She left the USA 2004 to volunteer for the peace corps in Bulgaria. This was just the start of a long journey that later took her and her husband, to South Korea, where they now teach English. She has a blog www.notanothertourist.blogspot.com where you can read all about their long journey. We asked some questions about her traveling life and her experiences of being a traveler.
Q: Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself and your travel history?
Not Another Tourist:
In the N Seoul Tower
I should preface that I am not the most adventurous girl in the world. I have always been interested in traveling, but I have some (okay, many) strikes against me. I am a super picky eater, I get motion sickness easily, I really hate to fly and the physical act of traveling for a long time. I’d never even peed outside until I got locked out of a house when I was 27 years old. I will shriek until you have removed the giant spider hanging above my bed. But I have always wanted to shed that persona. So I took to traveling in smaller steps. In university I jumped at a chance to use my Spanish skills and to help out on a service project in Guatemala for a week and then chose a study abroad summer internship in Greece. After graduating with a degree in Sociology and following my passion for working with kids, I moved to the opposite side of the country for two years to work in youth development-centered non-profits as an AmeriCorps Volunteer. Following that, I took a bigger step to become a Peace Corps Volunteer for two years in Bulgaria, where I coincidentally met and married another Volunteer. We decided we loved the simple ex-pat life so much that we got certified to teach English. Although the thought of living in Asia seemed intimidating (spicy kimchi and seafood is just about my worst nightmare), we took jobs in South Korea and have been here for over two years (and I really enjoy it-sans kimchi and fish- for the record). Although I have spent a fair amount of time living abroad, I haven’t been able to travel to all of the places I would like… yet.
Q: What do you want to share/express with your blog?
Not Another Tourist: My blog is basically my reflections on what it’s like to live, work and travel wherever I am at the moment.
Q: Why do you travel?
Not Another Tourist: I was that child who was obsessed with learning about other cultures and languages. However, I couldn’t afford to be an exchange student, and didn’t get out of the country until university. I always wanted to know how other cultures looked at life and how it compared to my own. Growing up I thought American culture was so boring (probably because I was used to it) and I always felt that seeing and learning about the way other people lived would be really exciting.
Q: What do you think are the biggest advantages with being a traveler? Has traveling influenced your life in any major way?
Not Another Tourist: One of the greatest things about traveling is that you get to become like a child again. You are totally helpless in a new place and have to observe and learn as you go. You have the unique opportunity to wrap your head around new ways to do everything from using the bathroom to getting along in a group. So the biggest advantage of being a traveler is opening your mind to a whole new way of thinking and living. When you start to see the parameters and roles that are defined for people in other cultures, you begin to see similar or opposite parameters defined in your own culture. You begin to realize there is no “us” versus “them” and that everyone has a different way of doing things.
In essence, the further you go away from home, the closer you get to finding out who you are. I often joke with my friends that the frustration of cultural misunderstandings are part of the fun. When I can’t understand or don’t like how things are done overseas, it’s a cultural misunderstanding and it’s easy to let it go, but when I can’t understand or don’t like how things are done in America, I lose my patience with people’s inability to intelligently function.
Q: When we travel around as a family, the absolute most common question we get from people is about money and how we can afford to travel and live the life we do. So if we ask you the same question, what would be your answer?
Not Another Tourist: Money was my biggest freak out, too. After four years of being a professional volunteer, I had no savings. When we decided to move to Korea for work, my husband (also penniless) and I had to budget enough to pay for a TESOL certification course, a plane ticket and a safety net of about $5000 before leaving the country (just in case things fell through and we’d have to return home before our first paycheck).
Everyone has their own standard of living, so you have to budget for what you really think you will spend according to your needs. For example, if you are planning a round-the-world trip are you going to travel and stay in hostel dorms every night if you are couple or do you want to stay in a double room, or have even nicer accommodations? If you want to live overseas, are you willing to live like the locals and live cheaply or will you require a lot of western and/or imported amenities which will eat away your savings and paycheck? You may also have to factor in extra costs like medical insurance or how you will pay off your car insurance or student loans, etc. I would strongly advise paying off any outstanding debt before leaving unless you know you will have a steady income while overseas to keep up with payments.
With that said, living a fairly normal, extroverted life teaching English in Korea is quite profitable for people who can manage a budget.
Q: What do you experience people are most interested in learning from you as a traveler?
Not Another Tourist: I think most people are interested in hearing the differences between how things are in one place versus another. I think they really are interested to learn that not everything is done the same way as they are used to and I think they also like to find out that old negative stereotypes aren’t always what they seem.
Q: We like to talk about the “But’s” – obstacles that show up when people are considering to travel extensively. What we mean by But’s is the little voice inside your head that starts telling you that you don’t have enough money or time, you can’t leave your job, the kids have to stay at home and go to school, that it could be dangerous or something else. Is this something you are familiar with for your own part and if so, how did/do you overcome your own But’s?
Not Another Tourist: I didn’t come from a family with a ton of money and I wasn’t in the right field to have a high paying job, so I spent a lot of time in college trying to figure out how I could make that into a reality without relying on my parents for money or compromising my interests and passions career-wise. I was willing to step outside of my comfort zone and make some sacrifices to get where I am. I think most people think they are stuck because they are comfortable and they make up excuses because they are afraid of the unknown.
We were lucky because we didn’t have too large of a student loan to repay (only $25,000), we didn’t have a mortgage, we didn’t have children and we weren’t tied down in any other way. We shopped at thrift stores, took advantage of low priced meals at happy hours and passed on the big party nights out. We had to work desk jobs for a year to save up to get overseas again. What makes us different is that for us, it’s not really too much of a sacrifice, because we achieved the end result and we are happy where we are.
We are also not heartless, running away from home or wandering aimlessly. We miss out on the holidays, birthdays, weddings, first crawls and special moments with our friends and family. But these days, technology makes it so much easier to stay in touch either via social networking sites, blogs, email, free video-chat, etc. I, along with many other friends who live overseas, continue our education in a variety of ways, either enrolling in local schools or through online programs.
For us, the prospect of a lifetime sitting at a desk crunching numbers and stressing about deadlines was never going to cut it. No amount of luxury outside of the work week would be worth it. Having the latest cell phone and designer bag to carry it in isn’t what makes me enjoy life. Walking down the street smelling wood smoke and bargaining for a good price on fresh apples is way more appealing to me. In other words, living a low-maintenance lifestyle enabled us to get here faster, which helps you get used to life overseas anyhow, because the majority of what you can get back home is not available in most countries. You learn to enjoy the simple things and smaller feats you’d never think about back home.
Q: Do you have any advice to people who want to, but are still only dreaming about going out into the world for a longer journey?
Not Another Tourist: In order to make your dream into a reality, you simply have to put it into motion, even if it is just setting up a weekly or monthly budget, sticking to it. Tracking your progress provides tangible motivation. Money was a big thing for me, mainly because I didn’t have any. I joined the Peace Corps because it was one of the few ways to live and work overseas and not have to pay for all of the travel or medical expenses. Similarly there is a lot of opportunity to teach English overseas and the pay scales go up according to certification and experience.
Once I’d figured out that I wanted to start teaching English abroad, I sat around for a few months daydreaming and saying, “maybe in about a year we will have saved enough money” until one day I met a temp at my office who’d quit a high paying job to go live in Spain for a few months. She said it was the best decision of her life and when she told me how little her start-up costs were in doing it, I wanted to figure out exactly how much it would cost to get what we wanted. So I researched by looking online forums, connecting with friends already teaching abroad and then mapped it out. I discovered we could achieve what we wanted much sooner than we’d initially thought. I handed in my 30 day notice the following Monday.
My co-workers thought I was nuts because I hadn’t actually signed a contract for my next position at that point. But I wasn’t worried about it because I knew that I had a realistic plan and I was only on the first step and that was the only way to get to the second step and so on. And just as we had planned, we were certified and teaching in Korea six months later. There were many people along the way who said, “Wow, I WISH I could do what you are doing…” My reply was always simply, “If you truly wanted to be doing what I am doing, you would be doing it right now, too.”
Q: What is happening at the moment and where are you?
Not Another Tourist: At the moment, we are in our third year of teaching English in South Korea. Originally we had planned to stay two years in Korea to eliminate student debt (which we successfully did within the first six months) and continue on teaching English in various countries until we found one we couldn’t bear to leave or found another calling. However, the recent economic downturn and discovery of our true callings (still in education, just not entirely ESL based) changed our minds. We now have plans to continue teaching here for a while and a new financial goal to save up to pay for both of us to attend graduate school in the US and cover all of our living expenses and then some. In the meantime, we are using our free time to study and cultivate ourselves for our future fields as well as having an enjoyable time living and teaching in Korea.
Thank you so much for answering our questions and we hope to hear from you again in the future, from somewhere in the world!