Living abroad on different continents isn’t impossible, and here to show you how fabulous it can be is Wandi, The Travel Ninja of the week. She’s a dynamic international traveler of color (who has a chance to go to Cuba! Find out how here) with a zeal for living her best life. She is so interesting!
You had a good job yet you left it and moved to Europe. Why?
My airport job had run its course. It was an amazing experience to support the preparations for 1996 Olympics at what was already the world’s busiest airport.
What tops that?
The Olympics exposed me to an intercultural dynamic I had not previously known , but fell in love with immediately. I found the break-neck pace of preparing the city to receive the world…addictive.
After completing a project that had consumed six years of my life, I didn’t know what to do afterwards that would give me that sense of urgency and accomplishment. I couldn’t even remember what I was doing before the Games bid was won. To feed that craving, I chose to chase the Games to the next summer Olympics city, which happened to be Sydney. I chose to arrive there via England and France.
How many countries have you lived in and how long did you live in each?
I immersed myself in the culture and history of England and France for roughly a school year; cultivated a tiny art import business while living part-time in Ecuador for nearly three years; taught at universities and managed sporting event hospitality in China for about six years; and served on the organising the Doha Asian Games in Qatar for seven amazing months.
You have worked for some amazing organizations/companies in several different countries. Who have you worked for and what were your job descriptions?
London was easy. It was on the way to Paris and I had a cousin already living there. Paris because of the magical allure of the Latin culture, cuisine and exquisite red wines! I connected with an amazing community of performing and visual artists there.
I visited Quito on a trade mission and founded a wonderful little art business that kept me returning there every other month.
Yang En University, near Quanzhou (Fujian province, China) recruited me to teach business management. It was at the tail-end of the SARS epidemic and the beginning of the US economic meltdown. I was determined to start learning Mandarin immediately, to become a complete professional in time for the 2008 Olympic Games.
Teaching at universities is an EXCELLENT way to immerse oneself in the cutting-edge of all cultural happenings.
I finally had my Aussie experience when I taught at the Sydney Institute of Language and Commerce at Shanghai University. A serendipitous call from a Qatari recruiter landed me in a Contingency Planning position at the Doha Asian Games Organising Committee. I had never HEARD of Doha before, but I knew that the Games role was an incredible opportunity on my path to the Beijing Games.
After Doha, I returned to Shanghai and served hospitality management roles with the Formula One Races, the Master’s Cup Tennis Tournament and the Special Olympic World Summer Games, building credibility in China as a Games organizer.
How do you manage to get such interesting positions? What is your educational background?
Aggressive networking. Meeting as many people as I could and expressing to them my commitment to my ambition. My degrees are in aeronautical administration and aviation management from Parks College of Engineering, Aviation & Technology.
How do you compare living and working in America to your experiences of living and working in different countries?
I have found that people everywhere are striving for a better life for their children. In most places I’ve been, education is much more coveted than in the United States. Regarding working, I LOVED working a 35 hour week in Doha that was considered full-time. Qataris made the workplace extremely comfortable for employees with all sorts of amenities, such as “Tea Boys” that would deliver coffee, tea and snacks to your desk at any time throughout the workday.
All the fast-food places delivered and people were generally autonomous in their work. The facilities were quite opulent as well. Cultural orientations could have been handled better at ALL my gigs. I’d like to support organization that are on-board expatriates, by providing them with more comprehensive guidance for navigating the new culture AND preparing the local employees to better understand their expatriate guests.
How has your perspective changed since working abroad?
My perspective on work and relationships has changed dramatically. Career remains important to me, but MORE important is the quality of the relationships we build around us. That’s with family, friends, colleagues….everyone. I found there was more TIME devoted to cultivating relationships when I lived abroad. I miss that. Dinners typically would go on for hours as friends and family gathered and REALLY connected with each other over lovingly prepared food.
I once had a Greek flat-mate wonder aloud why I was eating alone at the kitchen sink. She found this very American habit extremely strange. It made me laugh. Now I make it a point to sit down and enjoy my meals rather than slam them down my throat. Work is a means to support a lifestyle. It shouldn’t engulf one’s entire life. Balance is something I’ve found sorely lacking in the United States.
Your current projects are to return to Brazil to work the Rio Games and the other to visit space. Please explain your role in the games and what your plans are for visiting space.
I am campaigning for a role at Rio’s Olympics. I started studying Portuguese last year in preparation. Additionally, I’ve earned a certificate as a Cultural Detective and graduated from the National Outdoor Leadership School. I network as much as I can Stateside. Last year, I took a short reconnaissance trip to Brazil. I am keeping my eyes and ears open for an opportunity that will soon come.
Space travel is an adventure I’m pursuing as a result of befriending the son of an astronaut in Shanghai. Our friendship led me to witness two space shuttle launches, meet Dr. Mae Jemison the first African-American woman in space, and Nichelle “Lt Uhura” Nichols from Star Trek and an amazing array of spectacular NASA opportunities and interests I’d never previously considered.
One of the many things I’ve learned is that a phenomenon occurs to astronauts as they observe our planet from space. They observe earth as one organism rather than many nations and it causes a shift in their consciousness. They return with a heightened realization that we’re all in this together. They’ve named this phenomenon the Orbital Perspective or The Overview Effect.
I want to expose more of the underserved and underrepresented to the possibilities of space travel, the importance of developing oneself continuously, tolerance and intercultural collaboration.I want to encourage a consciousness about the significance of climate change and impending environmental disaster, if we continue to neglect the health of our planet.
How does your family feel about the way you are living your life?
On Christmas day, an astronaut friend called with season’s greetings while I was at a family dinner. She graciously chatted with each of my tweenaged cousins, encouraging them to live their dreams.
Later, I overheard a 10 year old ask a 13 year old how I knew an astronaut. Without looking up from her texting on her cellie,the 13 year old replied, “She’s a hippie!”
If you could give someone advice that wants to work outside of their country, what would you tell them?
Plan, plan, plan!
Network before you go!
Learn the language and culture of your host country and spend some time learning the stages of culture shock so you’ll have some understanding of the feelings that you’ll inevitably experience.
Transitioning to the rhythm of the host nation is much faster (albeit challenging) when living amongst the locals, but know where to the expats are.
Have you worked abroad? Isn’t Wandi fascinating?