The travel seed was planted at a very young age by my grandfather, who was my biggest inspiration. He worked around the world as an engineer and sent me beautiful postcards from all the different countries he went to. He brought back souvenirs such as magnets, pictures, and currencies which I still have. After each trip and for many years after he retired, he told me exciting stories about his experiences in amazing places. He worked in Europe, far east Asia and everywhere in between. I loved listening to him while mentally planning my own future adventures around the world! I grew up in northern England where it’s usually freezing cold and grey – I always craved the sun and couldn’t wait until I was old enough to jet off to better weather and exciting experiences!
My first solo adventure was a huge turning point for me. In my first year university summer break, I went to work on a summer camp in the USA. It was a huge step out of my comfort zone. I was a shy 19 year old who had only ever been on family holidays to Europe every summer! Suddenly I was in the middle of a forest in Michigan with a bunch of strangers and very loud kids! One of the the first days at camp, all the campers and staff were in the dining room having lunch. Suddenly, the Disney soundtrack came on and everyone got up on the tables, singing and dancing. I had a brief ‘OMG, what am I doing here’ moment of panic and wondered if I should leave. It was so NOT me. But amazingly, after a few days I was up on the tables with them! That summer did wonders for my self-confidence. After 8 weeks working at the camp, I took off on the trip of a lifetime around the USA with my new international friends and returned to university full of confidence and excitement. Perfect timing, as my next adventure was my year abroad in Germany as part of my studies.
After graduating from university in 2006, I ended up in a corporate job and for a while, I was following the way I’d always been told was the best for my future: graduate, get a good job, settle down. I started to panic. I’d long ago decided on a different path and swore this was not my way, so what on earth was I doing? I decided to quit the job that many thought I was crazy to leave but I needed to escape. Office life was not for me. I was online looking for jobs abroad one day when the perfect opportunity jumped right out at me: teaching English in South Korea. It felt right, so off I went to Seoul without looking back. What followed was a year of massive growth and amazing experiences, as well as all the strange, funny moments. That was the year I made a ton of very different international friends, spent Christmas day in China with my Korean friend eating Japanese food, and starred in a B Boy dance show! (Mortifying). My first experience of teaching was being thrown into a classroom of crying 4 year olds and told to entertain them. Not really everyone’s cup of tea but I absolutely loved it! Teaching was the unexpected career that came from a year abroad in Seoul and it was a job that would allow me to live out my dream of living in different countries. I decided to leave after a year, planning to teach in Europe. I’d loved my year in Germany so much I was thinking of going back there.
Things were different when I got back to the UK. Suddenly, friends were buying houses and getting engaged. I was happy for them but I couldn’t imagine anything I wanted less, I just wanted to jet off again. But in a moment of panic, I felt the pressure to go back into a full time corporate job and seek out some stability, so when I was accepted for a job in London, I went. I convinced myself I’d already had some great experiences abroad so maybe it’s time for this now. And actually, it started off great. I had a secure job with great benefits and a nice lifestyle, new friends and a great social life, but very quickly a huge feeling of depressing dread came back and took over. I just didn’t fit in and I hated the job. The office environment was claustrophobic and toxic. I was totally miserable. One day, crying in the bathroom AGAIN during my break, something inside just snapped. I sorted myself out, walked straight over to my manager’s office and handed in my notice there and then. I’d been there for 3 months but I’d reached my limit and just had to get out. That was my final goodbye to the stressful rat race.
Being jobless and in debt in London wasn’t the easiest. But I was just hanging on to the feeling that it would all work out. A series of interesting coincidences then happened which set me on course to an unexpected but amazing refresh moment. An old friend contacted me and mentioned an exciting new teaching project in Spain. I did some research and discovered the company was interviewing in London in a few days right around the corner from where I was living. What were the chances! I decided it was meant to be. So off I went for the interview, got the job, packed up all my things and left London on a flight to Madrid within a few weeks.
The following 7 years turned out to be the most unexpected love affair with Spain. I had many interesting opportunities in my job as a teacher which kept life exciting and motivation high. I got my teaching qualification, worked in academies, on residential programmes around the country, taught at universities and set up on my own as a freelance worker. Teaching transitioned into business skills and language training in companies. The long Spanish summer holidays allowed me travel or go abroad to work on short term contracts and I spent one summer in Kuwait. I learnt Spanish and how to dance salsa. Life was good and then a difficult break up set me on a downward spiral. Self doubt took over and I started to question everything. I started reading self development books to find something to make me feel better. After a while, I noticed a big shift happening. I set off on a path of deep inner work and made some big decisions.
In 2015 I decided to take a summer job in Muscat, Oman. Off I went, fully intending to go back to Madrid after 3 months. Two weeks in, I felt like I had a new lease of life. I met some great people, was working fewer hours with great benefits and just loved life there. When my employer asked me if I’d be interested in staying on a full time expat contract, I decided to go for it. It wasn’t an easy decision to make as I adored Madrid and was planning on going back, but staying in Oman just felt right.
A few weeks after accepting the job I was at a salsa party (surprisingly, there’s a popular Latin music scene in Muscat) and I met my husband. A new relationship was definitely the last thing on my mind and Oman is not exactly the place you’d come looking for one! After 2 years together, we went on holiday to Madrid and Mohsin proposed. He knows how much Madrid means to me and he also loves it. Mo is from Balochistan in Pakistan and our relationship usually sparks curiosity. People ask about religion and how our relationship works with us being from such different backgrounds. We laugh about it now, but there was definitely a bit of cultural misunderstanding in the beginning! Getting married also wasn’t easy with us both being expats in a different country, so after a lot of back and forth with the embassies, we ended up having our wedding in the Seychelles. Definitely not the worst place to have to go to get married! Our families are totally accepting and supportive and, fortunately, Mo shares my passion for travel. Being in a mixed culture relationship and living the expat life has brought massive growth and learning for both of us.
Deep inner work and life as an expat in Oman has really highlighted my creative and entrepreneurial spirit. Over the last two years, I’ve committed to my self-development journey in a big way and made some massive shifts. I read a lot, learnt new skills, worked with coaches, connected more with spirituality and became a reiki healer. I set up an online side business as a Pinterest Strategist and started a Life Coach qualification with the amazing Beautiful You academy. I went part-time as a teacher to allow more time to work online and will soon be completely location independent. The dream is to have a thriving online business which allows me to live anywhere and it’s right within my reach. After finding my own purpose living abroad, I now get to use my coaching skills and life experience to help women around the world find theirs. I recently started coaching my first clients and it brings me so much joy!
If I had to summarise my refresh journey so far, I’d say that the best experiences have been the most unexpected. From someone who always had to have everything completely planned out for the future, learning to accept when things don’t always work out how I want has been a big lesson! My advice is to never ignore that gut feeling when something isn’t right or when you really desire a different path. It’s never too late to change. One of my favourite quotes is ‘we are only ever one decision away from a completely different life’. Choosing an unconventional path might seem scary but it’s in those moments of taking risks and pushing ourselves so far out of the comfort zone that we truly learn and develop as human beings. Living abroad definitely has its challenges but I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t gone through those massive and often messy learning curves. They’ve led to a much calmer, confident and fulfilled version of myself. I’m excited for what’s next and the future is totally open to whatever I choose.
Life Coach for women living abroad. Rachel works with international women to rediscover themselves, re-establish their independence and create a purposeful, happy life in their new environment.
Email: [email protected] (website coming soon).
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Member Spotlight highlights stories of inspiring women from our She Hit Refresh community. We hope that by sharing their stories of change and travel we can expose the unconventional paths that thousands of women 30 years and older have chosen. There is no one way to live a life, just your way.