Along with working as coach for global nomads living around the world, I also post an Interview Series on this website where I share the stories of global nomads who have moved abroad, are traveling the globe, or are transitioning to life back at home.
Today’s interview is with Katie, whose managed to turn her love for travel into a career overseas that’s helped her to live all over the globe. Born and raised in Iowa (USA), she got a scholarship in 2007 to spend a year studying environmental science in Iceland. During this time, she spent a month backpacking Europe and was hit hard by the travel bug. She left again for India to do research in the Western Ghats before finishing her degree.
Eager to go overseas again, she took a job teaching English in Turkey. She worked for two years in Istanbul before being receiving her invitation to serve in the Peace Corps. Katie was stationed in northwestern China for two years. She went back to the US to get a master’s in international education from SIT Graduate Institute in Vermont. Since then she has worked for study abroad organizations leading trips and developing programs. She now resides in Singapore and works for an international campus for a US university. Her favorite things include travel, yoga, fitness, coffee, and everything animals. You can find her on Instagram.
When was the first time you left your home country? What was your life like before that?
The first time I left my home country, I was 20. I was a first-gen student. Before moving to Iceland, I had never been on a plane or seen the ocean. That was my first passport stamp in a new passport. I had taken a few road trips with friends and family, but nothing could have prepared me for life outside of Iowa, let alone living overseas.
What motivated you to make the move to live overseas?
It was my junior year and I got a scholarship to study in Iceland for a year. I knew that I had always wanted to travel, but I had no idea how. The first step was to talk to an expert. I went to the study abroad office and told them my major and what I was looking for: not England. I thought if I could speak English it might be too easy. I cried the whole way from the airport to the city. I could not pronounce things so that people could understand me and I had no idea what I was doing. It was dreary weather, pouring rain and cloudy. There were rolling hills of lava instead of corn. When we got closer to Reykjavik, I saw my (admittedly odd) most familiar comfort – a well-lit Taco Bell sign. I stopped crying immediately and took it as a sign that everything was meant to be. I loved Taco Bell back in Iowa.
What’s the most difficult part about travel or living outside of your home country? How do you overcome these difficulties?
Things happen that you can’t always control or be present for. My dad had open heart surgery when I was in the Peace Corps, and my grandmother passed away suddenly and I could not come home for her funeral. You miss out on a lot and some of it is awful and so hard to deal with away from those who provide and need your support. There are so many times I have felt guilty for missing a wedding or an important event. I have tried to stay close to my family and friends in all of these times and I am so thankful for technology. I have Skyped in to the hospital and weddings. I try to constantly remind people in my life how much I love them and call more and more often.
What’s the best part about travel or living outside of your home country?
Thinking back to who I was when I first boarded that plane and knowing that because I took that step, I have an entirely different life than I would have had if I had stayed home. I have a career now working in study abroad and international education. I have led study abroad programs for students and am constantly seeking new ways to help others travel overseas. Every trip or place I lived prepared me for the next phase in my life and one day on a bus in China it struck me as odd that I had not thought of this career path earlier.
What experience have you had abroad that you want everyone to know about?
I think a lot about my favorite place and favorite experience. I have a hard time picking just one. I have woken up at sunrise to fly in a hot air balloon. I have slept in a cave, seen lions in the wild, swam in hot springs, learned to surf, wandered through castles, gone scuba diving, sang karaoke in front of 300 strangers, been moved to tears by natural beauty, and had glorious political discussions with heaps of people all seeking progress. I have traveled to more than thirty countries and never want to stop. I have learned so much about myself and others, and feel humbled by how much love and beauty there is in this world. The most impactful experience I have had was serving in the Peace Corps.
What has living outside of your home country taught you about life, romantic relationships, family and/or professional ambitions?
Living overseas has had a huge impact on my relationships, as I have been very mobile. I think people have a harder time finding room in their lives for someone who appears and disappears often. I have loved and lost. That being said, the people who keep inviting me to weddings even though they know I can’t attend are the most wonderful people in my life. I will always try to be there when I can, but sometimes it’s not possible.
I have to say this though – so many of my closest friends are people I met overseas. They keep in touch, they will travel to visit you, you can go visit them. Your network expands and you realize how small the world is when you travel.
What are 3 things on your bucket list? These can be travel destinations, career ambitions, etc.
- Get my doctorate
- Travel to Papua New Guinea
- Swim with manatees in the wild
What has it been like to return home after being abroad and what advice would you give other people who are returning to their home country?
The absolute hardest part of living overseas has been returning. I develop better coping mechanisms every time I return. Reverse culture shock can be a pretty traumatic experience sometimes and it can be hard to understand how relationships work after long periods of absence. My family has never been able to visit me, so there have been two year periods where I had no physical contact with them. Be patient with yourself and others, and if you have a friend that is coming home, be patient with them too. Let them tell you absolutely everything about Ecuador and show you pictures. It might help them snap out of their “well, when I was in Ecuador…” moments faster. That, and don’t take anyone to the cereal aisle in a grocery store right away! Too many choices!
What advice do you have for people who are considering traveling or relocating to a new country, but are feeling doubtful?
Home is always there for you if you do not like where you travel. There is nothing short of fear stopping you and most of that stems from the unknown. Do your research, find some inspiration, and go! Nothing worth doing comes easy, so if you’re having a hard time traveling or adjusting to life overseas, wait a while and it’ll all end up okay. Also, don’t wait until you’re older to travel – you cannot know the future.
Do you have a favorite quote, book, movie, TED Talk, etc?
Favorite quote: “A fickle heart is the only constant in this world” – Diana Wynne Jones
Favorite book: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
Favorite movies: Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Weather Man
I have a dark sense of humor and I like things that are funny but a bit melancholy.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself before starting this journey?
Stop being so stubborn. Be good to your body. Wear sunscreen.
What do you hope people say about you on your 70th birthday?
That I made them laugh.
Thanks so much Katie for sharing your story of how you’ve turned your love for travel and different cultures into a career overseas. I’m sure that many readers will be able to connect with your inspiring story and all of the lessons you’ve learned along the way. If you want to connect with Katie and learn more about her travels you can find her on Instagram.
ABOUT MELISSA PARKS, THE FOUNDER OF INTENTIONAL EXPAT:
I moved from Seattle (USA) to Madrid, Spain in 2009 in order to work as an English teacher for a year. I soon discovered that when you accept the invitation to become a global nomad, life may take you in unexpected directions! This one year abroad turned into ten, and during that time I earned my master’s degree and PhD in Clinical & Health Psychology, lived in both Spain and the Netherlands, became fluent in Spanish, transitioned from an accidental to an intentional expat, and met my future husband, a fellow global nomad. I recently relocated back to Seattle and provide online coaching for global nomads, If you’re a global nomad yourself and want to be featured in a future interview, please get in touch!
Would you like to learn more about my coaching services for expats and global nomads? I offer a free 30-minute consultation for potential clients so that you can see if my coaching services are a good fit for you: