Along with providing online therapy to individuals around the world, I also post an Interview Series on this website where I share the stories of global citizens who have moved abroad, are traveling the globe or are transitioning to life back at home. Today’s interview with Helena Lorimer, who’s sharing what life is like living outside of your home country, is sure to provide you with some inspiration to live abroad.
Helena is a South African freelance copywriter, social media manager, and virtual assistant, living in Oporto, Portugal. Like many other fresh graduates, Helena decided to teach English in South Korea after finishing her degree – which inevitably sparked her incurable sense of wanderlust. Four years (and many Asian countries) later, she packed up her life and decided to conquer the U.K and Europe. From a horrible au-pairing experience that only lasted five days, teaching high school English in London, to landing her dream job as a (freelance) writer, Helena now lives life at her own pace, whilst travelling the world.
When was the first time you left your home country? What was your life like before that?
I left my home country to teach English in South Korea about two months after graduating from university.
I had studied a degree in English literature and psychology, and while I’ve always been passionate about writing and studying human behaviour, I knew that my degree wasn’t worth all that much unless I decided to study further and specialise in something. I opted against further study at that point, and was essentially lost and unsure of what to do, career-wise. I didn’t really have a clue about the world and how it worked. It’s safe to say that before going abroad my life was more about superficial fun as opposed to living passionately and having/achieving goals.
When I started thinking about going to teach English in South Korea, I knew it was a way in which for me to start my adult life without much of the fuss (my work contract provided me with a rent-free apartment, I’d have a decent salary, half of my medical insurance paid etc.). Most of my friends were waitering, working retail, or going on to do their masters, while I had no work experience, nor a plan to study further. So, Korea felt like an easier transition and a step in the right direction, as opposed to working low-paying jobs and fumbling.
I hardly researched where I was going because I was more apathetic back then. I simply got on a plane after a recruiter contacted me on Facebook!
What’s the most difficult part about travel or living outside of your home country? And how do you overcome these difficulties?
A lot of people usually answer this question by saying things like, “I miss the food, my family and my friends” and while that’s all true for me too, I am going to say that what I miss the most, is feeling that sense of belonging.
I haven’t lived at home for over six years and my best friends have all moved into different phases of their life (as have I). When I go home for a short or long visit, it’s never the same. And it’s sad to say that it never will be the same. In fact, I’ve lost two of my best friends that I had had for 20+ years because I moved away from home.
Being in a new country every few months also leaves you with a number of superficial friendships, so it’s easy to feel a bit lonely when you’re away.
I try to do flat or house shares with great people so that I can feel a sense of community and friendship, and sometimes – I end up with lifelong friends!
What’s the best part about travel or living outside of your home country?
The fact that I feel 100% free. I can come and go as I like, without having any social obligations. I can jump on a train, bus or plane, or get a taxi, and just go! In South Africa, public transport is not really an option, and it’s expensive to visit surrounding countries.
Here in Europe, it’s a lot easier and cheaper to move around.
What experience have you had abroad that you want everyone to know about?
So many! I can say with absolute sincerity that the locals in the Philippines are genuinely amazing people, who want to help others simply because they care. I’m convinced that Oporto has a sprinkle of magic in the air that I just haven’t felt elsewhere in the world. Oslo took my breath away with its beautiful boats and amazing sunsets. Brazilians may just be the coolest and friendliest people in the world. Koreans cannot speak English at all! Seville in summer may just kill you. The bikes in Vietnam may kill you, too. And, Berlin is completely overrated.
Living away from home has taught me how to be more grounded, capable, independent and motivated.
You quickly learn that there’s no one to bail you out, so you have to be smart and sensible. I developed a lot of self-love and adoration for myself whilst abroad, as it showed me how strong and capable I really am.
After studying my postgraduate in education whilst in Korea, I moved on to teach English at a high school in London. It was one of the worst experiences of my life, which was quite disappointing as I thought teaching was what I wanted to do. After leaving the profession, I took the initiative to branch out. I got my dream job working for an online magazine (the company took a leap of faith as I had had no professional experience, only a then three-year-old personal blog and a few trial pieces I did for them) for half a year. When I left that job, I slowly, but surely, began working remotely for several companies worldwide. I started off doing the copywriting thing, and now, after making great business connections, I do editing, social media management, a bit of translation, and am a virtual assistant.
Tip: a lot of these gigs I got from simply contacting them, even when they weren’t looking to hire – so never doubt taking initiative!
What are 3 things on your bucket list?
I don’t actually have a bucket list, but there’s one thing I absolutely have to do before I kick the bucket: visit Santorini!
Just go. If you think too much about it, you come up with reasons and anxieties about why you shouldn’t. Don’t let the fear overcome you!
Change is as good as a holiday, and I’m happy to admit that I am now in love with change. I used to be a crazy planner! I was obsessed with making lists, thinking things through for hours, and creating day to day itineraries. Now, I go with the flow and it’s done me the world of good! Half of the crazy fun experiences I’ve had would not have happened if I actually sat down to think them through.
Do you have a favorite quote, book, movie, TED Talk, etc?
Film wise, I’ve seen Bridesmaids a couple dozen times – always a goodie, Closer is absolutely stunning, Hello, My Name Is Dorris, and the film, Copenhagen, is absolutely inspired (it actually made me visit the city).
In terms of books, Rupi Kaur’s poetry in Milk and Honey is very relatable and heartfelt.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself before starting this journey?
Advice that I would give myself would be to know my worth, always make myself a priority, and don’t waste your time on stupid boys!
What do you hope people say about you on your 70th birthday?
Heck knows if I’ll still be alive by 70, but I’m sure whomever I’m with will have a few interesting stories to tell.
Thanks so much Helena for sharing your inspiring story of what it’s been like living outside of your home country. I’m sure many readers will benefit from the the stories you’ve shared and find inspiration to teach English in South Korea, find remote work or set off to travel the world on their own. If you want to connect with Helena you can find her on her blog, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook.
If you’re living (or have lived) outside of your home country, or are an avid traveler and want to be featured in a future interview, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!
ABOUT THE FOUNDER OF INTENTIONAL EXPAT: Melissa Parks moved from Seattle (USA) to Madrid, Spain in 2009 to spend what was supposed to be just a year abroad working as an English teacher. Over 8 years later, she’s still in Europe, has completed her master’s degree and PhD in Clinical Psychology and now lives in Amsterdam. She currently works as a psychologist providing online therapy for people living outside of their home country. Her passions include travel, meditation, promoting positive body image, dancing, writing and helping empower women and men around the world to own their story and live their best life possible.