Photos courtesy of Vanessa Carrillo

Change of plans: Helping people while doing the unimaginable

By MARISA MATA, Student Writer

Growing up as a first-generation minority, traveling was never something that Vanessa Carrillo (2013) imagined she could afford to do.

She envisioned her life involving getting her degree, the feeling of never making enough money, marriage, kids, and the “daily adult grind” — but this began to change right before graduation, when she received $5,000 for her totaled car. This money, along with her passion for learning, would change the course of her life — allowing her to do the unimaginable.

“Originally, I planned on being a probation officer,” says Carrillo, who received her degree in criminology. “I interned at the federal probation office downtown and really liked the career option. The officers told me…that having experience in police work or social services would help. I applied to become a mentor and teacher to troubled youth because it sounded like a good start.”

Carrillo pictured in Japan in 2011

When Carrillo applied for the job to work with troubled youth, she was turned down; she was told that she didn’t have enough experience working with children, and having experience as a teacher would be beneficial.

A couple of years earlier, while studying abroad in Japan, she heard about opportunities to teach English to children abroad, and figured this would be the perfect way for her to begin teaching. She took the money she received for her car and went to Prague, becoming certified to teach English as a foreign language.

“The original plan was to stay in Prague only for the [certification] and then head out to South Korea to enjoy all of their perks for teachers, but I ended up loving Prague so much that I stayed a full year while teaching elementary school children,” Carrillo says.

“When I packed up again and set off to tropical Thailand for a teaching job, I realized how amazing this lifestyle was and I felt so thankful for everything I was experiencing. I couldn’t see myself parting ways with this awesome life anytime soon, so I’ve made it my mission to find my meaningful career abroad.”

Carrillo has documented her time in Prague and Thailand on her blog, SF Girl Abroad, along with other travels and experiences.

“Traveling makes my life more exciting. Everyday feels like a new adventure and I’m always being pushed out of my comfort zone. I’ve meditated with a monk in Japan, gotten lost in the Czech mountains, snorkeled and swam with fish in Thailand, ridden horses through a jungle in Mexico, and more. Many of my experiences feel surreal, and it’s amazing to have the surreal be my reality.”
Carrillo pictured in Thailand

Carrillo’s love for travel and new experiences has kept her abroad; she is currently living in South Korea, teaching young children. She is happy to see her students’ progress and feels that she is making a positive impact in their lives. Now, she has more than enough experience to get the job she originally applied for, but she doesn’t believe her surreal journey is over yet.

“I know I still have a lot to learn, see, and do,” she says. “I’m passionately awakened and inspired to continue exploring and to learn about our world and all of its natural beauty and its diverse inhabitants…I may return to pursue a job as an officer one day, but my interests have changed since 2013. My overall goal is to help people, and I’m finding that there are many ways to do that.”