Tell us briefly about your experiences studying/volunteering/teaching/interning abroad.
Jessica: I started my life abroad by studying abroad with the Alliance for Global Education in Beijing and Xi’an in the spring and summer of 2012. I returned to the USA to complete my final year of school, but I knew almost immediately that I wanted to return to China. I eventually found a job teaching English at a high school on a factory-lined highway in “the middle of nowhere”. While it wasn’t great for my social life, I was completely immersed in the local culture. I was the only foreigner for miles, but thankfully there was a bus I could take to the city to meet up with friends so I wasn’t always alone!
This year I’m studying for a master’s in International Communications at the University of Nottingham in Ningbo, China. While it’s a British university and all classes are taught in English, the school body is 90% Chinese. I have a great mix of Chinese and international friends from all over the world, and I’ve even joined the school dance team!
You have a blog! What made you start your blog? What would you say to anyone who’s thinking about starting their own travel blog?
Jessica: I started my blog right before I originally left to study abroad in Beijing. At first, it was mainly a way to keep friends and family up to date, and I was featured as a student blogger for my study abroad company. As soon as I started writing I was hooked, and I’ve been writing my blog for almost three years now!
For anyone who’s considering starting their own blog, I would say “go for it”! You may feel like no one is reading at first, but chances are people do care about your experiences and what you have to say. Don’t feel like you need to document every aspect of your time chronologically; it’s impossible! Just write about your experiences in the local culture and things that stand out to you. Don’t be afraid to get personal; write about culture shock or your feelings while living abroad. It took me a long time to open up on my blog, but when I did I noticed a really positive response.
Was there any particular trip or travel moment in your life that changed your life?
Jessica: The moment I stepped on the plane to study abroad in China, my life was forever changed. I had never been to Asia before, and I had signed up to study abroad in China for seven months by myself! My time abroad taught me to push myself, and be confident in my strengths.
For example, at first, I was very nervous to speak Chinese and often let others do the talking for me. When the summer rolled around, I felt confident taking on the responsibility of communicating for our group.
Ever since my experience studying abroad in China, I’ve been working to push the boundaries of my comfort zone. Last year I taught English alone in the Chinese countryside, and completed my first ever solo trip in Taiwan. Now I’ve just booked over a month of solo travel in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand!
At Go Overseas, we promote meaningful travel, whether through volunteering, studying, interning, working, or teaching. Why do you travel?
Jessica: I travel to challenge myself and expand my boundaries. I always aim to promote cultural understanding though my travels and writing. I think traveling and living abroad is the best way to truly understand another culture and realize that we’re not so different after all.
One of the main reasons I chose to move to China was that I wanted to experience culture shock. I wanted to push myself to adapt to a completely new culture and way of living. I wanted to understand a country that is so mystifying to most Americans, and I wanted to share my experiences with others.
Any future projects related to your blog the GoOverseas community can help support?
Jessica: I’ll be finishing graduate school this summer, and I am working on many projects to help fund my travels and life abroad. I’ve just started offering skype consultations for those who want to move to China, as well as custom travel itineraries for those traveling to China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Starting this summer I want to start offering tours in the Shanghai area, which I hope to develop into a larger tour business based in Beijing.
So many people want to travel to China but are afraid of the language barriers. I personally dislike large tours, which is why I want to focus on affordable adventure tours on a backpacker budget, along with custom tours for families and groups of friends. I think it will be an amazing way to help others explore a country I love and have lived in for years!
What is the craziest thing you’ve done while abroad?
Jessica: I once accidentally signed up for a 6k run in the jungles of Hainan while wearing a dress. The hostel advertised the activity as a jungle exploration with a complimentary dinner. I normally wouldn’t wear a dress, but I was extremely sunburnt and it was the only thing I could wear that didn’t bother my shoulders and chest. Unfortunately for me, the tour was actually a jungle exploration run with a local adventure running group!
A kind man let me borrow a t-shirt to put on over my dress, and I completed the 6k run in my dress, complete with a cross-body shirt and sandals. I made a lot of new friends that day, and the man even let me keep the shirt. The shirt he gave me was absolutely spectacular, with the slogan “get wasted with the head hunters” and an image of a scull made out of beer bottles. It’s now one of my favorite souvenirs from my study abroad experience.