How I became a Digital Nomad and which Milestones I had to achieve

Updated: 8 hours ago

Ten years ago I left Germany to start on a journey from which I yet did not return. I exchanged my regular life and office job against a free and self determined life with stops in Mexico, Thailand, South Korea and Spain. And without any doubt, I can say that this was the best decision in my life.



My eyes are wandering over the cobalt blue sparkling water of the East See, South Korea. It is a perfect day with 26 degrees, blue sky and sunshine. A little wind caresses my skin while I am enjoying an ice cold passion fruit ade. It is one of those perfect days in June in Busan in the very south of Korea just one day before my birthday. Starring at the ocean I realize how much I like my life - the life of a Digital Nomad.


Hey, I am Patrick born and raised in Germany. It has been ten years now since I left Germany to start a new life, a life full of uncertainties, risks, and difficult times but also full of excitement, achievements and fun. Those ten years have changed my in a way, a positive way that I never could have hoped for, never would have expected. It made me a different person, more self confident, open minded and most important free and happy! Being free and happy were always my major drivers and motivations in life. I never envied those who were famous or successful in the sense of being rich. Instead I dreamed of a life far away from the little village in the western part of Germany close to the border to the Netherlands and Belgium were I grew up. When saying a small village I really mean it... just 2500 people lived there and only one bus frequently stopped by to take me out of to experience what else would be out there. I always felt captivated, lost and wrongly placed. I could not connect with the villagers and as they seemed to be too different to me, to closed minded and not really interested in what is out there in our beautiful world. Not to mention the lack of sunshine and good weather. Sunshine was rare and for me the sky always looked grey and dark, it rained a lot. We all know, that the weather has a big impact on your mental health and that sunshine is important. Sunlight is thought to increase the brain's release of a hormone called serotonin. Serotonin is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused


When ever possible I left the village to visit bigger cities around. Highlights were always holidays with my parents during my childhood which were great opportunities for me to visit far away places and learn more about different cultures. I felt free and just good. It seemed that the further I was away from Germany the happier I was. I was very lucky as my parents traveled a lot and took me to many places in Europe in the early and late 80s while many people in Germany mostly visited the neighboring countries (mostly Austria or The Netherlands). In contrast we traveled thousands of km by car to Italy, former Yugoslavia and further. It was always a great adventure. I remember watching a popular show named "Das Traumschiff" (german for the dream ship) during my childhood. The show was featuring small episodes taking place on a cruise ship. Every show featured a specific country or some cities the ship and passengers traveled to. I was blown away! You might think that this is funny but for me it was a revelation. I was fascinated by the show and could not wait for the next show to be shown. For me the show was a way to leave the bubble I was captivated in for 90 minutes, to experience exotic countries and places, food and cultures of far away destinations. I remember one show featuring Hong Kong and I was amazed by it so much that I swore my self to travel there later when I was old enough and could afford it. Something happend that day inside me and I knew that it would happen and that there was no way back to the day before...



Leaving the Comfort Zone - Studying abroad


In hindsight, one milestone in becoming a digital nomad definitely was studying abroad. Although I was scared about leaving Germany I could also not await it! I felt like that this is the right thing to do, the first step out in the unknown world. Despite all the uncertainties and risks I decided to apply for for a university in #Maastricht, The Netherlands. Studies would be 100% in English language and I would be the only one from my high school to study abroad! The fact that courses would be only taught in English language would become very important for my digital nomad life much later... Being able to communicate well in English is not only needed for communication abroad but also a must have to apply for jobs outside your home country - so take your English classes serious ;)


The day I drove from my parents house in that little village I mentioned before I will never forget. It was a grey, dark, rainy day - typical for Germany and I really hated this weather as it dragged my down. But once I crossed the border to the Netherlands sun came out of the clouds and I took it as a sign, a sign for that I am doing the right thing.

The comfort zone is a psychological state in which one feels familiar, safe, at ease, and secure. You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.

Roy T. Bennett


Of course I was worried when I first entered the main building of the University Campus to receive first information. As I was fascinated from marketing, and as I had my first own little startup + website for eSports I focused on Strategic Marketing. Studies would go over 4 years and would include one #internship and one #exchange semester which were (besides that the university is abroad and that the studies would be in English language) the thirds main reason. The internship and exchange semester would be an amazing opportunity to live abroad in countries of my choice, meet new people and experience foreign cultures! What else could I wish for?



Hola Mexico! Exchange Semester in Monterrey


The whole 4 years I really enjoyed my studies. I improved my English significantly to the point where I did not have to translate every word or sentence in my mind from German into English before I could speak out. Instead when I had a conversation I could communicate fast and fluent in English. Once you achieve this point, I think that this is a milestone you can be proud of and you are close to master a foreign language to a degree that native speakers will hardly recognize that you are a foreigner. Besides improving my English skills, I met people from literally all over the world who came from abroad for their internship or as exchange students.


The best though was the exchange semester and the internship! It would mean to leave my comfort zone and to set out for the unknown - Milestone number 2. I applied for several countries including Costa Rica and #Mexico. The exchange semester would come first and I was excited to receive my final destination. The day arrived where the results were emailed out and I rushed to on of the computers in the University, opened my email and... MEXICO it was MEXICO! For nearly 12 months I would move to Monterrey, Mexico to study at #UDEM - Universidad de Monterrey! I would move to a latin american country with a complete different culture. I was floating and super excited and could not wait to leave but my Mom was a bit worried as Mexico was not the savest country. Nevertheless I left and I had an amazing time, met people from Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Spain, Finland, and many others. Some became friends and I am still in touch with them even they are in Spain, Finland or Switzerland. I traveled Mexico and many other countries like Belize, Costa Rica or Panama. You can read my article - "One Year in Mexico - An amazing exchange Semester in Latin America" if you want to learn more about my time in Mexico and what I experienced. Without any doubt, this year abroad in a foreign unknown culture had a huge impact on my personality development. Besides learning spanish, which was just cool as it will be super helpful besides english to communicate in nearly whole south america (and of course wonderful Spain) my self confidence got a huge boost. Old fears faded away. The most important change that happened to me that I would from now onwards not be scared to leave my comfort zone anymore - the oposite, I would try to leave it as much as possible. A threat became something I want!


Coming back to leaving the comfort zone, I think the quote from #RoyTBenett really hits the nail on the head - "The comfort zone is a psychological state in which one feels familiar, safe, at ease, and secure. You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone."


Key Learnings

  • Try to leave your comfort zone as much as you can. Imagine leaving the comfort zone like a muscle training, it might hurt but that is how you grow!

  • Study abroad in English language instead of your mother tongue.

  • Do as much internships and exchange semesters as possible.

  • Try to build a network with people from all over the world.



Next stop - Thailand! Internship in Bangkok


After my exchange semester I came back to Europe, completely pumped by the experiences abroad. I felt liberated from old constraints, blockers. I felt that the whole world is no open to me, all the fears were washed away. Before I left to Mexico I was still struggling to leave my comfort zone, I was worried about how life would be abroad, how the people and culture would be. Would I be happy there? Many things went through my head... Now, being back in Europe and looking back on this unique experience I would say that there was a feeling of achievement, a feeling of victory over one of my major fears. It just felt right and good and I was ready for the next chapter - the #internship! Before we get there, let me go back 4 years in time...


I always was fascinated by Asia, and especially south east Asia! For me it seemed like a different world, exotic, spicy and delicious food, friendly smiling people and of course palms, unlimited sunshine and amazing beaches! I felt it was time for me to leave Europe which I traveled quite a bit to visit some more further away countries. Thailand was my top pick and it always had been on my bucket travel list! I tried to convinced my best friend to go on a three week trip and I was successful! We boarded the plane and arrived in Bangkok around 10 hours later. As we decided to continue to the south (we wanted to visit Koh Samui) we transferred at Suvarnabhumi Airport and boarded another plane. On board we talked about what we want to do when reaching the island paradise as suddenly the person in the seat in front of us turned around to us "Oh, you are German! It's always nice to hear some german sentences." We were surprised but got into a nice conversation with Florian, originally from Munich but who was living in Thailand for more than 12 years. He was the owner of a digital media company in Bangkok. He shared about his live in Thailand and had a ton of tips for our island hopping. More important though which also will bring us back to why I did my internship in Thailand was his last sentence when we split at the airport - "If you ever plan to work in Thailand, let me know, my network is big and I know a lot of people in Bangkok". I did not really had any plans that time but we connected on Facebook and thanked him.


Let's jump back to the Netherlands to which I just had returned from my exchange semester in Mexico. In about half a year, I would have to do a six months internship in a company abroad related to my field of studies which was International Business before I would return again to finish my studies. Everyone got busy with their research and I was thinking about possibilities for my internship. Two of my best friends secured an Internship in Indonesia, Jakarta and I thought that it would be nice to do my internship in South East Asia as well. Then it hit me and I remembered Florian, the German company owner I met on a plane from Bangkok to Koh Samui 4 years ago! I messaged him on Facebook and asked if he knew someone that offers internships. His answer came quick and he suggested me to contact at friend of him also from Germany who was the owner of an IT company in Bangkok. Without hesitation I wrote an email to introduce myself and test the waters for an internship possibility. Some weeks later I got the internship! Moving to Thailand, one of the most popular travel destinations world wide for a year would surely be another great experience I was hoping for and in hindsight another very important milestone achieved as it enabled me to constantly leave my comfort zone, my bubble in the future. We will get to this soon ("Goodbye Germany"). And it turned out to be just awesome! It also helped me that I been in Thailand before for leisure to get a better understanding and feeling for the country and culture. Of course it was limited to just some weeks but it definitely helped me to gauge if it could be a place for me to live for a longer period of time.


I also wrote a dedicated article about my time in Thailand "How a One year Internship in Bangkok turned into a 7 year long life changing experience", it is a great example of how leaving your comfort zone can change your whole life in a positive and exiting way! If you want to live abroad and start a career as a digital nomad, freelancer I highly recommend it!


Key Learnings

  • If possible travel to countries, cities or places first before you move there for a longer time

  • Use your network to find internships or jobs abroad, this is a great shortcut to get interviews and increase your chances to land a job



My first REAL culture shock


The internship in the german IT company in Bangkok was a fantastic experience for me and added a lot of credits to my study account as well. I did some research before I left to source some potential apartments for me before I left to Bangkok and arranged some visits to check them out and luckily found one I like for an affordable costs, only 5 BTS (the metro is called BTS in Bangkok which stands for Bangkok Train Sky) away from where I worked. I still remember my first working day - I left my apartment and took the metro to realize that I was wearing my flip flops instead of proper shoes! Anja, the MD of the company laughed and took it with a big smile when I introduced myself :D Several of my colleagues (people from Thailand, India, Poland, France, UK, Maldives) became good friends. We spent a lot of time together, traveled Thailand and are still in touch nowadays. Our paths crossed several times and when ever I am back in Bangkok I meet up with all of them. The internship was also super helpful for me to understand, what digital marketing really is. It added a new layer of perspective for me, on top of the theoretical part in the University. I strongly believe in the power of doing things in the real world rather than learning theoretical stuff in school or university.


Nevertheless there was a sit back at the beginning of my time in Bangkok. I clearly remember that during the first three months I had some huge difficulties to adapt to my new life - the culture, temperatures and humidity, noise and just the vast size of Bangkok, a huge concrete jungle. I was not used to turn on air-cons all night long, but without them I could not sleep. I faced some serious issues with sleeping which had an effect on my physical constitution. The extremely high noise level of motorbikes, cars, music combined with temperatures between 30 and 45 degrees day by day, masses of people was just too much for me. I just experienced my first culture shock! I surely did not expect this as I thought like every day would be like a holiday. To be honest I really did not like that time very much and questions my decision to move to Bangkok several times - Was it really the right decision? But after those first three months I overcame that difficult and moved to the adjustments and then acceptance stage. What happened? I remember that one day when I took the motor bike from my condo (how apartments are called in Thailand) sitting on the back while the driver meandering through the masses of traffic that I looked into the blue sky, smiled and realized how lucky and blessed I am to live in Thailand to experience this fantastic and exotic culture! From that moment I started to enjoy my life more and more, accepted differences in culture and every day felt like a holiday, a big adventure although I had to work. I traveled within Thailand and also made some trips abroad to Cambodia and Singapore. After 4 months I fully arrived in Thailand and loved it. What was supposed to be a one year internship turned into a 7 year live changing experience!


Key Learnings

  • Mix your academy studies with practical experiences, do several internships or take smaller jobs in companies to get a better understanding of what is needed to be successful in your professional field

  • Do your homework before you leave your home country and do some research about potential apartments, transportation system etc.

  • Don´t question your decisions to early and give yourself time to adjust to new environments, circumstances or cultures

  • Accept cultural differences and do not try to compare everything to your own culture.


Goodbye Germany


After my internship in Bangkok I returned to Maastricht in the Netherlands to write my final thesis and finish my studies. My time there ended after 4 years with a Bachelors Degree in International Business - my entry ticket to the world wide labor market! What an amazing time the last four years had been, I was hooked and wanted more! I did not even consider applying for jobs in Germany and as I really enjoyed my time in Bangkok I reached out to Anja again to ask her for a job. The marketing position in the company was vacant and I was lucky and got the job! Before I booked my ticket to Bangkok I had a signed working contract in my pocket - YES! I informed my parents and family about my decision to leave Germany and to start my own life far far away, obtained my working Visa in the Thai embassy in Düsseldorf and prepared my departure. There was no way back anymore and it felt great. I sold all my things like car, furniture and what ever I had. In the end I just owned like 8,000 Euros and a backpack. I could literally store ALL my belongings in my 40 liter backpack. The feeling was indescribable. Nothing was holding me back, no physical thing that was in my mind - I was free, free for the first time!


Key Learnings

  • Aim for international accepted degree programs like Bachelor or Masters to significantly increase your chances to work abroad

  • Take internships during your studies serious and an opportunity to your your employer what you are capable of, it might become your first job outside your home country and the entry ticket to working and living abroad!

  • Try to sign a work contract before you leave, it will take off a lot of pressure and will provide some sort of security and stability

  • Inform yourself about visa procedures of your new home country and ensure you are in possession of the correct visa before leaving

  • Once you decided to leave stick to your decision, do not live in the past! Learn from it but live in the now and prepare for the future



What it needs to become a Digital Nomad


I am often asked by family members or friends "What do you think you need to become a Digital Nomad?" A not easy to answer questions but during my 10 years nomad life, I identified a couple of specific characteristics which could be helpful in becoming a Digital Nomad and gathered them in a separate article which you can check out here.



My Milestones to become a Digital Nomad


  • I stepped out of my comfort zone as much and early as possible, made it a habbit I really enjoy

  • I study abroad in the Netherlands to improve my English languague skills, and meet people from all over the world to help open my mind

  • I chose my university carefully to ensure that it would offer at least one internship and exchange semester abroad



xxx


After my exchange semester I came back to Europe, completely pumped by the experiences abroad.


More reads you might be interested in:

  • xx Characteristics you should have to become a Digital Nomad

  • One Year in Mexico - An amazing exchange Semester in Latin America

  • Next Stop - Thailand: Culture Shock but a Life changing Experience

  • How chosing the right University can increase your chances to have a life abroad