The day I decided to quit my corporate job seems today as long-gone, blur past. It has been however less than 5 months since I closed the door of the company where I felt stuck, sometimes bored and sometimes stressed, in order to set off a new chapter of my professional life. While most people prefer security over risk and only leave a job for another, my way was the opposite. With a desire to grow, develop my career and travel, I applied for a professional development program with Venture with Impact in Chiang Mai, Thailand and made a step that retrospectively seems to be the brightest move I’ve recently done. I’ve had a chance to escape my well-known surroundings and become part of a great international community of travellers, digital nomads, location-independent professionals as well as Thai and Burmese inspirational leaders who run local non-profits to make the world a better place. Interacting with all these people as well as the city, culture, customs and nature of Northern Thailand on a daily basis, I became a richer person bringing back home many emotions and learnings. These are the most remarkable ones.
1. Sailing into little known waters is worth it
The internal struggle between save and risky, sticking with the secure or leaping into unknown, chases everyone pondering with a big life change. Often, the fear of losing ground becomes the killer of big dreams and bright ideas. It leaves behind people who once were dreamers but turned into constantly complaining or regretting individuals with a trace of bitterness in voice when it comes to the subject of changing something essential in life. Whenever the circumstances are at least a bit favourable, don’t hesitate. Just go for it.
How many of us just want to go and travel, move to another place, change job, but never decide to make the first step? It took me a while to decide as well, I will not deny it. But getting to know Venture with Impact through how they resonate through the internet, social media and referrals, I’ve gained confidence in the risky. Leaving behind my job, the city I lived in, family and friends suddenly didn’t seem like an obstacle. I felt that my two months program with Venture with Impact in Chiang Mai would definitely be a strong life experience. So I sailed into new waters and will never regret it.
2. Don’t let yourself be impacted by conventions and mainstream opinions
Have you ever experienced a lack of understanding from your colleagues, friends or family whenever you shared a bold unconventional idea? Head scratching, frowns? Don’t get yourself impacted.
‘’What? You’re quitting your good job? For what?’’
‘’What the heck are you going to do so long in Thailand?’’
‘’When I was your age, I was already…’’
Try to ignore these reactions. You have a purpose and even if you don’t know the final destination, you know the direction. Many of my close ones didn’t see and understand my intention very clearly even if I tried to explain it. What seemed as nonsense move to many was my effort to progress in career and get a fresh new look to my life in Europe from distance. What for me was leaving a static life back in my home town by participating in a professional development program in Thailand some people translated into ‘’She’s doing a silly step of scarifying stability for a short fun adventure in an exotic holiday destination.’’ I don’t blame them, I’ve just learned to don’t let myself be impacted by conventional perceptions of my beloved ones.
3. When you jump into uncertain with your mind open things start to work out
Well, well. You’ve decided and all seems to be settled for you to go and spend a month in a foreign, culturally different country. But will things go well? Aren’t you going to struggle and regret your decision? Settling in a new country is never easy but if you keep your mind open and let worries go, things will start to work out.
Besides, the support from Venture with Impact’s team will make your worries disappear. I will be always thankful for what Ann, the company’s CEO did for me and the group of other participants. From the initial warm welcome at the airport up to listening to my personal concerns and troubles. I became convinced that Venture with Impact is more than a company running retreats for professionals. It is a friendly supportive circle that hugely contributes to dissolving all inconveniences of settling in a foreign country and making the most of your experience. So let the worries go!
4. Your skills that you consider minor can help a lot where you don’t expect it
The idea of volunteerism is often connected with achieving a big change with a specific advanced knowledge or skill. Doctors in underdeveloped countries, firemen and army forces helping where natural disasters happened. These scenes are definitely iconic, but actually, even a very common skill can change a lot somewhere when it’s missing.
I have always considered my background in Communications and PR as nothing special. There’re thousands like me running around this world. But when Venture with Impact matched me with a skill-based volunteering project in Chiang Mai, I’ve experienced that one man’s trash can really be another man’s treasure.
I supported BEAM Education Foundation, local NGO in Chiang Mai that helps Burmese student migrants to access higher education in Thailand with multiple Communications and Outreach activities. I suggested to organize an Open House event to spread the word about the organization. Something very common to me, something that I’ve done many times before, not a big deal. Well, for the foundation it was a new idea and method to create new networks which they may use again in the future. The event we built together was a great fun and success which left us all with a feeling of fulfilment and creativity.
5. Time isn’t counted the same way everywhere
Venture with Impact’s programs are not just work-abroad experiences, but also cultural explorations and immersions. The very first thing I’ve noticed when leaving behind the Western world with all its schedules, deadlines, dates and meeting points was that in Thailand time has its own pace. What is 10 minutes in Europe, can be 3 hours in Chiang Mai. Things have their time. Bus schedules don’t exist because the bus comes as the journey favours it the particular day. Opening hours? Huh, sometimes rigidly followed, sometimes a mystery. It can seem very frustrating for a Westerner who usually divides his life by miniscule sections of an agenda. On the other hand, once you accept it, it teaches patience, awakes intuition and allows to slow down from the hasty and stressful life in the West.
The Thai Kingdom counts the era its own way, based on a Buddhist tradition and starting with the day of Buddha’s death. So pretty much everywhere including your GPS driven mobile apps, you see the year 2561 instead of 2018. I got used to it and other time issues as well. Once, I spent 3 hours waiting for a bus. Every moment I was about to give up and leave the station, locals spoke up and by hand gestures instructed me to remain seated ensuring the bus will come. It eventually did.
This situation taught me a lesson to be more intuitive when it comes to time in Thailand. Do what the locals do, slow down and don’t stress about losing minutes. I’ve learned peaks of the worst traffic and didn’t dear to travel in them. I’ve learned that it’s not worth it searching my favourite streetfood stall when it’s raining. I’ve learned that every day has its reoccurring happening (and prescribed colour too!), being it a night food market, concert or street cleaning. Most of this information will never be found anywhere, it is about observing, learning from your environment and counting the time different way. The peace and balance it has inserted in my mind is priceless and I will always try to carry it along back in the stressful time hunt of the Western civilization.
6. Talk without knowing a language is a great way to understand local communities
You might be a polyglot but when it comes to Thai, even the strongest struggle. Alphabet, tonality, words that have nothing in common with anything else. Language is an important gate into any culture so it feels quite limiting when you cannot open it. Yes, there’s English and it’s true that Thai people adapts to tourism and often know English better than travellers know Thai, but not everywhere..
Having travelled quite some places around the world, I always try to get a few sentences in a local language if not to fully open the doors of mutual cultural approaching then to have at least a sneak peek through the key hole. But the five Thai phrases I’ve learned would not give me much of it. And so, I started to talk with locals the kids’ way, non-verbal language being my best friend. Pointing and repeating Thai words after locals created many enriching conversations that helped me to get under the surface of everyday life in Thailand. Without speaking Thai, I’ve learned how to cook with very exotic ingredients (and I am not talking about green papaya or lemon grass or any other well know Thai speciality) from old ladies at the numerous city markets. I’ve learned about Buddhist rituals and traditions. I’ve learned to cross a six line highway without any traffic lights like a pro (without being crushed). I’ve learned about how non-verbal language makes you modest and humble in finding your way through the Thai etiquette. It would be pity to miss all of these while staying in the box ring of English.
7. Less is more and how valuable are little pleasures
Arriving to Thailand in the rainy season which this year and perhaps due to the climate change was more intense than usually, I’ve left a lot of the Western lifestyle luxuries behind. I didn’t miss a thing (well, with some small exceptions). Once you adapt to the subtropical life pace and weather, you realize that you don’t really need much. Rain doesn’t go together with fine clothes and shoes, rain jacket becoming the most loved outfit.
I’ve never imagined how much I would appreciate a day without rain. A moment when I could go and explore the area, mountains, coffee plantations and waterfalls which were normally not accessible during the rainy season. An evening when I found again a streetfood vendor of kluay tap, charcoal grilled bananas which became my obsession but for some reasons were only sold some days, hours and places in the town. These and other little pleasures gave me a good lesson of modesty.
8. Final destination is never final
Leaving for a big life venture such as a month (or two in my case) of living and working abroad is always full of question marks. When this will lead? How it will meet my expectations? Even though it’s mostly up to you and up to how you will benefit from all available opportunities, I am confident to say that Venture with Impact and the structure of its programs can only contribute to a positive, enriching experience. If I had known it before, I wouldn’t have asked myself so many questions such as ‘’Where my Thai experience would lead?’’. Everything what once was a final destination can easily become a starting point.
Bringing back a big bucket of insights, learnings, flavours and memories, I consider my experience with Venture with Impact as a departing line for new career and personal directions. In addition, I also got a pretty clear idea about a next travel destination. Spending time and working with Burmese organization and students in Thailand, I’ve learned little fragments about the country and traditions and got lurked. It’s not just the tealeaf salad, but mainly the kindness of the people I’ve met, their respect to customs and much more that makes me to say: ‘’I had to come to Thailand to discover Myanmar’’. Who knows then where your next venture leads, but if you keep on hesitating to set off, just don’t!