Updated: Jun 26, 2021
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. Nevertheless, it was long steep way there...
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?
Don´t accept the status quo and try to change things in your life you do not like, if they do not fulfill you
Show courage to take risks and see uncertainty as something that comes along with a chance for a change for the better
Be open minded for different paths, different approaches if you want to break out a "regular life"
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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."
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!
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
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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!
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.
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 were many good reasons for me to leave Germany and there was no way back anymore but 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! I never would have thought that it would feel so good! To be honest, I never felt like a 100% member of the society and many things in Germany felt strange to me. That might be one of the reasons that I was just super happy to leave, to start a new life in Thailand.
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
Back to Bangkok - How I stayed for 7 Years
Once back in Bangkok I moved into my old condo was located in the eastern part of Bangkok in Huaykwang, not far from where I worked. It was not that big, around 30sqm but clean and well equipped. It also had a community pool and gym which was something special for me coming from Germany where this was not possible. This is quite usual in Thailand and just great to have as the temperatures are very high.
In total I stayed for nearly 2,5 years at the company I started as an intern now working as a Digital Marketing Executive, freshly graduated. Besides learning a lot in digital marketing and how to use it in the real world I made some great friends from Thailand, France, UK, Germany, Maldives. I still remember countless evenings after work we sat together in roof top bars and restaurants, at food markets all together having drinks and enjoying the amazing (but very spicy, be careful) Thai food. We went on weekend trips together to Hua Hin, Pattaya or north into the rain forests. Dream locations like Phuket, Krabi or Samui were just one flight hour away and not expensive. I stopped counting how many times I have been out the weekend to visit another dream island with fantastic beaches, crystal clear water and wonderful weather. It was just a dream life and every day felt like a holiday even you had to work. There were just endless options for trips, restaurant visits, activities.
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Start of a new Chapter, new company, new job!
Let me come back to the importance of building a network of contacts where ever you are... I cant stress this enough - work on it as soon as possible. Then this is exactly how I found my next job in May 2015. I felt like that it was time to move on to aim for a marketing manager position after gaining more than 2 years experience as a digital marketing executive. I wanted to take the next step in my career and my entry salary was quite low (around US$ 1,000) which is enough to have an enjoyable life in Thailand but for trips abroad it was too tight, fine in SEA though. I was thinking about traveling to Singapore, Japan, Korea and other more expensive places in the region so I needed to upgrade my salary by aiming for a position as Digital Marketing Manager.
So how did I get my next job as a Marketing Manager? I remember sitting downstairs in front of my condo with some older expats from the US, UK and Sweden who also lived in my condo having some drinks and talking. Another person joined us - Henry, Thai. The others knew him already, he also was living in the same condo, but as we never met we introduced each other. When I mentioned that I am from Germany Henry was surprised and directly changed from English to excellent German! I was perplex and could not believe it. It turned out that Henry grew up in Hanover and lived there since his early twenties. We had a great talk about Germany, Thailand and many other topics before he started talking about our jobs. Henry was working as VP of Marketing for a SaaS startup developing a Project Management App in Bangkok, he just joined and was building a team from scratch. That made me sit up and take notice! I told him that I am looking for a position as digital marketing manager. Call it destiny or just a huge coincidence but Henry was looking for exact this position! I felt that this would be my chance to get to the next level and I asked him if there is a possibility to get an interview at the company he was working for. He said that he would discuss it with HR and would get back to me. I could hardly sleep that night once back in my condo and was hoping to hear back from him.
Henry kept his promise and only some day later, I received and invitation for an interview in my mailbox from the head of HR. Long story short - I got the job and signed a 1 year contract + visa for a salary of more than the double amount I earned before. Happy days! But let me mention that I was quite intimidated by the new job requirements. But I could not let this opportunity go by, I needed to grab it as I wanted to grow my career. I would somehow learn what was missing and make up for it by my attitude I though. I was super excited to get started. The company was located in on of Bangkok's prime office buildings in the heart of the city with direct connection to the BTS (local sky train). Besides the great location, the office inside was amazing as well, situated on the 21st floor with stunning views of the city´s skyline! It had a big kitchen with free snacks and drinks, modern meeting rooms and work stations and even board games and a Playstation 4! I could not believe the huge difference to my old company which was a bit far off the center in an old building. No surprise as the owner of the company was a extremely rich man from Lebanon.
In hind sight, I was lucky to get the job as I had no experience managing a team but Henry gave me the chance. He later told me that he liked my enthusiasm, energy and my positiveness that convinced him. "Skills can be trained, attitude not" he said. Today, I fully agree with him and I always thought about and what he said to me when I was building marketing teams by myself!
Over the next months Henry kept me close to him to mentor and teach me in digital marketing for software/SaaS as well as team building and management. I can only say that I learned a ton of him and that I will be always thankful for his trust and support. I would not be the person which I am today without him. Henry recently contacted me on LinkedIn which was a big surprise (we had not spoken for years) to ask for a recommendation, needed for a job in the US. Of course I provided the recommendation and returned his favor. Always remember who helped you on the way and give back when ever you can! Try to always leave in peace to not burn any bridge as you never know if your paths will cross again.
Moving up the career ladder
Back to my new job as Digital Marketing Manager. It was a day in May 2015 when Henry asked me out for a coffee downstairs in the cafe of the office building our office was located. It went well so far and I was managing a team of seven while Henry was taking care of strategy and other senior management tasks. I quickly grew into my new position as a team lead under Henry´s guidance and support and more and more was part of senior management meetings and discussions. It felt great ! The uncertainty and fear had vanished away and I felt good. The product was evolving and we were approaching the official launch! I thought that Henry wanted to discuss the upcoming company milestone with me but he did not - he dropped a bomb which pulled the ground away from under my feet. "I just quit and will leave the company Patrick"- he said. I was shocked and speechless. He continues "...and I want you to become the VP of Marketing". I could not say a word and did not understand what was happening.
I never fully understood why Henry left and although it was a huge shock, it opened up a unique opportunity for me, to move up another time to become Vice President in Marketing. I would consider this step as one of the most important once in my life time which had a huge impact on my today´s life, life standard and which hugely helped me to live a free and self determined life as a Digital Nomad.
Due to further support from other senior members of the company, the company owner was considering my for the position... I remember the day where he came to the company and asked me into his office.´- "Patrick, do you dare to take on this position?" I swallowed quickly and then answered "I do, and I will give more than my best to help bringing this company to where it belongs, to the very top." He looked at me with his blue cold starring eyes, took a deep breath in and replied "Ok, you have a probation period of 3 months. If you do your job well you get a new contract as VP of Marketing with adjusted salary". I was freaking out inside but kept my poker face. On the other side I was scared as compared to my current position of dealing with the team only would now mean that on top of that I was fully responsible for the strategy, goal setting, reaching our goals as well as dealing with the company owner and other senior managers... it was daunting, overwhelming and the toughest three months of my life but worth it. When I walked out his office, I thought like "How the hell are you going to do this?"
But despite some early problems, I was successful and did my job well, passed the probation and got a new contract with a higher salary which was again the double amount of what I got before as marketing manager. What a year! I never would have expected this to happen, first the new job, then Henry´s departure and now the promotion to VP of Marketing within such a short period of time. What really helped me during the early stages of being VP was to to build a close relationship to the other senior managers like the VP of Engineering, a Swedish guy who helped my along the way. Another important thing I did to cope with knowledge gaps and uncertainty on specific topics was to read a lot, mostly blogs and articles in the internet from top notch marketing tech companies like Hubspot, Unbounce, Kissmetrics etc. This was a huge help to grow my knowledge and to feel comfortable when being part of meetings, discussions and of course leading the marketing departments. When ever I found a helpful article I saved it in the cloud so some weeks later I had a quite big library of helpful online resources I could always refer to when needed. On top of that, you can heavily benefit from the year over year experience of others and prevent mistakes. I would highly recommend this to everyone. Try to block at least 45 mins of every working day for reading - learning never stops...
I strongly believe that obtaining a university degree is crucial but it is just not everything (at least in marketing). Using the theoretical knowledge in the real world is a different story and experimenting and gaining experience through projects is king. Only in the real life, in my jobs I learned what digital marketing really means and how it works, not in the lecture hall. Of course this differ from study subject to study subject, as mentioned earlier already. For marketing related studies it is valid though in my opinion.
Once you started a new job abroad, moved to a new country or city build a network of contacts with expats and locals, they might be the entry ticket to a new or better paid job in the future and may open doors which were normally closed
Listen to your guts and prepare for the day where you want/need to move on, plan in good times for the not so good times
Always leave in peace and do not burn any bridge, you never know when you will meet again
Grab opportunities when they come up and do not hesitate even they might look intimidating - you can learn the job once you signed the contract!
Learn things on the fly if needed, don´t say no to opportunities if they show up!
Read, read read! The web is full of information you can read up to learn more about your field of expertise which helps you to fill knowledge gaps and feel more confident with your decisions
Build a cloud library of online resources, templates etc. to always stay up to date, refer back when needed and to boost self confidence and to grow your knowledge
Learning never stops, keep reading to your job related content and block at least 45 mins every day for this activity
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Move back to Europe
The project management app became a huge success and the company grew month to month with around 20%, we won customers all over the world and expansion plans were made. A year later into my job we were about to launch the enterprise version of our software to go after the big companies and their big budgets. Several of our competitors were already doing it and we decided to do the same. As this version would require a different selling approach we needed to build an inside and field sales team. I suggested to take over this area and to build a new team to sell the solution. My boss was ok with it and I was promoted to VP Marketing & Sales.
During an executive lunch in a Japanese restaurant the company owner asked me about exciting enterprise prospects in the sales pipeline and I mentioned to him that we were in touch with a big German Insurance company in south Germany, actually a Fortune 500 company. I explained to him that they liked our solution but somehow were hesitant as our HQ was outside Germany and even the European Union. He looked at me, thought for a second and then said "Well, why you don´t go to Europe to build a unit there for us?" I was speechless and once again amazed by his boldness! Timing was great again though as after many years in Thailand I felt that it was time for a change and as some month earlier something happened which would completely changed my life... I will get to this in a bit. I did not hesitate a bit and said "Well, how about we build our European HQ in Berlin? It is the most exciting city in Europe right now, attracting loads of talents and it would be prestigious to be located there for not too high costs compared to let´s say London or Paris. And of course I know the country and culture and Germany has the biggest software market". He liked the idea and asked me to prepare a 1 year budget within a week.
I started right away with the budget planning and was excited to present it. The presentation happened a week later and the case I presented was appealing so I got the green light! I would move back to Germany, to Berlin to found our entity there, build a small local team with the goal to significantly grow our revenues in the German speaking markets and whole Europe. The unit in Berlin would give our solution credibility and trust which was needed to compete with local and foreign competitors. But let me first get back to the thing that happened to me a while ago, which really would change my WHOLE life!
It first comes always differently and secondly, never as you think.
We all know this saying and experienced it somehow right? So... some month ago something happened, something I would never expect was even possible. I always felt that is romantic nonsense but it really happened. I met my soul mate, that one person you never thought you would meet - she lived in Korea, 6 flight hours away from Bangkok. I was commuting every two weeks from Bangkok to Seoul which was tiring and costly (only the flights cost me around EUR 500 every month), we could only spend some day with each other before I had to return. We both felt that we are connected in a very special way. We saw life the same way and had the same dream to live completely free from being forced to go to the office five days a week, wear clothes because others want it. We pictured a life abroad in exotic countries by the ocean sitting in a cafe with a Cafe Late and our laptops working... we wanted to live where ever we want and work from where ever we want. Yet time was not right though and we first would have to overcome several quite big obstacles and hurdles. One was moving together although we were around 5,000 km apart.
Getting back to the executive meeting and why I directly said yes... I knew that first of all, the move to Germany would mean a bump up in my salary due to the much higher responsibilities as general manager and secondly that would be a chance for us to move together and slowly get out of the hamster wheel of working in an office in a specific place! I would be able to show my girlfriend around not only in Germany but whole Europe! But most important was that this step would get me closer to my big life goal - to become a Digital Nomad! I will talk about the importance of this step on the way to achieve independence on working place later. My girlfriend was excited about the new developments and we started with the planning. Timing was on our side again as the fashion company my girlfriend was working for offered a generous compensation for those who would resolve their working contract due to company restructuring measures. She signed the termination of her contract and loved it! Her job was hard (working life in Korea is hard, believe me!) as she had to wake up at 5:30 AM every morning to shower, dress up and take the super crowded subway in Seoul to commute to office. Many times she did not come home before 10 PM - how crazy! She had been close to a burn out already and just felt tired of her working life. Signing the contract termination was a huge salvation. The compensation would also help us to settle in Berlin, all good!
Berlin is poor but sexy
We nearly stayed two years in Berlin and we loved it. It is vibrant, multicultural, just different. Berlin does not want to be liked like other cities it just stays with both feet to the ground, is authentic but reinvents itself day to day. There is history around any corner, Berlin always changes and surprises - absolutely unique in my eyes. Some compare Berlin with the NY of the eighties - they have a point. For those who want to learn more about our time in Berlin check out this dedicated Blog "Two years in Berlin: Living and working in Europe´s "hottest" metropolis".
The famous proclamation of former Berlin major Klaus Wowereit in 2004 that "Berlin is poor but sexy" gets it to the point. David Bowie lived in Berlin for a long time and R.E.M stayed in 2010 to record their newest album saying "Berlin is a pulsing, exciting city with so many varied and distinctive neighborhoods, iconic history all around, great food at all levels and from every corner of the world … an excellent place to set up camp and make a great record." (Source: rollingstone.com)
Finally free - Work from where I want
During the two years I founded the unit in the heart of Berlin which would become the European HQ, built a small team of five and lead the unit to become the most successful in the company world wide. Oh and yes - we won the contract with the Fortune 500 insurance which was a huge success. As mentioned earlier, moving to Berlin was one of the most important puzzle pieces on becoming a Digital Nomad. Yes we had an office, or let me be more precise space in a stylish co-working space in Friedrichstrasse but there was no obligation to work from there! As my team was shattered across whole Germany everyone was free to work from home, including me which was a huge step. I never was a fan from working in an office and commuting there. I mostly worked in my favorite cafe "Cafe November" in Prenzlauer Berg. A peaceful, cosy place under beautiful trees in of of Berlin´s most exciting areas. Imagine starting your working day with a stroll through small streets framed by huge trees, birds are singing. Order a coffee, open your laptop and start working. No crowded subway, no artificial light, no whirring aircon!
Being the general manager I had the power to change things! It felt great to finally be free of this obligation. It was the first time that I was officially allowed to work from where ever I want! This was not limited to Berlin only and if there were no important appointments in the city my girlfriend and I took every opportunity to travel and work from different cities in Europe. During winter which can be pretty harsh in Berlin we stayed in Spain for example on the remote Canarian islands (to west off the coast of Morocco) as temperatures were all year around 20+ degrees, ahhhh wonderful :) We rented a little apartment with see view balcony and mostly worked from there, overseeing the dark blue Atlantic ocean.
Looking back this was only possible because I won the trust and support of the company owner. I convinced him that a company, person or group of people can be successful without the obligation to work at a specific place. Even more, by allowing people to work from home or from where ever they you motivate people, make them feel valued and trusted. They pay back with even harder work and much better results - all this helped to make the Germany unit the most successful one. Numbers don´t lie! Let´s be honest becoming a Digital Nomad is only possible if you have financial backing. You need an income to pay your new lifestyle - who could be a better one than your current employer? Prepare yourself for that day. Give your very best to build a long term relationship, trust and support. A happy employer, boss can become a supporter for your cause!
As horrific and terrifying the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequences and effects for all of us were and still are, there was one positive effect. The pandemic changed companies critical view on working from home or from where ever you want. Many employers, companies are allowing their employees to work from home now for at least some days, others even completely changed their policies and allow it unlimited from even other cities or countries. Nevertheless, there is a big risk that everything goes back to normal once the crisis is overcome. Most employers just feel more confident having their staff where they can monitor them easier. Trusting their employees yet is still a rare thing and there is still a long way to go before allowing people to work from where ever they want. Even the big companies like Twitter and Facebook which offered their employees to work from home for ever adjusted their promise and went back to a limitation. There is a big possibility that employers will lose their new freedoms again...
I kept working for my company until the end of 2019 ending a nearly 6 year long lasting journey. It was an amazing time and although it ended, I will never forget it, will always keep the people I met and who became my friends in my heart, I will surely come back to Thailand one day. Before I left, I fulfilled my lifetime dream to travel Canada - from west to east, for many months while working remotely. Something I could never have done working a regular office job. It was one of the best trips in my life and made me thinking if I should try to move to Canada... but that is another story!
After I quit my job, in February 2020 I started working for a Belgium Start-Up SaaS company as Digital Marketing Director, 100% remote! One of the owners was a friend and they needed help building their digital marketing foundations and a small team. Again, my network helped to find a job! Although it was only a year working for them it was the first time, I could work 100% remotely any where I wanted!
From now onward I would only work for companies which would allow me to exactly do this! I updated my profiles on LinkedIn, Xing and other freelance platforms like UpWork, created my own personal website, Blog and YouTube Channel. As mentioned before more and more companies are more open to this approach now but there are also a lot of helpful websites where Digital Nomads can find jobs. It never was a better time to start your own new life, free and self determined! Looking back like 5 years ago it was a complete different situation but now... well, don´t dream, make it happen!
To grow means to constantly get out of your comfort zone! Keep challenging yourself and try to keep improving your knowledge in your field of expertise to grab opportunities when they show up in your life
Be bold! Don´t be afraid of big steps into the uncertain, they mostly open doors and lead to places you dreamed of!
Try to free yourself step by step from the work-life Hamster wheel, have a clear plan how to get there. Make sure you check out my eBook on this topic!
Don`t stay too long in one place, the world is big and there are a lot places to explore! Staying also makes it harder to progress, move forward.
Build trust and support from your employer to prepare for the day where you ask if you can work remotely! Show them that you can do even better work from outside the office. You can ask for a trial run for like 1-3 months to get started.
Before joining a company check their company culture and if they allow working from home or from somewhere else. More and more companies adjusted their policies to attract staff and provide other exciting benefits
Try to bypass long recruitment processes by tapping into your professional network! You never know if they might no someone who knows someone...
My personal Milestones on becoming a Digital Nomad
So let me recap again, what I think were the most important milestones on the way to become a Digital Nomad. Please note that this is still my personal opinion and based on my specific way and experiences. I am sure there are many many other ways to achieve the same! Don´t see the key learnings and milestones as THE ONE way and adjust accordingly in relation to your own specific situations and experiences.
I stepped out of my comfort zone as much and early as possible, made it a habit I really enjoy
Be open minded towards other cultures, being different is a beautiful thing and nothing to be scared of
I studied abroad in a foreign country to improve my English language 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
I built a network of people from all over the world that might help me later to find jobs or other connections
I took any opportunity to grow, develop my career when ever it came across my way even I was scared
Learn learn learn! Make reading, research etc. part of your daily routine to expand your knowledge and stay up to date on newest trends
Be patient, achieving a free and self determined life takes time, draft a plan with milestones and work towards them step by step
You can be sure that this was not my last stop, more to come! Make sure you won´t miss any new articles, videos or helpful resources and subscribe to me free newsletter!
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 - "x things good to have to become a Digital Nomad".
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
Why I left Germany to live abroad as a Digital Nomad
How to have a good life in Thailand with just US$ 1,000
eBook: Escaping the Work-Life Hamster Wheel: 10 Strategies on how to become free and independent as Digital Nomad
Two years in Berlin: Living and working in Europe´s "hottest" metropolis
The best x platforms to find jobs for Digital Nomads