It was my last night on the Philippine Island of Siargao. I knew I’d be returning home to China in just two short days, and instead of hanging out in the common space with my new hostel friends, or you know, actually sleeping so that I could wake up in time for my 5am ferry, I laid awake, face down in my pillow crying.
Why was I so upset, other than the fact that I didn’t want to leave literal paradise? To be honest, at that time I couldn’t even tell you why I was upset. I was unusually stressed and anxious. I felt like I had no direction or real control over how my life was going. I was so happy in the Philippines, and I just didn’t want to go back to China.
Stress With a Capital “S”
Heading back to China, I knew I had a mountain of work on my plate. Firstly, my dissertation is due in three weeks. A 15,000 word monstrosity on Chinese Internet Censorship and VPNs (my favorite topic). Instead of being a responsible student, I decided to take a 5-week vacation, and now I only had a month left to finish everything.
Mountains of research, surveys, interviews, drafting and writing… I couldn’t even wrap my head around all of it.
Unfortunately, I had more than just my dissertation to worry about, I also have this blog and freelance writing. Whoopsies! I was already a month late on one freelance article, mainly because the Internet in the Philippines is horrible, and I had a very unfortunate bout of food poisoning.
Not only was I behind on freelance writing, I’d also only written one blog post in the past two and a half weeks, I hadn’t loaded any of my posts onto Pinterest, my Twitter notifications were piling up… AHHHHH!!!
But Wait… There’s More!
I knew I was stressed about coming home to a mountain of work. Blog posts, delivering on sponsored posts for clients, catching up on social media AND my dissertation (which, let’s be honest, is actually the most important thing right now… remind me why I’m writing this?)
But I knew that wasn’t just it. I was upset because I caught a glimpse of what my life could’ve been. I had a taste of something I’m not allowed to have for the next two years.
The “Quit Your Job to Travel” Cult
I’ve told you all many times that I read a ridiculous amount of travel blogs. It’s an addiction. Every morning I scroll through my Bloglovin’ feed for the latest posts from my favorites. I’m a member of god knows how many travel blogging Facebook groups. I subscribe to emails on how to become a digital nomad…
Travel blogging is a cult. It sucks you in.
When I first learned that professional travel blogs exist, I remember reading a post by Adventurous Kate about the less than glamorous side of blogging. I thought to myself “Wow, that sounds horrible.” The stress, the pressure and the lack of money… why would I ruin my favorite hobby?
But over time the travel blogging cult sucks you in. I want to go on those sponsored trips I’ve been offered. I want to be able to jet set around the world for conferences and festivals. I want to travel with no plan for as long as I feel like it without worrying about the money running out.
I know I could support myself through freelance writing and social media consulting. I could do that. I could totally do that. It would be fun!
Why the hell am I in grad school?
I can’t tell you how hard it is to work on a dissertation when you have no idea why you’re even getting a master’s in the first place. In the last few weeks I’ve come to resent my master’s. What I once saw as an amazing opportunity, I now see as a dream crusher.
I can get my master’s in one year for only $20,000??! What a deal! More like… I can ruin your dreams and make you work a 9-5 even though you could be a successful freelancer.
Just kidding. In all honesty I don’t regret getting my master’s. I could completely burn out on the blog or find the digital nomad lifestyle isn’t for me. I could realize how shallow this all really is, and go work for the State Department in a few years. Hey! I did major in International Affairs and I’m fluent in Chinese.
It’s probably good that I’ll have this master’s degree. Firstly, it’s a major accomplishment that I should be proud of (provided I don’t fail my dissertation) and secondly, it’s something I can always fall back on. It also makes me sound smarter. In a few months you can all start referring to me as “Master Richelle”.
I think the hardest thing is meeting all these Europeans who are basically getting their degrees for free. Even British people don’t really have to pay anything back. As long as they stay out of the country, they don’t have to pay back their interest-free loans. Also, even if they move back home, they only have to pay back a percentage of their annual income, and the loans expire after 25 years. What the actual F***??
Remind me why my grandparents came to the US again? Land of opportunity? Yeah right! They should’ve stayed in Ireland.
UPDATE 8/11: Apparently British people actually DO have to pay back their student loans and they don’t expire. Dear British readers: do your research! I find it scary how many people I’ve met on my travels that are misinformed about their loans. (Read the comments section for more info)
All jokes aside, can you imagine telling people in your hostels over and over again that no, you can’t just travel the world taking odd jobs. No, you can’t fulfill your dream of becoming a digital nomad.. and no, you can’t just become a divemaster through indentured servitude (I was tempted, trust me), because you’re up to your eyeballs in student loan debt that is accumulating interest as we speak.
It’s easy not to get frustrated about debt when everyone has debt, but talking about student loans with Europeans is really infuriating sometimes. You guys don’t know how good you have it over there. Someone marry me so I can get a green card.
Mixed Feelings on Beijing
Two years sounds like such a long time. Two more years in China… on top of the 2.5 years I’ve already been here. Four and a half years in China is a long time. Taking a job for two years sounds like a century to me at twenty-four. The longest job I’ve ever had has only lasted me an academic calendar year.
Leaving the Philippines, I was not excited to move to Beijing in a month. I was dreading the internet censorship and pollution, lamenting the fact I have limited vacation, wishing I was moving to a tropical island where I could go scuba diving every week, and dreading the monotony of a 9-5… I mean 10-7.
I’d been sucked into the travel cult, preaching the digital nomad lifestyle mantra. But I have to be responsible. I’m an adult and I have loans. I also have less than $1,000 in my bank account after this most recent trip.
Since when is having my life mapped out an issue for me? A few months ago I was having a quarter-life crisis because I didn’t have a plan, and now I’m wishing more than ever that I was free to do whatever I wanted.
I think the problem is that I know what I want but I just can’t have it right now.
A few days after I returned home I was Skyping a friend who recently left China (along with the rest of my friends). He asked how I was feeling about the move to Beijing and I couldn’t lie. I wasn’t exited.
I explained to him how trapped I was feeling, and how the city that once seemed so exciting, and the job that originally seemed like the perfect opportunity, now held no appeal for me.
You know what he said? “Quit whining.”
Quit whining? QUIT WHINING???! YOU’RE not the one who has to move to Beijing for two years. You’ve only been in China for a few months and now you’re going back home. I’m just trying to open up and share my feelings with you, and you just shut me down.
You can ask my mom or any guy I’ve ever dated. I DO NOT like being told my feelings aren’t valid.
But you know what? He’s right. I can’t feel sorry for myself. I can’t stare wistfully out the window wishing I was in the Philippines becoming a dive instructor. It’s not in the cards for me right now, and I know I won’t feel comfortable until my debts are paid… (insert casual Game of Thrones joke here).
I’m Ready for Beijing
The more I think about it, the more excited I become about my impending move. Beijing is a really cool city, and I think my job will be rewarding. I loved working with high schoolers last year, and I’m excited for the opportunity to really get to know them one-on-one. I think this job has the potential to be really fulfilling. Helping a student get into her dream school and knowing you made a difference in her life? Yeah, sounds like a good gig.
This Beijing apartment will be my first real adult apartment (no, my makeshift teachers dorm studio last year does not count), and I’m excited to be able to invite friends over, decorate, and not feel guilty about buying stuff like a blender and forks since I’ll be living there for two years. (In case you were wondering I haven’t owned a fork in two years).
Apparently the salsa dancing community in Beijing is really vibrant, and I’m hoping to involved and meet a lot of new friends. Maybe I can even join a dance performance group in Beijing too!
I also really want to take the first step in becoming a crazy cat lady. I found a shelter called BeijingCat.org that rescues abandoned cats and finds them new homes. As much as I’m obsessed with Bing Bing and want to take him home, I think the best step for me right now is to become a foster mom for a cat in need. While I’ll be stable for the next two years, my life is too volatile to consider adopting a cat for life.
Why Am I Telling You This?
Because I want to whine like a baby and talk about cats, obviously.
Just kidding. Mainly because I don’t think it’s fair that I make it seem like my life is transitioning so seamlessly. I feel like a lot of posts I’ve written lately have been very cheery and distinctly travel related. Oh my god, scuba diving with sharks! Wow, Kampot and Kep are amazing! My homestay in Bangkok was the best ever!… minus getting stranded on the highway.
I would be lying to you if I said I was always 100% on-board with moving to Beijing next year. I’d be lying if I said the idea of signing up to live in China for another two years didn’t scare me.
Planning for the Future
The longer I stay away from the lure of the backpacker scene, the easier it is for me to remember why I like being an expat. The next two years are a real opportunity for me to put my head down, pay off my loans and create a sustainable business.
Remember when I said that Adventurous Kate’s post about how she made money as a travel blogger scared me? Well that’s because I know the life of a freelance writer isn’t for me, which is something Kate has realized in the last year as well.
Being a freelance writer is tough, and hard to sustain. You rarely get paid on time, and you’re expected to crank out content constantly. It’s stressful, and doesn’t build on itself.
I’m going to really take advantage of the next two years. I’ll work hard, pay off my student loans, and try to save up as much money as possible. I’ll spend my spare time growing my blog, and brainstorming projects for the future.
I want to create opportunities for myself that allow me to have a more passive income. I’ve thought of everything from e-books to creating a line of t-shirts that will resonate with backpackers and China expats (“Jaded China Bitch” will be the first one… I should probably copyright that.)
Regardless, I have two years to save up money and figure my life out.
It’s not so bad.
I really should quit whining. My life is actually pretty great.
At twenty-four I’ll (hopefully) have a master’s degree. I have a job lined up before I’ve even finished school. I have a great salary and a fancy free apartment. I’m moving to one of the coolest cities in the world, and I’ll be able to travel anywhere in Asia on my time off. By the time I finish I’ll have a bunch of money saved up, and I’ll be able to travel as much as my little heart desires!
I think I have a pretty sweet deal compared to most of my friends back home.
Sometimes it can be hard to break out of that “quit your job to travel” mindset. When all of your online peers are able to travel the world full-time and take on amazing opportunities, it’s hard not to feel like you’re missing out.
But you know what? I’ve always been responsible. I’m going to get my degree. I’m going to pay off my loans and I’m going to figure out what the heck I’m doing with my life.