Last week marked 10 years since I left the comforts of American suburbia for a different life. It was 2008. I packed up two massive bags and flew to Philadelphia to meet a bunch of strangers, some would later become lifelong friends. From there, we got vaccinated and were inundated by information. Within a few days, we were shipped off on a plane to Cameroon. I was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 21 year-old, ready to see another part of the world.
The desire for adventure has been within me since I boarded the plane in 1998 to move from Taiwan to the U.S. The pattern seems to be that every 10 years, a major new chapter begins. In just over a week, Xav and I will wave goodbye to our life in China after 14 and 5.5 years, respectively, and fulfil our life-long dreams of traveling full-time.
Over the past decade, my values have changed drastically, and most stem from those 27 months of living in a small Cameroonian village. My initial intent to join the Peace Corps was not only to seek adventure, but also to have an unique experience that would set me ahead for the “American Dream”. I followed the pattern to an Ivy League degree, fancy corporate job, and was well positioned in the ultimate rat race that society cherishes. Yet, 10 years later, thanks to the confidence built during those 27 months, I finally have the courage to wave goodbye to the mould and forge my own path.
Two years of living away from an ultra-consumeristic society taught me what life is actually about – relationships and health. The communities that I worked with did not have a lot in terms of material wealth, but they enjoyed life immensely and cherished relationships deeply. The integral caveat is health. Good health affords each of us the luxury to build and maintain those relationships, to give each other a helping hand in time of need, and to create meaning in our lives.
While I experienced the raw beauty of humanity at 21, I did not fully internalise these lessons until 10 years later. At each juncture, whether it’s cramming for exams in grad school, searching for internships and later full-time employment, sitting in countless meetings in the corporate world, or even most recently squeezing the last bit of my brain power at coding camp, these important lessons of humanity served as an anchor.
I constantly questioned the purpose of each activity. Often, the values and purpose esteemed in the rat race did not sit right with me, yet I was never able to fully articulate the reason. Having been away from it all for a few weeks/months now, I begin to see the misalignment to the values I hold. It’s apparent now what I was being pushed to chase after often did not foster neither relationship with family, friends, and community, nor did it improve my health. If anything, the rat race served as a catalyst for destruction.
I am forever grateful for the profound impact of those 27 months, and look forward to forging new relationships during our travels, spending a lot more time with friends and family around the world, and engage in activities that will strengthen both our mental and physical health. 10 years. What a ride it has been!
Our next adventure will begin with a grand journey traveling from Shanghai to Strasbourg via the trans-Siberian railway! Unlike the two massive bags I had packed 10 years ago, we are frantically minimising our entire lives to one carry-on and backpack each, and bid farewell to our beloved Shanghai family. Stayed tuned!