concentrate on living life.”

Reed highlights “keeping an open mind” during your time abroad.

Living abroad isn’t for everyone. I think the best thing is to be prepared but not over prepared. Living in a new country has a learning curve that can’t come from reading books or blogs you kind of just have to do it. So before you even get to day 1 make sure this is something you truly want to do and if it is just go after it, make it work […] enjoy the adventure. For me, I have enjoyed every second of it here and would say my quality of life [has] increased greatly […] but can come at a cost.


I wrap this up by confessing that I hope my readers benefited from these short exchanges in some way.

I feel that by comparing Reed and Daniel’s account, we can get a more holistic picture of what sort of adversities are faced living abroad. Moreover, we can see the motivations behind relocating one’s life entirely– and what keeps them there.


Next week, I will introduce two other individuals living abroad and explore their experiences. Additionally, I will continue to add to my Experiences in Thailand.

Traveling Abroad: Fear & Failure

Traveling and living abroad are not always walks in the park– you will have to confront fear!

I recall the weeks before my trip, where I’d stay up nights just imagining what it would be like. I watched the movie, Into the Wild, whose protagonist embarks on an epic journey only to die as a result several years later. My mind, trying to compute all of the unknowns rattling in my head, fixed on the idea.

A part of me thought that I’d die abroad during my trip.

The reality is such that had I not confronted fear, I wouldn’t have made it to Hanoi. In fact, I would never have purchased a one-way ticket in the first place.

All cities have their unique set of challenges.

In Hanoi, the road and traffic were causes for concern, the pollution, who’s Air Quality Index (AQI) was higher than Beijing at times, the uncertainty of finding a job and be taken seriously as an expat teacher, learning Vietnamese–and using it while knowing that you fucked up your tones!

Many of you have likely experienced situations in which you sabotage yourself.

I’ve noticed that I sabotage myself when I am not confident about what I’m doing. Depending on the situation, the sabotage can come in a variety of forms. The simplest of them is the one where I constantly make excuses to not do something, or not be somewhere. I saw this a lot with interviews in which I didn’t feel qualified. More often than not, if I had just shown up, I’d probably walk away with a job. Simply put, I was afraid to fail.

Still, my biggest act of self-sabotage came during my last year at UCLA, during a graduate-level course examining Contemporary Russian Literature.

For an undergraduate student, the amount of intellect and knowledge about Russia in that room was staggering. Think of 10 people who literally specialize on Russia literature and sit in a room with them to dialogue about your opinions, views, and thoughts on Russia. Personally, I knew nothing about current events, relying on contexts provided by Russian classics that I’d read previously. In lieu of a final exam, we were asked to pick some writings examined during the class, break them down, form a coherent analysis based on factual information as well as personal opinions, and present to the class.

For hours, days, and eventually weeks, I worked to select the appropriate texts, do research, and develop a strong presentation.

I’d practice my presentation in my room, anxious about my golden moment which, in reality, felt more like I was being led to the slaughter, the dreaded guillotine. When the time came, I was shaking just walking to class. I knew, when I walked in that room, that he would ask me if I was ready and my response was supposed to be yes.

But, something happened. I lied.

I told my professor that I had accidentally left my flash-drive at home despite sitting with a fully finished and polished presentation with me in the very moment that I lied to his face. Since class met only once per week, I had another week to perfect it.

I walked into class a week later, shaking again. I did something I’d never forgive myself for: I told the truth.

My confidence was severely shaken as I admitted defeat that day and explained myself. I don’t know if he sympathized or was just caught off-guard, baffled, but I was offered the option of writing a fifteen-page research paper instead. I accepted. Besides wasting time laboring over something I never presented, I then had to buck up and write the paper. Thankfully, I got an A on the paper, which was the only graded assignment in the class, and walked away happy yet unsettled. I felt like a cheater, like I had failed.

Months later, I’d come to find that this experience served a purpose and that perhaps it’s best to have learned my lesson on self-sabotage and fear early on as opposed to later in life, when it would likely be less forgiving and more problematic. 

If you are thinking of traveling alone, I invite you to embrace fear. Do something that scares you, something wrapped in uncertainty. Chances are, you will overcome it and be a better person for it.