With my trip to Barbados just weeks away, lately I’ve been inspired to learn more about travel and how to prepare for visiting an international destination. Today, I’d like for you to meet a young lady that has traveled to many beautiful places, and is now taking her talents to Korea where she will live for a year (or more) and teach English. As millennials, many of us have that crazy itch of wanderlust as we scroll through Travel Noire‘s Instragram page (or is that just me?) While the idea of leaving life in the United States behind for something new can seem intimidating, it’s an experience that many never, ever regret. I truly admire and have been so inspired this millennial’s story, and her passion for following her dreams.
Meet Jessica Cobbs.
Hailing from Chicago, Illinois, Jessica is a 2009 graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she studied International Studies with a minor in Spanish. Like many college freshmen, she no clue what I wanted to do with her life, but she knew that she liked helping people, and initially chose to pursue sociology. During her sophomore year, she changed her major to International Studies, because she felt it better aligned with her diverse interests and passion for world cultures. Currently, Jessica works for Rotary International, a global humanitarian organization headquartered right outside of Chicago. In her role, she administers grant and fellowship programs that support international development initiatives around the world.
CC: When did you fall in love with traveling? What have been some of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned about yourself while traveling abroad? Any challenges you’ve faced, and if so, how did you overcome them?
JC: I traveled internationally for the first time at age 16. An almost-senior in high school, I was in love with Latin American culture and language and had been awarded a scholarship to study abroad in Cuernavaca, Mexico. During that summer, I lived with a Mexican host family, took advanced-level Spanish courses, and volunteered at a local orphanage. My study abroad experience in Mexico was the catalyst for numerous future international adventures; however, I wouldn’t say that this was when I fell in love with travel.
I spent the first semester of my senior year studying in San Joaquin, Costa Rica, which proved to be one of the best decisions I made during my college career. Several people from my program, me included, had no classes on Fridays and used the extended weekends and holiday breaks to travel throughout Costa Rica and nearby Panama and Nicaragua. We often stayed in hostels, where I met nomads from all over the world – people my age – in the midst of solo international trips. Going to a foreign country alone? I didn’t know people did that sort of thing, but boy, was I inspired. I’d always been fiercely independent, but traveling throughout Central America as a study abroad student – navigating unfamiliar terrain, chaotic public transportation systems, and learning how to make the most of a shoestring budget – gave me the courage to step out into the world on my own. The travel bug had won me over, and I’d never be the same!
Now an adult, I have no qualms about rolling solo to a foreign country or sharing a hostel room with a complete stranger. In fact, it now seems silly that I previously questioned peoples’ decision to do the same. During my travels, I’ve confronted fears; forged friendships with fascinating, inspiring people; and have learned quite a bit about the world and myself. Above all, my travel experiences have deepened my sense of gratitude. Though I come from humble beginnings, as a citizen of a so-called “developed” nation, I recognize that I have access to opportunities that many strive to gain – like having the ability to pursue an advanced education, or possessing a passport that allows me entry into most places I’d desire to go. I constantly remind myself to remain grateful for my blessings.
CC: Congrats on the decision to move to Korea! How did you come to choose this location, and what will you be doing while over there?
JC: I feel blessed to have explored nearly 17 countries, but the reality is that being abroad for one to two weeks at a time was just not satisfying my itch. Every time I returned from an international trip, my immense wanderlust persisted. I craved the experience of living in a foreign country – of making an unfamiliar place my “home.”
I woke up one day this past March with a nagging feeling of dissatisfaction. Life in this stage had become pretty mundane, and I felt as though I had reached my plateau. Perhaps, this is what is meant by the term “quarter life crisis.” I then recalled something my older, wiser brother once said that had resonated with me: “The people I know who are really enjoying their lives have taken some sort of risk and have gotten outside of their comfort zones.” Realizing that I had not been taking enough risks, I proceeded to write down what I wanted to accomplish in 2014, and the number one item on that list was “to move abroad.” A couple weeks later, I began the process of applying to teach English in Korea with EPIK.
I chose Korea, because I truly wanted to embrace a challenge and experience something new. I could have moved to a Spanish-speaking country, where I’d be more familiar with the language and culture, but I desired something different. Moreover, the benefits for foreign English teachers in Korea made me feel comfortable about packing up my life and heading to the other side of the world. For example, most contracts offer a tax-free salary (for the first two years), ample vacation days, health insurance, worker’s pension, a flight reimbursement, settlement allowance, and paid housing. Considering the relatively low expenses, I’d be able to live abroad, pay my student loans, travel, and save money. Pursuing this opportunity seemed like a no brainer.
For those millennials that want to travel, but may be hesitant to do so? Jessica says, “stay inspired, and don’t listen to anyone tell you you can’t do something!” In spite of facing homelessness and eviction with her family, she has seen the world and accomplished everything she has set out to do, and isn’t done yet.
Also, Jessica suggests millennial travelers leverage social media. “The Internet allows us to facilitate a connection with a click of a button, and that’s powerful,” she says. “I constantly find myself soaking up advice, support, and inspiration from various travel blogs and networks.”. Thanks to such connections, preparing for this next chapter of her life feels a lot less daunting. “Preparing for an international move has been the craziest, most exciting, overwhelming, and frustrating process I’ve undertaken, but it’s been so worth it! I’m on the brink of beginning a new chapter thousands of miles from home, and I feel incredibly proud of myself for all that I’ve accomplished thus far.”