How many times have you thought, “Gee, I should have done that differently,” or “Maybe I should be more adventurous”?
Perhaps you have a case of the shoulda coulda wouldas.
Not OzTREKK student Jennifer Avery. She and her husband Ted, who works in the programming software development field, are currently seeing the world.
Before Jennifer begins her studies in the Master of International Public Health program at the University of Sydney, she and her husband decided to quit their jobs, sell their belongings, and tour the world. Talk about guts! Because Jennifer’s story is so remarkable, we’re going to break it down for our OzTREKK blog readers.
What was your main reason for this giant leap of faith?
We both had a strong desire to pursue something different in our lives. It is so easy to stay in the same place for a long time, doing the same things and being stuck in a routine. Once I considered the idea of exploring the world and then studying abroad, nothing else seemed exciting anymore, and it was all I wanted to do. We both felt it would be a life-changing experience. What could be more memorable than exploring so many cultures, places and new things, then beginning a new life halfway around the world?
New York airport--winter coats make good floor mats!
It sounds crazy, but I read a book that changed my life – it’s a short read and I highly recommend it. It’s called Vagabonding: The Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts. Basically, just about anyone from anywhere can travel with just a small bit of savings. Your whole life won’t fall apart—in fact so much more will stay the same than you realize. So a whole new way of thinking was opened up in my mind.
At first, the only decision made was that we would move to Australia for me to go to the University of Sydney. My husband Ted would be finishing up his master’s at the University of Toronto in December 2012. My program begins in July 2013… soon I began to see this window of time from January to July as a major travel opportunity. The real push that this was something we could really do came from Potts’ book. Some quick Googling revealed to me that lots of people around the world do this, too. It did seem a little crazy, but at the same time made perfect sense. Selling everything and owning just what was on our backs seemed like it would be a really redeeming and freeing way to start our new journey on the other side of the world!
“I had a huge desire to see as much of the world as I could.”
Ted: We really wanted to see more of the world and experience other cultures, and there is no better way to do that than to live and work in a new place. Jen’s graduate studies seemed like the perfect opportunity for experiencing a different part of the world. Moving to Australia for a year meant quitting our jobs, downsizing our possessions, and starting fresh in a new place. We soon realized that if we had to do this anyway, why not do it a bit sooner so we would have the time to travel around the world like we always dreamed of doing without any commitments?
OzTREKK student Jennifer Avery steps off the plane in Columbia
Where are you headed?
We knew we would go through South America, then to Europe (or South Africa, pending on whichever was cheaper), then Asia where we would fly to Sydney.
Have you always been adventurous? Or is this “out of the norm” for you?
We’ve always been adventurous people, but never adventurous enough to break out of the comfortable North American lifestyle we had become accustomed to. We spent our last two New Years in New Zealand and Costa Rica, jetting off right after Christmas to take advantage of the extra time off, only to return to our day jobs a week and a half later. I also spent two weeks in Nicaragua on a medical volunteer trip, an eye-opening and humbling experience where I provided physical exams and vaccinations for orphans, as well as set up mobile clinics in the surrounding rural communities. But it wasn’t until now that we had the courage to make a major life change to leave our homes and pursue our dreams of seeing the rest of the world.
What was the catalyst for this huge decision?
Jennifer and Ted hiking in South America
The major catalyst for this decision was a huge thirst for new experiences—to go through something life-changing. Working in a children’s hospital made me often realize how mortal we all are. It sounds morbid, but when children would pass on, it often got me thinking about what their last thoughts were. And what would my last thoughts be? The media seems to portray that people have this sort of “film” of their lives that flashes through their head before they die. I started thinking about what mine would look like if I just stayed in the same place, working in the same job, doing the same things for the rest of my life. For some people, that is comfortable and perfectly fine. For me, that induced a huge sense of panic. I had a huge desire to see as much of the world as I could. If I am alive and well, I don’t really have a good excuse to wait until I’m old and retired to go see it! It sounds morbid, but a huge push for me has been thinking about death—which can happen to any of us at any time—and putting some serious thought into what I want to do with my life.
How did your families and employers and coworkers react, and how did you handle their reactions?
My parents did not seem surprised by the decision when I told them, truthfully. It was almost like they expected us to do something like that. Both of them were completely supportive of our decision—they trust us to be smart and safe while travelling, and I think they understood this was something I really wanted to do. Ted’s parents had an equally similar reaction, maybe a little more surprised.
As for our employers…. Well, I had been working at the same hospital for two and a half years but had somewhat recently switched departments. My boss was pretty shocked when I told her, but was supportive of the decision. I tried to keep things on the down low at work but once word got out, people were really supportive and gave a lot of encouragement for us to do that kind of thing while we’re young.
In Bogota, Columbia
“Working in a children’s hospital made me often realize how mortal we all are.”
Some of our friends and family were kind about it, but clearly a bit skeptical. We got a lot of questions like, “But you both have such good jobs! How will you return to your job after? What if you can’t find work?”, or “What about your family?” (a common one). One person even asked how we could sell all the things we got for our wedding as gifts. We told them all the same things: regarding work—we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, but both our jobs are fortunately high in demand. Our families—we will miss them but keep in close touch. The more these questions were asked of us, the more we realized how fear can strap people down so much and prevent them from doing something they may really want to do!
Why did you choose Australia? (for the Master of International Public Health degree)
After realizing that I wanted to commit my career to global health issues, I began researching schools. There were not a whole lot of interesting options available for this in Toronto. I had planned to do a distance education program until one night shift, a coworker of mine told me all about a similar program she did for one year in Australia. She emphasized how important it was to do a program like that in person to connect with and learn from your classmates. Students came from all over the world, each offering unique perspectives on global issues and solutions from their home countries. That was all the convincing I needed and I began researching on all my days off. Besides the appeal of that particular program, I had always been really curious about Australia. What exactly was the deal with this sunny utopia on the other side of the world? And the people are so happy there! I have often said that every Canadian has dreamed at one point about living in Australia. That may not be 100% true, but I’d say it is a common thought that pops into the mind while we shiver through too many dull, grey months of cold misery! The idea of studying a renowned public health program in a place that gets sunshine year-round just sounded like paradise, and so it did not take a lot of convincing to get Ted, who also loathes Canadian winters, on board with the idea.
The beautiful Las Lajas cathedral in Ipiales near the Colombia/Ecuador border
Since OzTREKK’s last chat with Jennifer, she and her husband have travelled through South America: Columbia, Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, Peru (Machu Picchu!), Bolivia, Chile, Patagonia, Argentina and Brazil. Then, to Spain, Morocco and France. Our next blog will feature Jennifer’s travels through South America and her amazing adventures—including a hike to Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands! Stay tuned, OzTREKKers!
Find out more about the Master of International Public Health program at the University of Sydney. Contact OzTREKK’s Australian Public Health Schools Admissions Officer Rachel Brady for more information about other public health programs at Australian universities. Email Rachel at email@example.com or call toll free in Canada at 1-866-698-7355.