Welcome to a new series of traveler spotlights on Katie Going Global, profiling some of my fellow thirty-something travelers who are getting ready to take a break from their everyday lives to travel – not just for a week or two, but for 4 months, 8 months, or even longer.
First up is my friend Megan Shaw, who left just a few days ago to spend a year in Africa. I would tell you where to find Megan on Twitter and what her blog URL is except for the fact that they don’t exist. So if you’d like to get in touch with her, please let me know and I will try to track her down for you in a hut in Tanzania – or just leave a comment below.
Let’s start with the basics – who are you?
Megan Shaw, 31 year old previously working in commercial real estate
When did you first start traveling and what do you enjoy about it the most?
I blame my parents for my wanderlust. I grew up an Army brat and lived in Germany as a child, which meant family vacations were to foreign countries instead of Disney World. What I love the most about travel is the new experiences whether it is food, architecture or people.
You’re going to be volunteering in Tanzania for a year – what motivated you to take a break from your career and do something like this?
I decided to take a break and volunteer because I didn’t think that my daily life was contributing enough to the world and society. I enjoyed my job and company but felt there was something bigger than me out there that needed my attention. I was very interested in teaching ESL [English as a Second Language] and found the volunteer opportunity.
Had you ever thought about doing something like this in the past? What held you back?
In my mid 20’s I wanted to move to Thailand and teach English. I laugh a lot when I think about what held me back. I had a $100/month car payment and couldn’t imagine how I could get out of my obligations.
How did your family and friends react? Have they been supportive?
Unbelievably supportive. I tested the waters with dear friends first and my best friend sealed the decision to start my research when her response was, “Why wouldn’t you, you have always wanted to do this.” My mom’s response was total excitement (I was ready for at least a little freak out) and she was not surprised at all which also solidified the idea that I was following my true path.
What are you looking forward to the most?
I am most looking forward to helping the students at my school but also the “reset” to my lifestyle. It is hard in our society to remember that the rest of the world does not live to the same standards as we do. I also have never been to Africa so I am excited for the travel opportunities.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge will be the reset to my lifestyle. I am not guaranteed access to running water or 24 hour electricity which will be a huge challenge. Also not having access to clean drinking water will be a challenge since in my current life I take for granted always having access to drinkable water.
Looking ahead to the end of your year in Tanzania, how do you hope you will have grown or changed?
That is definitely a hard question. I don’t actually know how I will have grown/changes but if I come home the exact same as when I left then I did something wrong. I hope to have a better idea of future career paths but I understand this adventure will change me in many unforeseeable ways. A new level of patience would be a great way for me to grow (fingers crossed).
Do you have any idea what you will do when you return? Any chance you’ll go back to your previous career?
I would love to use my TEFL [Teaching English as a Foreign Language] certification to work in Asia and get paid to teach but I left my company in great standing in case I decide teaching is not my future. The lofty, never grow-up side of me wants to be a perma-traveler and only work when I need more funding for travel but I know that is the least likely scenario.
If you could ask someone who has taken a career break in the past any question, what would it be? (anyone who has some answers for Megan, please share your comments below!)
How difficult was it to go back to a “stable”, 9-5 career after being away from that lifestyle?