If I ever write my book, this is likely how I’d start it.
The Journey Of A Thousand Miles, Starts With A Single Step.
I was 18 when I walked into my college freshman Sociology 201 class at Sonoma State University. The professor, who would later become my mentor, introduced herself to the class by giving her bio. “…you may have seen me before on MTV’s Road Rules. I was one of the professors aboard the ship during the season when the cast took part in Semester at Sea (SAS).” She went on to describe the concept of the program; it was one that I had never heard before. It was a study abroad experience where students spent 108 days, the span of a college semester, sailing around the world, visiting 10 countries while completing course content in their respective fields. Intrigued, I approached her after class to hear more about it. She told me about the in-country field trips that were crafted around students majors to offer experiential training, she shared the amount of free time participants would have at each port to venture and wander on their own and further highlighted what could be expected at sea between ports. At that point I’d never been out the country so the possibility of being selected for such a program seemed unattainable, so I hardly even entertained the thought of going. It wasn’t until I became her Teacher’s Assistant in my third and final year of college that I actually considered studying on a cruise ship an actual option.
I was a psychology major and had learned at the beginning of what should have been my junior year, that I had enough credits to graduate a year early. This meant that the following semester would unexpectedly be my last. In speaking with my mentor about the abrupt and premature end to my collegiate career, she again suggested I’d consider Semester at Sea again. We’d had countless conversations about my career goal of becoming a “…successful Psychologist” a phrase I’d been saying since the second grade when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. She reasoned, “…I think you’ll find that learning about people and their behaviors framed within their cultural norms and values will be beneficial when you start providing therapy. It will give you a greater understanding of people and their differences.” It was with these words that I decided to realistically consider studying abroad. When I saw on the SAS website that they were having an in-person application process in San Diego to be considered for the following term, I called my mom to talk through the logistics of me getting down there.
The morning of the open house, I took an early morning flight from the bay to LA and then road tripped with my mom down to SD. Towards the end of the journey, nerves took over. The uncertainty that I had been wrestling with for weeks on whether or not to apply returned. When I shared my apprehension with my mom, she began reassuring me and affirming my choice to apply for the opportunity. I don’t quite recall exactly what she said, but if I know her like I do, I’m sure her motivational words were flowery, strung together New King James’ finest verses and topped off with a prayer. Needless to say, it worked.
We boarded the ship and headed to the banquet hall that doubled as an assembly room. There were wooden tables stationed at the front of the auditorium where the academic advisors sat waiting to determine the fate of the students in line. I fell into formation with the rest of the potential SAS candidates. In my hand was my application form, a sealed envelope that contained my official academic transcript, the current event newspaper clipping that was requested of all applicants, and my personal statement. When I got to the front of the line, I greeted the advisor and handed over my documents. He scrutinized them for what felt to be an eternity before looking up at me over his glasses and saying, “Wow, impressive! See you in the Fall.” Wait, What? That’s it?! Just like that, accepted? I thought feeling both shocked and excited. Luckily, my mouth translated my jumble of emotions into a more polished form of expression. “Thank you!” I said, before turning to rejoin my mom to share with her the good news.
“The opportunity of a lifetime, must be seized within the lifetime of the opportunity.”
The remainder of that Spring semester was a blur. Even after submitting my SAS commitment letter, there were numerous occasions where I’d go back and forth on whether I would actually go through with my decision. It was so expensive. “…I don’t know mom, maybe it’s not worth it.” I expressed while looking over the excursion package with her. “I’ll just go back to Sonoma for my last semester.” I’m not sure whether that was me being practical or if I was trying to use fiscal responsibility to mask my uneasiness of leaving the country for the first time EVER. After all, I knew nothing about travel or about being outside of America. Up to that point, the 8-hour drive/1-hour flight it took to get to college was the furthest I’d been without my parent’s guardianship. Ultimately, my mom ended up convincing me that this was an opportunity of a lifetime and assured me we’d figure out how to finance it one way or another. That subsequent Fall, I set sail on a trip around the world that quite literally changed the trajectory of my life. I embarked on The Journey that started it all.
“Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote, and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life.”
My decision to move to Spain at the age of 27, was one galvanized by heartbreak, but not exactly in the way one might think. A few years earlier, I spent a summer studying in Europe while working on my master’s degree. Following graduation, I had the opportunity to move to London to be a Social Worker through a professional exchange program partnership between my U.S. based alma mater and select hospitals and clinics throughout England. At the time I was in year five of what ended up being a seven-year relationship. Having lived on opposite American coasts the majority of our time together, we knew all too well the struggles of being long distanced. So, when we finally managed to make our way back to one another and live in the same state, I was hesitant to reintroduce geographic distance, no matter how great this new job opportunity was. Since I couldn’t convince him to move abroad with me and did not want to add “cross continental” to our relationship’s resumé, I ultimately decided to pass on the role in England.
When our relationship eventually dissolved, my desire to live abroad resurfaced. To be honest, the deep-seated longing never really faded. Because it had been a couple of years since I passed on the London position, that opportunity was no longer a viable option. So, I spent my time looking for new ways in which I’d qualify to move overseas. Nights were long. My screen time was way up (and stuck lol). It felt like every search led me to some local government page that highlighted how difficult it was for foreigners to move and work abroad because companies needed to prove the need for outsourcing their positions instead of hiring local nationals. It was, discouraging, to say the least; especially knowing I’d had the opportunity to live abroad within grasp and chose not to pursue it.
But I kept looking. “How can I qualify? What would make an international move worth it?” I’d often ask myself before starting my extensive google searches. Then one day the answer hit me. “Language! I’ll go abroad to learn Spanish. That way I can go over on a student visa, immerse myself in the culture to pick up the dialect faster, and eventually move back to America as a bilingual therapist. Perfect!”
Deciding between Argentina and Spain was my last remaining barrier.
“We crave what we are called for.”
-Marshawn Evans Daniels
After living and studying in Madrid for a year and a half, and having picked up Spanish quite well, I was ready to return to clinical practice. I wasn’t, however, ready to move back to America as I’d initially planned. I spent my days and nights tirelessly perusing the interwebs for Licensed Clinical Social Work vacancies overseas. I was tired of living from visa renewal to visa renewal every 6 months to a year. I longed for a deeper sense of stability. “Iono, I just want a therapy job with comparable pay to what I was making stateside, that allows me to travel, but that keeps me overseas.” I said, on the phone one afternoon talking to a friend back home. “Don’t we all?” She replied, “but those kinds of jobs just don’t exist.”
“Could she be right?” I asked myself after getting off the phone with her and feeling even more discouraged.
“Dare I ask for my dreams? Dare I see the imagination of my soul? Dare I risk? What if I ask and receive? So then, I risk. I ask.”
Later that evening I continued the phone conversation, but this time with God on the receiving end. “God, I don’t believe you placed this insatiable desire to travel within me, only to have me exist within the deficit of it. I also don’t believe I spent all this money on my degrees to not get a full return on my investment.” That night I journaled this prayer.
I want to be offered a therapy position overseas; I want to make a good salary so that I can live a comfortable life and travel endlessly. I’d like the role to come with stability, so I don’t have to keep renewing my visa; and want to make meaningful bonds with likeminded people along the way. The desire of my heart is to travel the world, live without borders, and one day inspire others with my life.
So, God, if [she’s] right and these types of jobs really don’t exist, then I guess what I’m asking is that You’d create one for me.
Some time went by but one day, I got an email from a recruiter. She was responding to a correspondence I’d apparently sent 5 months earlier that I’d forgotten about. She apologized for how long it took for her to reply to my initial inquiry but said that the company had been in the process of creating all these new contracted positions for social workers overseas. “There’s been an increased need.” She said. She told me that she had a pre-existing 1-year Clinical Social Work position in Tokyo that my resumé qualified me for, but also told me about two of the newly created positions; one in England and the other in Germany. I initially chose Japan, however before I could even pack up my belongings (which at the time wasn’t much), the person who was already in that role renewed their contract, leaving me with only the two newly created roles to choose from. Although I was bummed I wouldn’t get to live in Japan, I was reminded that I had asked God to tailor a role specific for me. So ultimately, I ended up choosing England. When the final contract for this position was sent to me, I saw that this England offer, positioned me to work in the Mental Health Clinic to provide long term therapy whereas the Japanese position was a Behavioral Health role providing short-term (20-minute sessions), solution focused interventions to aid the primary care medical team. This meant, had I gone to Japan, I wouldn’t have been in the clinical therapy role that I was hoping to get back to. I wouldn’t have been able to use any of my “so tell me all about your childhood” “MmmHmmm and how does that make you feel?” and “and how’s that working for you?” skills. Likewise, the duration of the England contract was much longer, offering me 3 years in England with a 2-year renewal option in comparison to Japan’s 1 year in Tokyo with a 6-month renewal possibility. Reflecting once more on my prayer I thought, welp, how’s that for stability?
“What goes around comes back around”
When I passed up on England the first time for love, I didn’t think an opportunistic lightning bolt like that would strike twice in the same lifetime. Likewise, when the Japan contract was taken from me and reassigned to the person already in the role, I did not think another chance to live in Japan would come back around four years later. But it did. They both did. If you’ve read my previous blog End of an Era, then you’re aware that the opportunity for me to live in Japan recently came back around in the most random Instagramesque of ways. So, I guess apostle Jermaine Cole was right when he said, “…everything comes back around full circle.” I’m only 8 days into my new life here in the land of the rising sun and have absolutely 0 clue what awaits me on the other side of this 14-day quarantine, but based on how this journey all started year ago, vs how it’s since been going, I expect it to be nothing short of His absolute best.
Until next time friends,