Think Blog

Think Remote: Highlights from 3 Months Working Abroad

By Elina Yudilevich on September 10, 2018

Have you ever felt like you need to mix things up—to try something new or give your life a hard refresh?

Life can become so routine if you let it: wake up, go to the office, spend time with friends and family, stay active, fight the good fight, volunteer, and hang out on social media. But maybe you want more. What if you’re scrolling through your news feed and see a long lost friend announce they’re selling everything to travel the world to work remote for an entire year. Would you think, “this could be me!”?

This was me this exact time last year. I wanted a change. Not a big change, not a small change, but a change of just the right size. It was time to shake up my routine. I knew I wanted to keep my job, my apartment, and my life for the most part, but getting out of Philly for a bit seemed to be a better idea each time I considered it. I was warming up to the idea of skipping winter and chasing the sun.

After looking into programs that would make remote work and travel easier, I pitched the idea to my manager, Emily. With her buy-in, I got support in putting processes and checkpoints in place, traded my modern laptop for a travel-safe vintage PowerBook, and a few months later, I was celebrating New Year’s Eve with 30 strangers in Santiago, Chile. I spent three months roaming around South America and working remotely with that group.

Flying over the Andes

My travels were incredible, challenging, inspiring, motivating, fun, and occasionally hard. Fortunately, the organization I was traveling with took care of the logistics: housing, co-working spaces, and the wifi.

There’s a lot to recount from my travels. When thinking about a format for sharing my most memorable experiences, I was inspired by one of the approaches we take to facilitate project retrospectives at Think Company. The “3Ls” approach allows teams to look back at the work framed by what they Liked, Learned, and Longed For during the project.

Thinking retrospectively about my trip, I’ll share the things I liked, learned, and longed for.

Liked

  • During my travels, I had no errands, no obligations, nothing that needed to be fixed, nobody who I committed to spend time with, nothing to work on in my apartment, and I wasn’t tied to a desk. It was incredibly freeing. I could dedicate my focus to work during the week—whether that was from home or from a co-working space—and the rest of the time all I needed to do was absorb my surroundings. It’s incredible how liberating it feels to have so much less to worry about.
  • I really liked traveling to places I never knew existed and experiencing things I wouldn’t have otherwise. This thought solidified in my mind when I found myself in southern Chile, mid-volcano hike, standing at the tippy-top of an iceberg looking down at my parents, who had come for a visit and partook in their first hike ever. It was unbelievable where I had managed to find myself.

On a glacier on the Villarrica Volcano in Pucon, Chile

  • Chasing summer has its perks as well. Feeling the sun on my skin every day instead of trekking through snow in 4 layers of clothing was an uplifting change. I felt healthier, happier, and warmer. I got sick the day I came home on April 1st. Turns out, all I need is some sunshine.

Learned

  • I work for an incredibly open-minded organization that supports me as I try new things, sets me up for success, and gives me the space I need for personal and professional growth. I was able to open my laptop and set up shop in Chile, Argentina, and Brazil, where I learned to never underestimate the power of a great view. It really is a stress reliever to look outside and see mountains, trees, lakes, and little Brazilian monkeys throughout the work day.

Some of the most noteworthy South American office views

  • Oddly enough, putting three thousand miles between myself and my teams made me feel closer to them. Everyone took interest in the happenings on my side of the equator. I always had personal anecdotes to share, and it felt like the more I shared, the stronger my bond was with my colleagues.

Longed For

  • The Super Bowl! I watched the Eagles win their first Super Bowl at a restaurant in Buenos Aires with a sizable group of New England fans. It definitely wasn’t where I wanted to be at that moment. I really longed to be home celebrating something so momentus for our city, engulfed in the energy with my people.
  • I longed for the ability to easily speak my thoughts. I don’t speak Spanish, so communication was often challenging. Though I have become an expert Google Translate user. Did you know that this tool will translate scanned text in real time? It’s a handy feature, especially when out to eat—assuming there is wifi or you didn’t run out of data yet. Those were the times I really longed for high-speed internet.
  • I missed having a sense of routine. I never thought I liked routine, but I found that some stability is really helpful. For instance, having my bike and knowing how to navigate around is something I valued more each time I landed in a new city. It took just over a week to get my bearings in any new place. I was never able to get a consistent yoga practice going, either, which proved to be a challenge. Yoga classes just aren’t the same if you don’t understand the instructor. In terms of staying active while traveling, I found that solo workouts like running were the best way to go.
  • Finally, I really longed for the Fountain Porter burger. Nothing came close.

Filling out my Best Places to Work survey in Florianopolis, Brazil

Just like anything else, my experience came with absolutely incredible moments as well as challenges. I know that many organizations would be hesitant to allow someone to try a new way of working. I’ve found that carving my own path yielded tangible results for me in terms of personal fulfillment, and, in turn, yielded positive results for my organization. I was able to do more focused and inspired work.

Thank you, Think Company, for standing by me, being open to paving a new path, and allowing me to have the adventure of a lifetime.