Natalie is an old roommate and friend of mine who embodies the adventurous spirit and drive of our generation. She’s an inspiration to other young women who long to travel and renew their understanding of themselves from the inside out. She boldly left her small hometown in Missouri to work as a teacher in South Korea. And her momentum for international travel did not stop there. The next time she surfaced, she was living in Bali. She started developing her nomadic online career as a virtual assistant. She’s one of those gals that’s always on the go and thus notoriously hard to keep up with, so for that I am especially grateful to share this snapshot of her journey.~Jamela
Guest Post written by: Natalie Williams
How did you end up in Bali?
A lot of expats in Bali like to say, “I didn’t choose Bali, Bali chose me” and that couldn’t be more true for me as well. I finished a contract teaching English in South Korea and I finally had enough money in the bank to live out my wildest South East Asia backpacking dreams. I’m talking dirty, cheap, backpacker who hasn’t showered in weeks. I wanted to sleep in super questionable places that probably gave me bed bugs, go totally off the beaten path on insane adventures through the jungle with locals, eat exotic foods and insects (cue fried cockroaches in Thailand) and find my way from place to place without a plan or end date in sight.
About three months into that journey, I was pretty unhappy and quickly realized it wasn’t for me. I do so much better with a home base. I like having my stuff unpacked (even if it’s just the essentials that fit in my backpack), forming a community and really taking the time to appreciate the people and places I was visiting. So long story short, backpacking wasn’t all that I dreamed it would be. So I decided to move to Bali to unpack said backpack, get back into a routine with daily yoga, cooking healthy food for myself and experience the culture for a longer period of time.
Was there a straw that broke the camel’s back or did you know for a long time that you wanted to move?
It was a mix of the straw that broke the camels back and knowing that I always wanted to move and travel.
This is still one of my favorite stories because it was such a crucial period of time for me! Just after finishing University, I moved into a house in St. Louis with six strangers from Craigslist (including, Jamela). I was working odd jobs at odd hours that left me feeling totally exhausted, craving more time for my hobbies or friendships and the energy to do stuff that actually made me the best version of myself: yoga, cooking healthy food, journaling, meditating. Instead I was just in this terrible routine of waking up late for work, rushing around to get from point A to point B drinking stale day old coffee left in my car from the day before, catching up on sleep in the middle of the day before rushing off to an afternoon shift late again, getting drunk until 5 am and then waking up and doing it all over again. My skin had never looked worse, I was asking for diabetes while being fueled by McDonalds and Coca Cola and I was so sleep deprived it’s a miracle I could even operate a vehicle let alone my life.
I was sitting at the kitchen table with Jamela one night when she nonchalantly said, “Dude. What are you doing? You always talk about traveling – why aren’t you doing it?” And that was it. I borrowed her computer, poured myself a glass of her red wine (that she got from being a brand ambassador) and sent my resume (with way too many typo’s than I’d like to admit) to every teaching job I could find in South Korea.
How did you feel on the day you left?
I WAS A MESS. Holy shit I was absolutely terrified. The night before I cried my eyes out to my closest friends whining about how anxious I was, that I had no idea what I was doing or if anything was even going to work out. I had never even BEEN ON A PLANE BY MYSELF BEFORE let alone ACROSS THE FREAKING WORLD to hope that someone on the receiving end was going to be waiting for me at the airport. I. WAS. TERRIFIED.
How do you feel about your decision?
Wow. I am so grateful I mustered up the courage to go. Moving to South Korea changed my life. I finally was around people living the way I always dreamed I could live, I had enough money in my bank account to live fully and I had all the time in the world to explore my hobbies and take on creative pursuits. I know it’s cliche to say you learn a lot about yourself when you travel or move somewhere totally new, but let me reiterate: YOU LEARN A HECK OF A LOT ABOUT YOURSELF.
How did you know what to pack?
What a joke. I cringe so hard looking at this picture of me at the airport before my big move. TWO suitcases and a backpack full of the most absolutely unnecessary things EVER. Seriously I packed an entire bookshelf of books I wanted to finally read, my beloved hula hoop, my Fedora hat collection, potentially every pair of shoes that I owned, my spice collection…like it was ridiculous. I left Korea with ONE suitcase and a small backpack and two years later I only have a small backpack left! Time has shown what the necessities are and I’m STILL working on figuring that out.
The age-old question…what did your family think?
They were so hurt. Absolutely devastated. As typical, conservative, American baby boomers they immediately threw all of their OWN fears at me. They thought the absolute worst from the start. My Dad actually stopped talking to me for a good chunk of six months before and into my move. I remember him telling me, “Just tell the Embassy to ship your body home because we’re not going over there to get you die.” I was so hurt. It really sucked to see how bad I was hurting my parents with my decision but what was I supposed to do? You can’t live your life for other people and seriously sometimes even the people whose opinions you value the most don’t know what’s best for you.
I’m happy to tell you now that 2 1/2 years later, they’ve totally come around. I wouldn’t necessarily say they’re happy for me and they’re never going to stop asking, “So when are you coming home?” But I know that they see things from my perspective now and it’s inevitable to see how much of a better person I have grown into because of it.
What did you do for work?
For my transition out of America I secured a job as an English Teacher. There are plenty of “cram schools” in South Korea that hire native English speakers just because they’re white and not necessarily because they’re qualified to teach their native language. I’m a fine example.
After I finished my contract in Korea, I began teaching English online so that I could continue traveling and living abroad.
How are you stringing your passions together now?
This is a work in progress but it is brewing up nicely and I’m so excited about what’s to come! I’m freelance writing, helping out local venues in Bali with their PR and social media presence, working as a virtual assistant for busy entrepreneurs, hosting story slams, collaborating on really cool projects with other expats here and speaking on podcasts about my move abroad! I was recently in a documentary about my life as a “digital nomad” in Bali – coming soon to a screen near you!
What has been the best and worst part about your move to Bali?
The best part of my move: really getting clear on who I am and what I want from life. It has become so less about the “destination” and 100% all about the journey. Everyday I’m trying something new, meeting someone inspiring, doing something creative and of course catching every sunset I can over a fresh coconut on the beach.
The worst part of my move: There are certain cultural differences than can be a bit triggering and really start to get to you over time. Indonesia is still a developing country in the sense of sustainability efforts or even just understanding like HEY DON’T BURN PLASTIC AND YOUR TRASH DOES NOT GO IN THE RIVER. It can be really frustrating. Although of course, it’s also a really great opportunity to educate. There’s also still a lot of corruption with the government and I hate having to follow the unfair rules or lack thereof for that matter by being seen as “a white person with money” in their eyes.
What would you say to people who feel too hesitant to make this kind of move?
It’s scary, uncomfortable and challenging – no one will argue you with you there. You have to push past that. Everything you WANT in life is on the other side of fear. Fear is our greatest setback. Once you learn to really feel into what FEAR is and how to deal with your own – you can really free yourself to the limitless possibilities that are waiting for you. That’s my pep talk. DO IT! DO IT. DO IT. Please, do yourself a favor and DO IT.
Would you encourage others to do this?
WITHOUT A FREAKING DOUBT.
For Natalie’s virtual assistant services, visit her page at www.virtuallynatalie.com.
To follow her journey, check out her instagram at _nat.a.lee