#LiveAbroadBecause it will bring you to things you only dreamed possible

by Dr. Jessie Voigts / Mar 06, 2015 /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Leigh Shulman moves around a lot. She has lived on five continents and worked as everything from website designer for MTV to a university writing professor in NYC to teaching photography to indigenous Wichi children in NW Argentina.

She writes mostly about the complications of raising children when you travel, as an expat, and about people who make choices that veer toward the unexpected. She is currently working on a book based on the journal she kept while pregnant with her first child.

Leigh began her blog The Future Is Red when she, her husband, and young daughter sold everything they owned in Brooklyn and left to travel the world. She now lives in NW Argentina with her family, where she writes, as well as co-founded Creative Revolution Retreats, international writing retreats for women.

Her writing and work has been featured in the New York Times, The Guardian, Guernica, and The Jewish Daily Forward, among others.

 

Here is the view from our house in Salta, Argentina.

The view from our house in Salta, Argentina.

 

What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?

I had been living in Brooklyn with my husband Noah and then-2 year old daughter Lila and feeling too confined, too stuck in routine. I knew I wanted something different, but wasn't sure what, until one day Noah suggested we sell everything and travel the world.

So we did.

We didn't have a very clear plan at first. Friends offered us places to stay and potential work opportunities. We tried each one out to see what fit best. In the last 8 years, we've traveled and worked all over Europe, the US, Central and South America. When we arrived in NW Argentina, where we now live, we knew we wanted to stay.

 

What was your experience like? What is your favorite memory? What were some challenges you observed?

I have so many favorite memories, but my best is sitting at our home in Salta, Argentina reading the journal I kept when I was pregnant with my daughter. In it I asked myself what I was doing and why. "If I keep going the direction I'm going, I'll never see the world and do all the things I most want to do. I'll never write."

It was an amazing thing to see, because I have done all the things I wanted to do in those days of pregnancy. I live abroad. I travel regularly, and I not only write and publish, but work with other women to help them find the confidence to write their own stories. All made possible when we made that decision to leave and travel.

Challenges? It's not easy living abroad. Yes, we chose to live abroad, because it feels like a really nice mix of travel while also having a home base. There is always something new and exciting to experience. At the same time, it can be exhausting having to constantly learn the rules of a new culture and adapt. Living abroad can be lonely sometimes, especially holiday season. It can also be extremely frustrating when communication breaks down.

It's the challenge that changes you. You don't want everything to be easy. Otherwise, how will you learn new things?

 

Atacama is in Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. We went there for a week when we needed to renew our visas in Argentina.

Atacama is in Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. We went there for a week when we needed to renew our visas in Argentina.

 

What skills did you develop from your experience? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad?

I am absolutely changed from living abroad. Many of the skills I've learned are situational. You can put me pretty much anywhere, and I can find my way. I also know how to create and gather the resources I need in order to live my life pretty much anywhere. I can find work, a community of people, food, a place to stay, education for my kids.

Perhaps the most useful skill I've learned, though, is to speak Spanish fluently. With Spanish, I am at home in any Spanish speaking country in the world.

 

Has your experience helped you get to where you are today?

I've had to learn how to work online by making contacts, finding jobs and resources. My entire work and travel life hinges on these things. Had I stayed in Brooklyn, I am sure I wouldn't have started using internet tools to such a large degree because it wouldn't have been a necessity.

Now, I not only do it out of need, but because I've been able to carve out a career doing exactly what I want working with exactly the people I most want to meet while also traveling and spending enough time with my family. It is the life I envisioned when I first wrote those words in my journal.

 

What advice would you share with other students who are thinking of going abroad?

Choose a place that offers a low cost for school and living expenses. That will generally mean traveling to a place where English isn't the first language and where the culture will be quite different than to which you're accustomed. That is a good thing. Go, speak a new language, understand a new culture, see how you learn, grow and adapt to your new environment.

 

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?

Every person sees the world through his or her own lens. It's inevitably so. Living abroad, though, widens the lens.

As I said recently in an interview with Go Girls Guides: "When you travel and immerse yourself in another country and culture, you start to realize that the norms of where you live are arbitrary. It helps you unhook from those norms and allows you to see the world in a way no one else does. The stories you tell, then, also become your own, beautiful unique view of life?"

 

Rome is, well, the Colosseum in Rome. :) In the first few months of our travels. Lila was 3 years old.

Rome is, well, the Colosseum in Rome. :) In the first few months of our travels. Lila was 3 years old.

 

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

I want to talk a bit about fear. There are some people who grab the opportunity to travel and live abroad with open arms and never look back. Most of us are not like that. Worry and fear get in the way and so we wonder if we should maybe just stay put. My advice is to examine that fear. Is there a rational reason you shouldn't go? Or are you mainly afraid of the unknown? If the former, there is nothing wrong with choosing the path you are on. If only fear is the only thing keeping you from travel, go anyway.

You simply make a commitment to going. That can mean purchasing your one-way ticket. Or it can mean accepting a job or being admitted to a school abroad. Then you forget about how huge the choice you've just made feels and do what you have to do to get there.

 

#LiveAbroadBecause... It will bring you to things you only dreamed possible.

 

 

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Leigh Shulman