During my junior year of university my parents somehow put aside their worry and let their then 20-year-old daughter travel halfway around the world to live in the Middle East. Amman, Jordan became my home for an academic year, and I even extended my stay three additional months. I also ‘accidentally’ missed my first flight back to the U.S. to get an extra day in the country I’d grown to adore.
During the second semester of my study abroad program, a friend and I got jobs at a local bar and restaurant. This particular place was known for being a hot spot for Western tourists, and its lax adherence to typical Middle Eastern laws also made it a gathering place for the local LGBT crowd. My friend and I gave it a shot, thinking this would just be a couple weeks of getting paid next to nothing just to have a new experience. We were wrong.
Seven months later we were still working for next to nothing, but enjoyed working 10 hour shifts, six nights a week while still attending classes. The job paid $1/hour, plus tips. Was it glamorous? Absolutely not. The experience itself was frustrating, fascinating, interesting and a myriad of other adjectives.
Once school was over we continued to work, carrying drinks and plates into the wee hours of the warm Middle Eastern mornings. We watched the moon rise over the Amman hills at night and our academic Arabic morphed into the everyday slang Jordanians spoke, plus a smattering of other vocabulary we learned from our coworkers who represented 14 different nationalities.
This first experience working in Jordan gave me the courage to go back less than a year after I had finished my degree in the U.S. to work at a local media agency. Slightly more career-like than the bar, but nowhere near as exciting.
Work Hard, Play Hard
I currently live in Northern Ireland where I have just finished my Master’s degree in Political Psychology. I make my living as a freelance writer, an employment path that lets me pay rent, buy groceries and occasionally take a cheap Ryanair flight. Websites like FlexJobs and UpWork have allowed me to pursue my writing career while I travel, and CouchSurfing has put me in touch with some extraordinary people who are willing to give me a place to crash, a cup of coffee and interesting insights into their city.
Going to university abroad has lent itself to a whole new realm of experiences. I am confronted by an entirely new culture and social atmosphere every time I leave my house, and I enjoy the chance to build a new life in a new location. The hardest part is knowing that this set of circumstances — this city, these friends, this life — will change eventually.
I’m lucky enough to have been able to achieve my academic goals while living and working around the world. I ate a lot of pasta and rice, but that’s a small price to pay for the memories I’ve made and the memories I will continue to make in my life lived traveling.