Have you always dreamed of living overseas, but fear that it would be suicide for your career? If you´ve always wondered how you could live abroad and advance your career, you won´t want to miss this week’s interview with global citizen, Pouneh!
Pouneh Efekhari is an expert on career development for travel-addicted millennials. With years of work and study experiences in Spain, France, Denmark and Turkey–combined with travel to 25 countries and counting–Pouneh is the go-to person for study abroad returnees and aspiring global professionals looking for a way to continue seeing the world without sacrificing career advancement. Learn more about the intersection of professional development and travel at www.longingtotravel.com.
First question, tell us a little about yourself.
Howdy! I’m Pouneh, a Wisconsin Cheesehead turned global citizen! With 25 countries under my belt (and counting), you can say I’m somewhat of a travel addict. I’m a 2-time study abroad alumni from the University of Minnesota–GO GOPHERS!–and hold two master’s degrees from universities in Denmark and Spain. I’m an international education professional by day and career coach by night. Today, I live and work in Turkey as an English language instructor for business professionals; but soon will head back to the US for a little R&R before moving abroad (again) in September 2015. As you can guess, I love all things travel–especially the food and architecture–but my husband and I continue to travel because of the way our lives are changed by each experience we have and person we meet. When I’m not traveling, I’m probably watching House Hunters International or Rick Steves’ Europe episodes (which is on as I write this!), blogging about travel and career development, or enjoying the company of family and friends.
What motivated you to move abroad?
I got my first passport at age 5 and have been traveling since. As I watched my older brother fall in love with Paris during his study abroad experience in college, I vowed to do the same. I didn’t think my 2 months in the south of France would lead to a decade of international travel and overseas living, but it did!
Where all have you lived abroad? What place was your favorite and why?
Over the past decade, I’ve lived, worked and studied abroad for over 5 years. I studied in Montpellier, France; Madrid, Spain; Copenhagen, Denmark; and Bilbao, Spain. I also held expat assignments in Copenhagen and Ankara, Turkey; as well as worked remotely for the European Union from various cities in Europe. I love Spanish language and culture (and food!) the most, but my heart remains in Copenhagen, since I studied and worked there for three and a half years. My experience in Denmark was truly life-changing.
What’s the most difficult part about living abroad? What’s the best part?
The most difficult parts have always been when something major happened at home. For example, I was abroad when my best friend lost her battle to cancer and couldn’t attend her funeral. I have also missed countless weddings and births. Another time I’ve struggled living abroad was the period when I hadn’t yet established a friend base and had to spend my nights and weekends alone at home.
On the flip side, the best part is when I’ve made friends with locals who have graciously invited me into their homes and into their lives. As a result I’ve broken the fast during Ramadan with the Turks, celebrated love at a wedding with the French, witnessed the christening a Danish baby, and relaxed on the seaside with Azeris.
What have you learned from living abroad?
The lessons are too many to count, but the most significant has been that people worldwide are generally good and that our way of doing things–no matter where you come from–is not the only right way of doing things. I feel fortunate to have learned about how others live and have, to the best of my ability, adopted those values and traditions into my life. I’d like to think I’ve chosen the best of all worlds…with more lessons to be learned in the years to come.
What is your secret to keeping a positive attitude while living abroad?
What people back home don’t understand about living abroad is that, while the destination may seem exotic, the day-to-day life is, more often than not, the same as it was back home. So keeping a positive attitude between the long hours a work or study sessions can be tough. Lucky for me, all I have to do is grab my iPod and walk around my new city and I instantly feel better. Nothing brings me more gratitude than a sunny day, a good playlist and observing the local people and architecture. Oh, and a tasty snack never hurts either!
What´s the best place you´ve ever traveled to?
Wow. A very difficult question to answer. I’ve never been anywhere I didn’t like, but one that stands out is Bern, Switzerland. I was living abroad for the first time in Montpellier, France. I had barely adjusted to life abroad without my family when I decided to take a train to Switzerland. At the time I was 19 and terrified to cross national boarders by train (not sure what exactly scared me, but I think it was the idea of traveling to a new country alone which scared me). After a smooth ride into Bern, I found a place which was beautiful and quite magical. Since then, I’ve never thought twice about visiting a new place.
Do you have a bucket list? Would you share with us a couple of things on that list?
My life motto is to see and experience as much of the world as possible, which makes for a long bucket list. At the top are: getting my Phd, learning to cook Persian food, taking a cruise down the Danube River and doing something really meaningful for my parents (not sure what that is yet…but I want it to be something they’ll remember forever). And, of course, seeing David Guetta live in Ibiza.
What advice do you have for people who are considering moving abroad, but are feeling doubtful?
Don’t let fear prevent you from moving somewhere new. It’s a truly worthwhile experience, but first-timers should be cautious when choosing their new home. You need to consider who you are and what you need to live comfortably before choosing a destination. For example, I love people watching and architecture, I hate humidity, and I don’t particularly enjoy going to the beach. So I’d choose living in Krakow, Poland over Lamphun, Thailand. You should absolutely visit everywhere–even if it’s a bit uncomfortable–but living somewhere is very different than simply visiting.
Thank you so much for being part of the interview series Pouneh, I’m sure that readers are going to greatly benefit from your tips! If you want to connect with Pouneh and find out more about how to make your advance your career and travel at the same time, visit her website www.tongingtotravel.com or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (/longingtotravel).
If you’re interested in being featured in a future interview on this site, please send me a message!
Great post, I’m right there with you on so many things. Do you pan to live abroad permanently? If so, how do your parents feel about that or your general wanderlust and disappearance from the US? I’m a long time expat as myself (ahora mismo yo vivo en Madrid y parece que quedaré indeterminadamente) My mother has quite suddenly decided to revolt against my life choices after being seemingly supportive all these years. I’m left with this “guilt” I never knew I carried for living the life I love and work hard for but leaving my family behind. Any words of advice?
I’m not sure if your comments are directed at me (Melissa, the one in charge of this site) or Pouneh (the expat featured in this interview). You can get in touch with Pouneh through her website or social media by following the links listed above. I’ll say though that after almost 6 years abroad (I’m also in Madrid), I can definitely relate to the difficulties you face in terms of family and siblings supporting you. My parents still ask me when I’m coming home, which is an almost impossible question to answer. On one hand, establishing my home in Madrid allows for stability and comfort, on the other hand, saying I’ll NEVER go back to the states continues to feel scary and overwhelming. And the truth is that despite having set up a life here, I really can’t predict what the future will have in store. For me it’s helpful to keep in mind that it’s normal for family to miss you and wish you were there. This shows how much they care about you. Sometimes the way they express this can be hurtful though and I try to communicate that to my family as calmly and clearly as possible. And to recognize that we ultimately can’t change how anyone else responds to a situation. We can only be confident that we are saying yes to what feels right to us (because saying no to what feels right would end up leading to other unpleasant feelings, and probably more guilt as well). I do feel grateful that my family has gotten to a place where they accept that if I was at home I would be unhappy so they’d rather have me far away and happy rather than closer to them and unhappy because I wasn’t following my dreams (of course…they’d really PREFER for me to be close to them AND happy and I think they’re still hoping this day will come). Choosing to travel and live abroad means we’re going to miss out on things, it means that we’ll have regrets, but it’s important to focus on all of the richness that this life choice offers too and ACCEPT that by having more than one place we call home we have to learn to accept that something will always be missing. For that reason, I really adore this quote about travel and life abroad: “You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”
Hope that helps! Besos!
Thank YOU, Melissa! It was my pleasure.
Looking forward to the rest of your interview series.