When I graduated from UNC Greeley in 2014, I found myself asking what’s next as my diploma sat on display in my parent’s house. My Liberal Arts degree in English didn’t come with the guaranteed career path like the degrees of my Nursing and Teaching friends. Theoretically, I possessed a set of integrative social, critical, and analytical skills for a variety of fields. I needed to narrow my pursuits to one.
The pressure of being without a career at 25 was overwhelming, and I felt guilty. My degree was collecting dust, and I wasn’t gaining any traction in the world of freelance writing, crippled by self-doubt and a lack of inspiration.
My solution was to buy a one-way ticket to South America and to write about the journey.
My college sweetheart and now husband, Thomas Brath, and I sold everything from our basement apartment on 19th Street until our belongings fit into two 65-liter Gregory backpacks. We quit our service industry jobs and fled the country in search of something bigger — the two of us and our blog, Scratch My Pack Travel.
Our year abroad was planned to take us 360° around the globe as we navigated South America, New Zealand, Asia, and Europe before planning to return to the states. The 12-month mark surfaced and then settled in the past. Now, we’re going on three years outside of the country.
We found work along the way, bartending and cleaning in hostels, picking vines on a vineyard, working as a sous chef, and a barista in New Zealand, but each job was temporary — a pawn in the bigger scheme of making a career out of travel. When we made it to Da Nang, Vietnam, our perspective was different, and our pursuit for employment had matured. We wanted to find more meaningful work.
Tom and I approached this question in different ways. Tom has his licensure in Secondary Education with a Theater Emphasis from UNC, so he found a position teaching for an international school. I found a job as a content writer at an The American University in Vietnam. Both of us were working on the same campus, and to our surprise, three other UNC alumni were working here as well.
We met Dr. Maynard Yutzy, the Vice Principal of the elementary school, who is a graduate of UNC with a Doctorate in education. Hee’s as kind as he is brilliant. He’s been an educator, an administrator, and a founder of several international schools around Asia since his first trip abroad in 1968. He speaks in an encouraging and caring way beyond the antics of nicety. He’s the type of educator who, even as an adult, you want to notice your potential, to nurture your ambition, and to push you in the right direction. We explained our reason for traveling as a feeling of being unsettled with our work and way of life in America.
“In my experience, most children don’t have a clearly defined interest, and I partly blame our schooling system for this,” Maynard says.
As he guided us in a conversation about careers, he asked what we passionately do even though we don’t get paid for it. Travel was our answer. It was the drive fueling us when we were broke, the crutch when we missed something back home and our endless source of joy. It was easy to talk with Dr. Maynard about adventure. He spoke to us about travel with conviction, lingering on the importance of finding and maintaining your passion.
A fellow teacher on our campus, Andrea Peroutka was the perfect example of someone our age having found her passion abroad. Andrea teaches first grade, and as another graduate of UNC, she shared how incredible it was to be teaching abroad with her master’s degree in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Education.
“It’s crazy. I love working here more than being an art teacher in Windsor,” says Andrea “Now, I’m explicitly responsible for teaching English. Every single kid is learning English as a second language which, for me, is what I love, that’s why I mastered in ESL.”
Similarly, her fiance Clint McBride received his masters from UNC, though his was in Jazz Studies, and Vietnam has been a welcoming and unique place for him to explore his love for music as a teacher.
“The opportunities are out there,” Clint said, “even if you really have to look.”
Educators and colleagues who loved their work were all around us, but what was our path? Where did we fit in as backpackers wanting to get paid to travel?
While talking with Clint and Andrea about how UNC had prepared them to be teachers, I questioned what I had gained from University as I hadn’t found my purpose immediately after college.
“What I learned in Greeley,” Clint said, “unbeknownst to me, prepared me for the cultural adjustment of living in Vietnam.”
I liked this thought. Maybe I had developed some underlying skills which years after college were becoming evident. All the critical skills I learned in my literary classes, the social skills I acquired as an RA, the management skills I gained as a peer educator, the inspiration gained from my creative writing classes, seminars, and late night coffee conversations, these activities unknowingly prepared me to travel the world. If I had the courage and skills to leave the comforts of Colorado behind, I could be a full-time writer — a travel writer.
I thought of how I had shared with a classmate in college that I was planning to travel the world someday. She looked at me with feigned interest and told me how travel was a nice hobby, but a waste of time.
“You can’t put that on your resume,” she said.
If a resume is a collection of past experience, is experience limited to professional opportunities? Having met Dr. Maynard, I was reassured that travel was a foundational part of building a successful resume.
“I wanted to become an elementary school principal in Jeffco, but HR said I had to be 30-years-old to do that,” Maynard says. “So I left for Guam Island instead and fell in love with Asia.”
Now his resume lists how he’s taught in Japan, China, Vietnam, Guam, and all over the USA, he was a chairman of the department of elementary education at the University of Guam, a coordinator of the State University of New York for Quality Schools International (QSI), a teacher, educational consultant, and a leading researcher in education. But it was never about the resume. Helping children is his life’s passion, and traveling was a resource to do so.
Although it’s taken me four years since graduation to get in the groove of writing, I’ve had the foresight to invest in my interests. I’m not rich with a book deal, and I still have to thread different writing opportunities together for money, but my definition of utilizing my degree lies in my success at happiness. I’m traveling while I’m young, without a family, and while I don’t have the financial worries of a house or car. I’ve seen 27 countries, bungee jumped, camped, hiked, and ate my way across four continents, married my best friend on the edge of a dormant volcano and discovered the more I travel, the easier writing becomes. I left the USA looking for a way to give meaning to my dusty diploma, and in my search for a job and financial footing, I found a lifestyle of travel, a source of passion worth more than a lifetime of corporate experience.
As Dr. Maynard says, “Be honest with yourself, be introspective and listen to your emotions. Keep expanding your experiences, and you’ll land on something you love.”