Living Abroad in Your 20s: An Interview with The Canadian Wanderer

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The whole concept of traveling the world while you work was totally new to us this year. Ironically, I have roommates from college who have taught English around Asia for some time now. But I totally though my roommates were an anomaly. And I never thought it was realistic to be living abroad in your 20s.

Then, this year, I stumbled upon the blog The Canadian Wanderer, a blog where Charmaine writes about her experiences living abroad and offers resources to help anyone thinking about taking the plunge.

Charmaine basically served as part of our own huge inspiration to live abroad – something we never, in a million years, imagined ourselves doing.

We know a few of you are flirting with the idea of living abroad and working as a digital nomad. If you’re anything like we once were, you think it’s an idea far off in la-la land. But it’s actually a lifestyle more realistic than what you think.

Okay, Charmaine. Take the wheel from here.

It’s incredible you’ve lived in so many places as a young, working adult. Can you start by introducing yourself to the readers who may not know who you are?

Have you ever thought about living abroad and traveling the world? This millennial spent her 20s living in Hong Kong and France.

My name is Charmaine and I am from Toronto, Canada.

I started teaching English as a second language after graduating from university because I was interested in traveling and learning about different cultures. I spent a year in a small city in French Canada, a year in Paris and then my last three years in Hong Kong.

My experiences living abroad have not always been pretty or easy, so I decided to create a living abroad resource on my site, The Canadian Wanderer. I want to inspire others to take the plunge and provide the inspiration and resources to do so.

How long have you worked abroad? What inspired you to “take the plunge,” so to speak?

I’ve worked abroad since 2013 and I generally take jobs teaching English as a second language.
I find it so meaningful that I can help students to boost their confidence level through language learning and immersion.
At the same time, I get to live in a new city, absorb the culture, and attempt to learn the language. A bonus is traveling on the school holidays and getting to explore other countries as well.

Can you talk more about what you’re doing right now for work? How did you score those gigs, and do you have any advice for anyone as they apply for a job overseas? 

After realizing I needed more of a life-work balance, I returned home for ten weeks to recharge before continuing my second year of my Masters.

When I returned to Hong Kong, I started speaking to different agencies. I found one agency that specialized in part-time / flexible work catered to stay-at-home parents. They found me a job working with an educational consultant who specializes in US education.

I now research US boarding schools and universities, help students find opportunities to enhance their application as well as manage the social media and website for the business. This type of job allows me to work from anywhere and to have more flexibility.

The one thing I have learned is you have to overcome loneliness, as I don’t have a shared office space or any colleagues to speak to. It can get boring and exhausting at times.

Some people think that being a digital nomad isn’t a long-term thing. What do you think about that, and what steps have you taken to really build a career for yourself?

There are so many jobs to become a digital nomad! I think whether it is a long-term thing really depends on what job you are doing and how successful you are at it. For example, if you are doing short-term work all the time like a freelancer, then it may be hard to maintain a stable income and that can be worrisome for someone who has a family. It really depends on your network and how well you are able to sell your services.

Long-term digital nomadism depends on how well you can sell your services @CanadianWander Click To Tweet

In terms of building a career, I would say an important skill to have is be tech savvy! Working on the Internet requires you to be very good with technology and finding information and resources on the web. If you are good at sourcing information, that skill would go a long way.

Digital nomads need to be tech-savvy & good w/ finding info on the web. @CanadianWander Click To Tweet

I love how you’re all about educating your readers about affordable ways to travel abroad like through work exchange or even finding free accommodation. Mike and I actually research Workaways and housesits with Trusted Housesitters as ways to travel on a budget. Have you ever done any of these programs? Do you have any interesting stories?

I’m so glad you enjoyed my resources and that you will use the sites I have recommended! Ironically as it may be, I have not used these sites personally but I would like to one day.

I am obsessed with finding resources to travel cheaply and to find new ways of reinventing ourselves (and our traditional standard of living). These are great sites and resources, but they are scattered around the internet and not so easily found. I want my site to be a one-stop resource guide for anyone who wants to move abroad.

Where have you lived and worked? Have you ever found yourself having trouble adapting to another culture? What advice do you have for anyone thinking about working remotely while they travel and experience other cultures?

Since 2011, I have spent a lot of time “living abroad.” I started my traveling journey during university when I spent six months on exchange in Singapore. After graduating university, I spent a year in French Canada, a year in Paris and then the last three years in Hong Kong.

I have definitely experienced a lot of culture shock and language barrier along the way. A tip I would give is to try your best in immersing yourself in the culture and to learn the language. It is not going to be easy, but people really appreciate it when you try to speak their language and you will feel bits of accomplishments each time you are understood.

Immerse yourself in the culture won't be easy, but people appreciate it when you try speaking their language. @CanadianWander Click To Tweet

It’s hard to not compare standards of your own country but try to adapt and understand why people work the way they do. It is oftentimes part of the culture and how they value “work” and “leisure.”

I love how you talked about mistakes you learned living abroad, including the expat bubble. Did you find ways to escape that bubble and really experience different cultures? How?

Yes absolutely! Meeting local people and eating authentic food would be the best way of escaping that expat bubble. Of course, if you are not fluent in the language, the language barrier is tough but you can probably find someone who is interested in learning English from you.

Meeting local people & eating authentic food are the best way to escape the expat bubble. Click To Tweet

While I was abroad, I enjoyed doing language exchange using to meet new friends. People would teach me the local language in exchange for me teaching them English. I also enjoyed going to local events using and These are international platforms and if you are in a big city, you will probably find things going on.

In smaller cities, this is a bit tougher but you can try to look at bulletins and recreation centers to join local clubs and classes. Try to find your “crowd” and put up your own bulletin. I know a friend used to put up a notice to help people with English at the local university so he can find someone near his own age.

Another great way is to join language classes. If you’re in a multilingual class, you will be forced to speak that language to communicate.  Also, see if there is support for new “expats” or “immigrants” in town. You never know what you’ll find.

What advice do you have for anyone thinking about moving abroad?

The biggest advice I would give someone is to do it while you are young because it is harder to move out of your comfort zone as you grow older. I am glad I spent my 20s moving to different countries because it is only through trial-and-error did I learn more about myself and what I am capable of doing. I learned to persevere through really tough situations on my own and that helped me to grow tremendously. I also learned different languages to survive, and their cultures and customs along the way.

If you’re thinking about living abroad in your 20s, keep in touch with The Canadian Wanderer.

Charmaine’s a fountain of knowledge when it comes to living abroad. Here are some huge diamond-level takeaways for anyone flirting with the idea of living abroad in their 20s:

  • Do it while you’re young, because it’s harder to move out of your comfort zone as you grow older.
  • Being tech-savvy (i.e. able to research and problem-solve) is an important avenue to building a career from your laptop.
  • So is building a network and learning how to sell your services.
  • Once you do live abroad, escape the expat bubble by meeting local people. If language is a barrier, find someone who wants to learn English from you!

So if you’re interested in the lifestyle, definitely keep in touch with her.

And don’t forget to pin or share this interview if it gave you the inspiration to live abroad!

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