Pronoun(s): she / she
Current location: Strasbourg, France
Occupation: Teacher of English as a second language
Hello! My name is Jess and I am 27 years old. Three days after graduating from university, I boarded a plane to Greece and I’ve been in Europe ever since…that was over five years ago now. During what was supposed to be a three-month voluntary internship in refugee camps in the Thessaloniki region, I found my passion, I found love, and I found my new home. I ended up extending my residency by more than a year and working between Greece and Serbia building schools and teaching English. I met my current husband at the camp and we both moved to France. After discovering my natural ability to teach English as a second language, I now teach online for VIPKID and absolutely love it! I would love any opportunity to connect with people and children from all over the world. We all have incredible stories to share.
Did you go to college? If so, where and how did you choose that school?
She attended Olivet Nazarene University to start because it was close to home. My mother died unexpectedly in my junior year of high school and I wasn’t really ready or in the right place to go to school. My dad didn’t want me to have any cut-off year, so I decided to cut out my first year. After my first year I decided I was ready to go away and flapped my wings. I found a sister school, Trevica Nazarene University, in Nashville, Tennessee to which it is easy to transfer my credits. I finished my degree there.
How did you choose your programme? Has your decision changed over the course of your time at school?
I decided to study religion and philosophy because it fascinated me.
I’ve always loved learning about other cultures and worldviews and trying to understand why people think the way they do.
When I first started, I always thought after my bachelor’s that I would get a master’s degree in psychology, but then when I started the program, I was actually inclined to become a chaplain. I adored the Reverend in my college and loved the idea of being able to connect with a great variety of people and help them dig deeper into their faiths regardless of religion. However, I added an emphasis in intercultural studies to my degree, at which point I began to shift my focus to social work, hoping to work with non-profit organizations such as the Red Cross or the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) .
Did you participate in study abroad while you were in school? For how long and with what program?
I didn’t study abroad when I was in school because I was trying to graduate early, and that’s what I accomplished.
However, during my junior year in college, I saved all my money so that I could travel around Europe. My brother was living in Italy at the time and I wanted to travel with him and do some solo travel that summer.
It was my first time leaving North America and I was so excited. I learned more that summer than I had in my first three years of college. Being able to not only see other cultures, but meet people from different parts of the world and listen to their experiences, ideas and values is a life-changing opportunity.
Are you interested in exploring Italy? Check out the blog’s European travel archive!
Do you think that traveling or living abroad has affected your career path? how?
Traveling has definitely changed my entire career path. I thought very passionately that I would be a perfect social worker. After volunteering in refugee camps and separating from weekly meetings with larger social work agencies, I realized they weren’t quite right for me. I didn’t realize what level of professional distance I had to take in those jobs, and I realized I couldn’t. I prefer to do the work for free and be free of restrictions.
I’ve always known that I want a job where I can not only help people, but really build relationships. I have come to realize how invaluable education is and all the opportunities I can have to connect with people in meaningful ways as a teacher.
How would your career path be different if you stayed in your home country?
If I was to turn down this internship in Greece, my plan was to bring my MSW (Masters in Social Work) home in Chicago. I might have been really successful in my field, but I wouldn’t have the great friendships and relationships with people from all over the world as I do now.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I absolutely love teaching English on the VIPKID platform. Every day I wake up excited to travel to China/Korea from the comfort of my home. I had a great opportunity to teach more than 1000 students and more than 5000 lessons. I have built incredible relationships with my students and their families. Although I haven’t met any of them in person, I know I’ll always have a friend to visit if I come to China or South Korea (which I intend to do someday).
Why do you enjoy traveling?
I love everything about travel, even the hard parts. I have visited 40 states in the US and 28 countries. Everywhere you go there is something unique and special to offer and it is a chance to try new things.
What I mean even by the hard parts is that it’s not always easy to navigate different cultures and languages when you’re traveling, but this challenge forces you to grow and expand as a person. Every place I’ve visited has connected me to this larger piece of humanity as a whole and I’m so grateful.
Do you recommend backpacking and budget travel? why?
For me, backpacking and budget travel is amazing because it gives you a more authentic experience. I’ve always taken very budgetary trips because I’ve gone from a broke college kid to now living abroad. I’ve lived from one backpack for over three years. He challenged me to get out of my comfort zone and go explore more.
Have you traveled alone before? If so, how was that experience?
It was my first ever backpacking solo until I met my brother in Italy. I went to Denmark, Sweden and Hungary.
It was the best because if I didn’t have anyone to talk to, I would have conversations with strangers. I made friends that I still talk to today. It was awesome.
You should definitely, especially as a woman, be careful. I stayed in densely populated areas and was constantly checking in with friends back home so someone would know where I was.
There are plenty of “free” ways to get around for a while like Workaway, Couchsurfing, etc. Have you ever used these methods and do you recommend them?
I have Couchsurfed all over the US since I was 16 and had a license. I definitely loved him. It’s a great way to meet like-minded people who enjoy traveling just as much as you. The Couchsurfing community has opened up a lot of experiences and introduced me to amazing people.
What advice would you give someone who knows they want to travel but isn’t sure where to fit for the rest of their life?
Honestly, just do it. You never know what you’ll find when you take that leap.
I never thought I’d find the love of my life in a camp in Greece, but here I am.
Traveling can take your life to places you couldn’t even dream of. So you are right that it may not fit into your life now but it will make a new path and open up many new opportunities.
Editor’s note: This interview has been slightly edited.
If you contact Jess and you’re interested in learning more about what it’s like to live in France, work for VIPKID, or think she sounds like the type of person you’d like to be friends with, she invites you to connect on Instagram: @jessthealmostexpat.
remake of 52 Weeks of Fear: Friday Featured Series It is published every Friday evening. France Time (Central European Time). If you enjoy reading and want to keep up with the latest posts, please subscribe and follow @themillennialabroad to support and be the first to receive weekly blog posts and a monthly newsletter summarizing the latest and greatest posts of the month.