05 Dec How I quit my cozy office job to study abroad and travel the world
Oh no, I’m not a quitter! I left my job to follow my dreams… my dreams of freedom and independence, of travelling the world, my ‘joie de vivre’. I did not quit on myself! And many people – including my parents and friends back in Romania, who saw my job as an indication that ‘I finally made it’ – said I was crazy.
My job was what most people considered ‘great’. I was living in Europe’s capital city, Brussels, working for a huge international organization that paid good money, and gave me prestige. Yet, the work posed no major intellectual challenge, everything was routine. Except for the occasional ‘mission’ travel, I spent most days at the office in front of a screen, trapped between four walls, shuffling between dull meetings and mind-numbing report writing. In fact, the only escape I had, was the gym.
Until one day when the motivational coach set to keep us – the working team – together suggested that I make a calendar with my goals and dreams, post it on my wall, and work towards accomplishing them. So I did.
I circled my dream: focus on personal growth, travel the world, and get paid for it. In other words, become a professional traveller. It sounded terrific, but how?
(Angkor Wat, Cambodia)
By studying abroad! And a PhD seemed like a promising start! So, I began defining my research project. I didn’t want it to turn into yet another cage, so I stayed true to my dreams. That is why I focused on tourism and global mobilities.
So, I started saving half my paycheck, and looking and applying to programs. No more coffee treats, no more eating out, no more drinking out, no more spa, no more wasted money on clothes, shoes, purses and jewelry, no more instant gratification! Military style! After all, achieving your goals takes discipline, baby steps, and persistence – a lesson I learnt very well when hiking up to 4,500 meters above sea level to Laguna Churup in the Peruvian Andes.
Five months later I received an acceptance letter from Leipzig University in Germany. It was for a PhD program in Global Studies. I immediately quit my job and, with my savings, moved to Germany. I wouldn’t say that the whole shift was easy, at least not until I managed to secure a scholarship. My monthly budget reduced to a about quarter of what I was used, and I was in the student dorm, eating mostly at the student cafeteria, and partying at home. But I was feeling free! And alive! And fun! And I had a goal! A big one that I really cared about!
Six months of hard work on my doctoral proposal paid off when I was able to secure two scholarships: one from the German Academic Exchange Service, and the other from the German Research Foundation. I finally settled for the latter, which also offered the possibility of turning the scholarship into a working contract (which it did, but later on).
And this is how my dream of becoming a professional traveller – and getting paid for it – came true. Apart from Conferences that took me around the world, I started to do fieldwork in various tourist destinations from Spain to Romania. Later on, I joined different programs on global mobilities that took me to Peru and Colombia to get to know the life of various indigenous communities in the Amazonian Basin; and to Hong Kong and China, to study migration patterns across the Pacific.
Despite the occasional escapes to actually visit the region of the world I was in, I did not go there as a tourist. Instead, I tried to settle in for a few months: I entered neighbourhoods and local communities; I rented an apartment, got a public transit card, a cell plan and so on. I tried lived life through the eyes of a local. And then moved on to another destination, always absorbing the new, making connections, analyzing, and writing about them. My mind, my body, and my senses became alive!
And this is how I quit my job and followed my dreams! And why I encourage you to do the same!