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Archive for the ‘Work Abroad’ Category

Taking the step and journeying abroad can be challenging. My biggest fear in transitioning from a digital nomad in the states to a digital nomad abroad was the internet, or lack of it.

Dreaming of the streets of Rome is one thing, but as a digital nomad your dream depends on one source: the internet

Having lived in Italy before, I was very well aware that my expectations of the internet were not the same as an Italians, and that the reality of a bad connection could easily open the door to potentially disastrous results. If I could not work, I would risk upsetting my employers and loosing a significant portion of income only to end up back home at square one. It was a situational red flag that had “stop!” written all over it.

After months of mental debates and endless considerations, I found myself in Rome one beautiful Monday morning, riding the Leonardo da Vinci express into the city center. With the time difference, I knew I would be able to get to my apartment, unpack, shower and rest before “heading” to work (my long three-foot journey to my desk).

Before laying down to ease my jet lag, I popped open my laptop and briefly tested the connection. All seemed well on the digital front, and so I happily dozed off. I had no idea what was awaiting me.

Some hours later, I lazily rolled out of bed, shuffled over to the simple wooden desk, opened my laptop and waited for the magic of the internet to transfer me at the speed of light across the ocean, linking me to my company.

Nothing.

Taking a deep breath, I remained calm. Having travelled and used the internet from different locations in the past, I knew that it could sometimes take a few tries to establish a connection. But an hour later, still staring at a blank screen, I felt like my entire world was sinking around me.

With the clock ticking, I knew that I could no longer cross my fingers and hope for the best of the web, and so I crossed the hall to my landlord’s flat and rang the shrill buzzer. Explaining to her in broken Italian my life and death situation, she kindly took an interest and attempted to help. Unfortunately, nothing could be done. She suggested that I wait a few hours and perhaps her son could be of more assistance when he returned home.

A public phone in Rome much like the one I used that night

Grabbing my purse and coat, I headed out to find a “Tabacchi” (a little Italian shop where you can buy lottery tickets, cigarettes, etc.). For five euros I was handed an international calling card, which I promptly carried to the very first pay phone I could find. As my luck would have it, I ended up standing on the busy corner of the Via dei Fori Imperiali, the road that leads to the Coliseum, engaged in a semi-tearful phone call to my family back home. (Standing on a street corner looking distraught while holding the glaring red receiver of a public phone to your head is probably not the most pleasant way to kickstart a journey.)

With the promise of prayers from the states, I said goodbye to the familiar voice, buried my hands deep in my coat pockets and wandered aimlessly through the darkening streets. Falling away from the beaten path, I came across the large, looming facade of a church, it’s doors still hanging wide open. Feeling like this was something of an invitation, I crossed the narrow street and wandered into the mysterious space.

It was dark, dimly lit and I was all alone, sheltered by the 500-year-old arms of a building that had seen many more souls desperate than mine. I stared forlornly at the flicking candles that whispered prayers to ancient saints, and gazed in sadness at the painted icon above the altar. Step by slow step I made my way down the aisle, passing rows of abandoned pews, until I could walk no more and simply sank down on one of the narrow wooden benches.

Santa Maria dei Monti in Rome, the church that welcomed me that first night

That was when I began to silently talk. To God. In the private corners of my mind I whispered my concerns, and the more I spoke the more distraught I became. Sheltered by the privacy of the semi-darkness, the only eyes to gaze upon me the centuries old statues and paintings of holy men and women, a need began to take over me. It was a need so deep I had not even realized how strong and powerful it was, for it had never emerged in such a way. When the container holding it finally cracked, I was overwhelmed at what poured out.

Sometimes we do not realize just how much we truly want something until the recognition that it could be lost is most tangibly felt. That is how it was for me, and in those moments the tears that poured forth were of an intensity that I had never known while sitting in a church. I even stopped caring if anyone saw me or what they would think. I simply could not and did not want to stop the force of longing from breaking through the suddenly frail container of my humanity.

I talked, prayed and cried until people filed in, lights went up, mass was said, people filed out, and the lights went down again. I sat until only the loving eyes of the ancient statues and paintings remained to gaze tenderly upon me. Only then did I leave.

Santa Maria dei Monti, much brighter when pictured on a sunny day

Hoping that somehow the echoes of my being splitting in two by the force of desire had been heard, I stepped out into the cool night air and made my way back along the busy road. Turning down the little quiet medieval street, I hurried to my flat where with my landlord and her son we tried every option we could think of until we were all exhausted from so much effort and so few results. Perhaps the force of desire had not split loudly enough as I had hoped.

Pinned to a wall and with no other options, the next evening I found myself at a local internet cafe. Wired in and uncomfortably seated in a hard metal chair, flourescent green walls screaming at me from every angle, I logged on and went to work. Later that night, I sleepily wandered down the little medieval street to my flat, climbed the 7 flights, and lay across my bed staring at the darkened ceiling. I talked to God a lot during that time.

Some friends back home had suggested that the problem was just temporary, and that perhaps the internet would resume functioning again. I put a little hope into this suggestion, but it did not take me long to recognize the true source of the problem.

Staying in the flat next to mine, and renting from the same landlord, was a group of young girls who were studying abroad. As the days passed, I quickly began to notice that when they went out in the morning, the internet suddenly came alive. I could surf for hours and utilize all my programs without a glitch. But the moment I heard their door unlock and the sounds of furniture moving on the other side of the wall, I came to recognize that within 10 minutes or less the internet would disappear for the entire night. All night. Into the early hours of the morning. My problem was not the internet, but bandwith-sapping neighbors who were using the internet for some unknown but clearly intense purposes.

To my dismay, I learned that they were scheduled to remain there for many months and so I finally knew I had no choice. The internet would never be reliable as long as they were “sharing” (hogging?) it. I had to either find another flat in Rome, or quickly purchase a plane ticket back home.

Deciding that after all my trials option B was the most desirable choice, I began contacting prospective apartment owners zealously. I parked myself on my sofa for days (during the hours the girls were away), sending e-mail replies to every internet add, signing up with every apartment finder service, and clogging my account with reply after reply in the negative. “Sorry, we do not have internet.” “We have internet – want to go in debt to live here?” “We are connected, but nothing is available for another 3 months. Your request is too last-minute.” “We have a nice place with a great connection and it is available – if you take a train for 45 minutes outside of Rome and walk another twenty you can come see it.” It seemed hopeless, and time was ticking.

In those questionable hours of my life, I kept returning in my mind to the church I had sat in on the first night. In the little chapel of my thoughts, I spoke at length with God about everything I felt and feared. I threw all of my trust into His hands, telling Him time and time again that I was certain He would not abandon me. I threw my faith into overdrive and dwelt on one thought alone; that I trusted in Him.

But time was growing too long, and I had to make a radical decision. Either move somewhere far on the outskirts, go broke living in a place beyond my means (but stay in Rome, where I truly longed to be), or purchase a ticket home. Spun into a world of uncertainty, I was amazed when I came home Sunday evening and found a little blue paper that my landlord had slid under my door.

Picking it up, my eyes widened as I read the letters inked upon the unlined page, “the girls are moving out.”

I stood there, still weighed down by my bags and coat, half out of breath from the seven flight climb, and just starred in what could only be understood as joy and shock all rolled into one. In my hand I was holding a little piece of paper with words that would literally save my Roman dreams. My gratitude was enormous, and all that echoed inside my head were the two words “thank you” over and over. The force of desire and longing that had split my heart so powerfully that first night, and all the prayers after it, had somehow been heard.

A few days later, the girls did indeed relocate to another flat in Rome. And that evening I happily shuffled to work in pink flip-flops, turned on my computer, and peacefully went to work. It was as if nothing had ever happened.

Yet something had happened. I had not only discovered the force of my desire to be in Rome, which I had never truly known until the moment I realized it cold be taken away from me, but I had also been given a glimpse into the power of faith. While I will never know what would have happened if I had not poured out my heart to God in those moments, and turned to him in my little trust, I do know what happened when I did.

Travel showed me a side of my own heart that I had not known and the kindness of God to my simple human desires. And chapter one of my life as a digital nomad abroad ended with a challenge presented, and a priceless lesson learned.

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I just learned the other day that I am a digital nomad.

What is a digital nomad? Um, I think it's me!

To be honest, if you had asked me what that meant two weeks ago, I would have had no idea. At first, when I started hearing the expression “digital nomad,” I thought it was just a fancy way of saying that a person liked to spend all of their time exploring the internet; a computer nomad wandering the digital universe from the comfort of their couch. A very nice way to say “I am addicted to the web.”

In a way this definition that I had formed in my own limited understanding is true. Digital nomads journey into the high-tech universe of the web from many comfortable places, but they do it for pay. This is how they make their living, by being able to work from just about anywhere they can get a good internet connection.

And sometimes this freedom even turns them into true nomads, wandering the country or even the world, laptop in hand. It was this last sort of digital nomad that made me realize I too was one of them. The “force” was with me, and my two traveling laptops, whenever I logged on to the www.

I never set out to become a digital nomad. How could I when I did not know what it was? I just knew that I loved travel and wanted to keep doing it always. So when my employer offered me the opportunity to work at home so that I could relocate and still keep my job, the first words out of my mouth were “and if I want to go abroad? Can I take the job with me there?”

The “yes” was all I needed to hear.

In the beginning, I was nervous to leave everything behind and hit the road, job-in-tow. For an experienced traveller, this was rare. After all, I have been to or through every state in the USA but Alaska and North Dakota. I have checked many tropical islands off my list as well as Mexico. I have seen most of Canada from Vancouver to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. I have lived on the west coast, east cost and several states in between. I have backpacked around and across Europe, and even lived in Ireland, England and Italy. I passed through the European educational system, earning two international graduate degrees from two different countries. But I had never packed my laptop in my bag, bought a plane ticket and said “I am headed to Europe and everything depends on my internet connection.”

I started to seriously consider taking the plunge in April of 2010. I began dropping in at expat websites, curiously checking to see if others had ventured out before me and how they had fared. But the advice was fragmented and left me even more confused.

The feedback was like a sea-saw wildly out of control. The internet was good enough for work. The internet wasn’t good enough for work. Keep in mind this factor, don’t forget that one. My doubts growing, I wondered, “what will I do if I give up my apartment, move all the way there, only to have it fail?” After all, this was my job. If I could not work, I could not make money. If I could not make money, well, lets just say that would not be a good option.

After endless rounds of mental debates, I realized that I had to go forward. I felt that there must be a reason why I had been given such a job when my dreams had always lingered on travel and foreign destinations. I almost felt that there must be something wrong with me to have the door hanging open, literally begging me to enter, and I could not cross through.

I closed my eyes, turned my head away and held my breath that day when, sitting on the floor in my room on a Friday afternoon, I clicked the “send” button that confirmed I had now purchased my ticket to Rome. I sat there quietly and stared at the screen with the confirmation message that had appeared. In the silent aftermath of my choice, I realized that I was the only person who knew the secret which was about to change the course of my life. I was nervous, but I knew there was no going back now.

Since that day, and the day I landed in Italy, many obstacles have arisen which I have had to surmount (including the internet not working, as I feared, but I fought my way through it and am still here). So when I learned that I am a digital nomad I could not help but feel as though a puzzle had come together; someone had explained to me a significant part of my life. It really was as though I now understood that the “force” was with me; a unique force that I log onto every day when I turn on my computer and connect to the 21st century energy that we humans call the internet.

That is something to be truly grateful for.

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