10 Aug Intentional Traveler Interview: Troy Erstling

This installment of Intentional Traveler interviews features Troy Erstling, an avid traveler who believes that travel is the best form of education. To help others live and work abroad, he founded Brain Gain and runs the Philosophy of Travel facebook group. Here’s what we learned from Troy:

Why is travel and working abroad important to you?

When I was 12 years old my oldest brother Cory studied abroad in Australia. When he returned there was a noticeable shift in the way he spoke, acted, and generally what he thought about and wanted out of life. It clearly made a strong impact on him. From that point on it was my mission to do the same.

During my 3rd year of University I had the opportunity to study abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Then I taught English in Seoul, Korea and did a fellowship studying entrepreneurial ecosystems in Bangalore, India. (You can read more about all that here.)

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I think that the most important lesson I have learned from traveling, and why it is important to work abroad, is the difference between perceptions and realities. Before we go to a new country we have perceptions of what this place is like; mostly based off of what we have seen in movies, heard from others, or read about in the news – most of this information is usually wrong. Traveling lets you see the reality of a place; what it is actually like. Every time I go to a new country, I love seeing how my perceptions of what that country is like were drastically wrong, and experience the realities for myself.

This has especially been the case in India, where most of the world has a very strong polarized perception of what this country is like. This has been the most incredible country I have ever had the pleasure to visit, and it’s a shame that people’s perceptions of what it’s like here limit them from experiencing the reality one of the most beautiful cultures on the planet.

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What do you do now?

I help young professionals find international work opportunities that are relevant to their career through my company Brain Gain. Positions we typically place people in include sales, digital marketing, design, or tech and are anywhere from 3 to 12 months in duration. If you want to know how to explore an international career, I’m here to help you explore whatever options you might be looking at, whether through my company or in general. I’m also a voice actor, emcee, freestyle poet, and self-proclaimed philosopher. 🙂

What are the pros and cons of working and living abroad, from your experience?

Con’s:

It’s uncertain. You don’t really know where life is going to take you, or what your next moves are going to be. It requires a lot of introspection and honesty with oneself about what you want out of life, where your life is going, and if this is a comfortable trajectory. This is a bit unnerving for some people who want to have a solid financial base and a clear roadmap to success. If you get stressed out easily and are generally anxious, it might be a bit hard for you at first, but if you can learn to weather the storm it’s worth it.

You don’t make much money…in the beginning. If you’re looking to make a ton of money straight out of school moving abroad probably isn’t the best move for you. Most positions will pay you enough to break even and live a good lifestyle while traveling the world. If however, you are interested in a location independent lifestyle, and seeing alternative lifestyles in general, its great for you. I will say though that I have seen friends who worked abroad for a year and return back to the US making more money than friends who didnt travel.

Get ready to get sick. It’s a reality of traveling and working abroad for an extended period of time, it happens to everyone. I’ve personally had food poisoning and – for lack of a better term – the “liquids” many times. Good news is you probably won’t die, you’ll just get very friendly with your toilet bowl for a day (or three or four.)

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Pro’s:

Accelerated Growth. I recently wrote a blog post on this called “Grow in Dog Years”. I believe that working abroad and getting outside of your comfort zone helps you to grow at an accelerated pace. You experience more in a shorter period of time and the experiences and memories you have will make a tremendous impact on the rest of your life. I don’t know one person who doesn’t agree with me on this point.

Networking. This one’s pretty simple, but getting outside of your home country also means getting out of your home network. The doors and opportunities that open when you move outside of your home country are absolutely mind blowing. I now can say I have friends from all over the world and there aren’t many places I can land where I don’t have a friend or friend of a friend who can show me around.

Perceptions vs. Reality. I’ll say this one again because I feel it’s so important, but traveling and seeing the world for yourself allows you to formulate your own opinions after you have seen the reality for yourself. This has immense benefits.

Learn how to stretch a dollar. Traveling has made me a much better budgeter, because every dollar counts when abroad and living off your own money.

Be responsible and take care of yourself. Many of us are taught how to get good grades and do well in school, but we don’t learn how to properly take care of ourselves when we’re on our own. This is why you see so many people gain weight, stop exercising, and get sick more frequently when they leave home for the first time. I know my mom babied me a lot as a child, and it was a rude awakening when I moved abroad and had to keep my apartment clean and keep myself healthy. I’m still working on this one hahaha…

Food! I can still taste the Steak, wine, and choripan from Argentina, the Jae Yuk Dop Bap, Sam Gap Sao, Bulgogi and soju from Korea, and I’m currently getting down with a masala dosa, mango lassi and some chai – the world has so much amazing food to offer!!!

I can go on for days with the benefits, so many more!

If you could give one piece advice to others interested in working abroad, what would it be?

I saw this one a lot in Korea: Realize that you are still going to work and get a JOB. Many people come there expecting for it to be easy and all they want to do is party and travel, and their work suffers. At the end of the day it is a job, and you are expected to work. Oftentimes long hours with unforgiving sick leave policies as well. These are your trade-offs if you want to work abroad and travel. But if you are simply looking to travel and party, don’t apply for a job. Your employer suffers, the clients suffer, and in the case of teaching English, you are getting young impressionable kids with a teacher who doesn’t care about their education, which is just sad. Realize it’s work first, travel second. Work is your vehicle to travel, don’t take that for granted.

Are you a fellow Intentional Traveler? You don’t need to be a blogger. Share your story with us to be featured in an upcoming blog post (and potential book project). Help inspire others to pursue more meaningful, transformational travel!

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