We Ask a Digital Nomad: What's It Like Teaching English Online?
Maggie is no stranger to travel. As a military brat, she grew up in Japan, the U.K., and then across 10 different states in the U.S. In 2015, Maggie was laid off. Instead of immediately jumping into a job search, she used her new employment status as a reason to sell all her possessions and use the money to jet off to South America.
After her time in South America came to an end, Maggie returned to the U.S., but found herself feeling restless. The readjustment and reverse culture shock she felt in the U.S. left her in a state of disconnect. So, she picked up and headed off again on a new adventure - and she hasn’t looked back since.
As a digital nomad, Maggie teaches English online. In fact, along with a colleague, she recently started a business selling online English courses. Maggie is currently situated in Sofia, Bulgaria and we caught up with her to ask her about her experience as a digital nomad, how she deals with feelings of loneliness while living abroad, and how she makes friends while on the road.
Panion: Tell us about your work and how you support your digital nomad lifestyle.
Maggie: I recently started my own business creating English courses online with a fellow teacher. We focus on providing English courses for busy adults. We offer a niche service as we really highlight action phrases and quick vocab lessons that you actually put to use. I got the idea from my own experiences traveling.
P: Why did you decide to start your own company? Where did the idea come from?
M: Prior to starting my own company, I worked online teaching English and, while it was great after a while I started seeing some disadvantages. As a teacher, while you have freedom in your schedule, it still felt like I didn’t have a ton of control over my life. There were no benefits, I couldn’t take sick days, and after three and a half years, I hadn’t really grown in my career or been able to exercise creativity. Starting my own company has been a great challenge for me to take on.
P: So while you work online, how often do you pick up and move?
M: I usually move every three months. I enter visa-exempt in most places and I am allowed to stay without a visa for up to three months. I prefer the three month stays as it gives me a sense of stability. Even if I pick up and move again, I can stay put for a few months and get used to my surroundings.
P: How do you choose where you will stay next?
M: Internet is one of the biggest issues for me. I need a good internet connection for work, so really as long as the location has good internet, I am set. Of course, the weather is a concern as is the availability of housing. I turn to my network of fellow online teachers a lot of the time for recommendations of where to head to next.
P: What’s the most challenging part of being a nomad?
M: The logistics. Especially when you are traveling long term. Doing something as simple as renewing a driver’s license takes on a whole new level of difficulty when you live abroad.
P: What’s the best part of being a nomad?
M: The freedom! I can go anywhere I want, whenever I want. And I meet amazing people along the way.
P: On that note, how have you met people while traveling/living abroad?
M: I go to a lot of meetups and use social media and websites to find others in my area for activity partners. I also like to use co-working spaces to meet other nomads who live and work while traveling.
I've relied on apps for meeting people throughout my entire traveling experience, so the idea that Panion has refined this kind of technology to help me meet other people who specifically share my interests is very exciting!
I’ve been fortunate to be able to forge some great connections with the locals in the cities I have lived in. I enjoy making friends with locals because I can return to the same city and see friendly faces.
P: Has there been any city in particular that has been more challenging to meet people in? Any city that has been especially great for meeting people?
M: I found that in Korea, it felt like it was really difficult to make friends with locals in particular. It seemed like everyone just kind of stuck to the friend group that they’ve known since they were kids. So, I mostly hung out with expats in Asia.
I’ve found locals and expats alike in Latin America and Europe pretty easy to meet and easy to become friends with. In my experience, people in Latin America and Europe were generally really interested in meeting foreigners, and they are quite well-traveled so we often have a passion for travel in common.
I also found North Macedonia really hard to make friends in. At least with the locals. There are not many young people living there because of the economy, so I mostly found friends in other foreigners.
P: It seems like you’re pretty adept at finding friends in new cities, do you ever get lonely living abroad and working as a digital nomad?
M: Yes, definitely. I try to work from co-working spaces, but I do spend a lot of time working from home and that can be very isolating. Especially if (at the time) I’m living in a suburb where English isn’t as prevalent as in a larger city. I usually travel alone as well, so I really make an effort to surround myself with people in a city. Sometimes I have to force myself to get out of the house.
P: How do you develop a sense of community or belonging in a new city?
M: I try to stick to regional areas for long term travel, and everywhere I go, I try to learn at least a little of the language. I’ve found that one of the keys to feeling ‘at home’ is to learn the local language, it really helps you feel like you aren’t as much of an outsider.
P: With all the traveling you do, it must get really tiring. How do you practice self-care as a digital nomad?
M: There was a time when being a digital nomad was taking a big toll on my health. Part of self-care going forward was to start exercising regularly. I got a personal trainer and started going to the gym. I had way more energy and slept better. You can get really overwhelmed when you travel around and move around so much, I’ve gotten pretty burnt out in the past.
I also think it’s important to be kind to yourself. When I was backpacking through South America, I would feel so much pressure (coming from myself) to make the most of my time there. I couldn’t help but feel like I was always wasting time if I wasn’t sightseeing. But I ended up getting so tired, the lifestyle wasn’t sustainable.
P: Do you think you’ll ever settle into a non-nomadic life?
M: I don’t think I ever want to go back to the United States. But eventually, I do think I might like to settle down somewhere permanently. For the time being though, I’m going to keep going and exploring the world.
If you are a digital nomad and would like to share your story with us, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a great time out there.