What Am I Doing With My Life?! (and other rational questions)

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.

Why am I getting my master's when all I want to do is travel the world??

PIN me for later

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!!!

Siargao beach

I definitely wasn’t ready to leave the Philippines

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.

taal volcano view

Typical travel blogger photo

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?

Scuba diving Malapascua

Scuba diving: My other 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!

Mangrove crabs Siargao

Why am I in grad school again?

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.

Siargao island hopping

My dream is to stay here forever.

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”.

Paglaom Siargao

My really awesome hostel in Siargao

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)

Siargao island hopping

Our own private island for the day in Siargao

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.

Elephant Nature Park

Can’t I just stay in Thailand and volunteer with elephants?

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.

Kawasaki falls

Yeah, my life could be worse.

“Quit Whining”

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.”

Siargao Rock pools

wah waaah I can’t swim here everyday

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).

Suzhou park

Beijing I’m coming for you!

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).

Read Next: I’m Moving to Beijing!

Philippines boat

The face of a crazy cat lady

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.

tuna Malapascua

Maybe I can feed this tuna to my new cats

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.

Siargao island hopping

It’s an easy cult to get sucked into

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.

Siargao Bollucks Burgers

Get ready Beijing!

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.

Aguinid Falls

Philippines I’ll miss you!

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.



About Richelle

Expat, traveler, and spicy food lover, I've spent the last few years living in China and traveling around Asia. In my spare time I enjoy salsa dancing, exploring night markets and stuffing my face with street food.

31 comments on “What Am I Doing With My Life?! (and other rational questions)

    • That’s definitely true! As much as we all crave instant gratification, it’s much more enjoyable to actually struggle to achieve your goals. I know I’ll be super proud of myself when I pay off all my loans.

  1. Been there!!! Now I’m pretty happy with what I’m doing but that “quit your job and travel” mindset definitely sucks you in!

  2. Hey lady! I haven’t finished reading yet but I wanted to write before I forget- it’s not true about the British student loans unfortunately. I know that A LOT of young British people are really misinformed about them and there are a lot of untruths out there. They are not interest free sadly. However the interest is usually quite low as it has to do with the rates of inflation. They don’t get wiped out after 25 years either. They do get wiped out when you die though…! We also do have to pay them back if we live overseas. You used to be able to get away with it but they have become clever at tracking people down now. And they add loads of fines on every month if you don’t pay it without giving a proper reason. You either have to pay it back based on your overseas income (which often results in a higher payment than the UK for various boring reasons) or, if you are travelling/unemployed, you have to prove why you aren’t paying it back with bank statements to show you don’t have an income or get letters from people to say they currently support you financially! However, it is true that you only have to pay it back if you earn over a certain amount and it is paid back as a percentage of income- which is good. I just wanted to clear that up as I know so many people have heard these rumors and I wouldn’t want you (if you ever decided to go back to school yet again hahaha!) or a reader to take out a British student loan with the wrong impression! Anyway, back to reading your post now! :-) x

    • Wow Joella that is great to know! It’s actually really scary how much misinformation there is about this. Everyone I’ve talked to while traveling is convinced they don’t actually have to pay their loans back. Most people are either confused about when the loans expire, or they’re convinced they expire after 25 years. One guy even calculated how much he would have to actually pay back based on his income using the fact that they expired in 25 years. I can’t believe they don’t make more of an effort to hunt you down though. In America the loans don’t even expire after you die. I’ve seen Change.org petitions demanding parents pay back their dead children’s student loans. It’s crazy!

      • Richelle- they do expire after 25 or 30 years, depending when you took them out. I’m unsure why Joelle thinks otherwise, since the student loans official website says they do expire (http://www.slc.co.uk/services/loan-repayment/loan-cancellation.aspx).

        If you work overseas, the amount you pay back is based on your local salary. In my experience this means you pay a lot less. They’ve basically worked out what the local equivalent to the UK threshold is, and you pay 9% above that. So while it might be £15,000 in the UK, you’d start paying back at £9,000 in Thailand. It’s only people earning a Western salary in a very low-income country who would end up paying more. For most people who are earning “good by local standards” wages, it normally works out about the same monthly repayment, if not less.

        I spent a year backpacking after uni, and all I had to do was send them a bank statement showing that I had enough cash to support myself. You do that every year, and as long as you can prove you aren’t earning money and are purely living off savings, you pay nothing from your loans.

        Unless Joelle took her loans out before 2005/6, I’m really confused as to where she’s getting her information from, and she certainly isn’t “clearing things up”. Yes, the loans are accruing interest all the time- but if they’ll be wiped out in 25/30 years (which they will) and you don’t pay anything if you don’t earn anything (also true), it really isn’t much of a concern unless you’re earning mega-bucks.

        • Wow thanks for the info Amy! Yeah I find it strange how many people from the UK are confused about their loans. I hear a different story from almost everyone I meet. I think the complicated thing is that you can get away with not paying them back if you’re out of the country, even though you’re not supposed to. This is crazy to me, coming from a country where my family will have to pay back my loans if I die (yes, this happens).

  3. Well hey there, my favourite jaded china bitch! Love the honesty! I do feel for you yanks with your wild-ass loans, it comes up a lot in topic here and it blows my mind.

    Let me just say though, us Brits DO have to pay back and there IS interest. I know the sitch isnt quite as bad as for you guys, but we are close behind. I have about £25k… my little sis will graduate with about £50k. Its just obscene.

    Im one of the lucky ones that ran away straight out of uni so they never caught up with me (yet!). But if you have a ‘real job’ and then decide to travel or work overseas, they hunt your ass down! It will bite me in the ass one day, but for now im happy doing odd jobs round the world that don’t qualify me for repayments because the eanrings are so low (and so is my cost of living… win!) and I 100% appreciate this and realise I’m lucky.

    In other news, stay positive and focused and remember… it’s okay to be confused… we all are!

    • I find it crazy how much misinformation there is on your country’s student loans! Everything I wrote above is coming straight out of the mouth of British people. Maybe you should write a post on that? I almost want to send out a service announcement to all my confused British friends hahaha. In America they will hunt you down and make your family pay even after you die (I’m not kidding).

  4. Brilliant article, that so wonderfully articulates the questions so many of us struggle to answer! Thank you, you are not alone!

  5. I love this post and how honest it. Getting your Masters is a really good choice (I got mine in Finance and now I’m a full time blogger and freelancer and I still believe that it was a good idea). What you said about freelancing is true though, you don’t always find yourself writing about what you want or when you want, your income isn’t regular so it’s not the best thing but it works because you can do it remotely. Of course like Kate says if you ca find passive streams of income, nothing like it.
    But you’re moving to a city that’s young and exciting and full of challenges. Yes you’ll have to work and pay rent but you’ll have the time to figure out everything when you’re not actually broke or doing odd jobs while traveling continuously. That’s not a good position to be in when you’re deciding what you want from life :) I wish you all the best for and look forward to following your new adventures!

    • Wow thanks so much Natasha! I agree, I find it really hard to travel full-time and work on my blog. I think staying place for a bit will give me the opportunity to make good business decisions. I just hope this job doesn’t tire me out too much!

      I’m glad you don’t regret your master’s. I think it’s always good to have, even though I wish I didn’t have all this debt now! haha

  6. Ah Richelle, I can totally relate to so much of what you’re saying. I left the US in 2013 to travel for about a year. Before then I didn’t really know a thing about the world of travel blogging or being a digital nomad. Traveling the world long-term completely opened my eyes to the possibilities of creating a life filled with traveling, blogging and writing (my three favorite things!). And like you, it sucked me in!! The only problem is that making it a reality is really hard work and takes time. So I chose the expat path (or maybe it chose me). Instead of returning to normal life back in California, I moved to Indonesia where I worked for one of the major English-speaking newspapers. It turns out that getting my master’s degree in communications actually (finally) came in handy! Getting my master’s was such hard work and I can’t even tell you how many times I came close to quitting. But I’m so glad I didn’t now I’m able to combine my wanderlust with my education. I’m not going to say that I don’t have a long way to go. I do! But at this point I do not regret my decision to get my master’s or to move abroad. I totally get your frustrations. I experience similar ones on a weekly basis. But being able to have a great job, live in Beijing and be able to travel fairly often is pretty freaking awesome. Not to mention it seems like you have a game plan for afterwards. I think you’re going to be just fine! Good luck :)

    • You have your degree in International Communications too? haha. Yeah I think in the future I’ll be really glad I got my master’s. Besides, I know I’ll feel really accomplished when I pay off all the loans, knowing that I did that with my own hard work. I agree, Beijing is not the worst place I could be next year, and I’d much rather be there than working a 9-5 at home!

  7. ‘Love your post Richelle but I just want you to know that it’s normal to feel the FOMO. Honestly, you’re not missing out.
    The world will still be there when you’re really ready and don’t forget, many people already find what you’re doing amazing in itself. It’s so easy to look at others and wonder if you could do better..! Maybe you can and maybe you can’t but as you say, you’re going to China – Hurrah and you’ll have a great time flying to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, etc as you’ll be in the region already.

    Don’t forget, you’re already living the dream and the life of an expat is killing two birds with one stone ‘cos you can live abroad and have an income too. How cool is that LOL!

    • Thanks so much :) I agree, FOMO is real. It’s so hard not to feel left out when I see a lot of my peers traveling 24-7, but to be honest I’ve never traveled for longer than 5 weeks so I don’t even know how long I would last! Living as an expat is a pretty good deal though, and I’ll be able to make much more money now than I would online :)

  8. Hi there,

    I came across your website when I was researching for Nottingham Ningbo. I’m planning to get my Master’s degree there (probably in International Business), but I’m still undecided.

    One thing that I’m curious about is the internet censorship. How did you do your dissertation research with limited internet access?
    I know there’s VPN, but I read that the new government now block VPN service. Did it affect you in anyway? Will I have to deal with slow and limited internet while doing my dissertation?

    And overall, are you satisfied with your experience when studying there?


    • Hey Mark,

      That’s a great question. I actually wrote my dissertation on Chinese internet censorship! The university provides a wealth of articles in the university database that would probably be blocked at most Chinese universities. Also, almost everyone has a VPN. Right now Astril, VYPR and others are having problems, but Strong VPN is doing fine. To be honest, I was really frustrated in the last month because my VPNs (all of them) stopped working on the campus wifi, and were really slow in the dorms. However, if I went to a coffee shop a few blocks away, everything was fine! I think there was some sort of VPN blocker installed on the campus wifi (why???!) and the dorm internet was somewhat slow, which isn’t so great for VPNs. I wouldn’t worry about it too much for your research though, it’s more quality of life type things.

      If you come to China right now I recommend Strong VPN above Astril and VYPER. Here’s a link to the site: http://strongvpn.com?offer_id=4&aff_id=1806

  9. Oh man I went to the Philippines while I was studying abroad in Taiwan, and I was so burnt out from Taiwan that going to the Philippines made me not want to come back! I guess the Philippines does things to people! I’m glad you loved it there :)

    Also, I also really hate when people invalidate my feelings! It doesn’t matter how great things are in retrospect because what you’re feeling now is the present! Plus, I think it’s totally understandable to feel things especially when you’re about to make a huge life-change. Four and a half years is impressive, so props to you for making the commitment!

    • Ahh Philippines and Taiwan, my two faves! Thanks so much Lauren, I agree. People should be allowed to express themselves and what they’re going through, and just because I’m not in my 30’s doesn’t mean my life choices aren’t a big deal to me.

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