Nostos means homecoming

October 17th, 2015

“Nostalgia” is composed of two Greek words: the first means “homecoming” and the second means “pain”. A year seemed like an impossibly generous amount of time to travel when I was setting out, but impossibly short when I was sitting on the beach in Bali at the end of it. Although there was a lot I missed about home, I thought I would never have the opportunity to take such a long trip again, and so decided to extend it for two more years.

I returned to Shanghai and continued my Mandarin studies through 2010, traveling extensively in Asia to practice. I then took a year to do another full circumnavigation, this time including South America in the itinerary, and visiting all the scattered friends I hadn’t yet seen in the first year of travel. After three years of travel, six years in Tokyo, three years in London, and studies in France, Germany, and Shanghai, I had lived abroad for 14 years. I was ready to come home.

Some common objections to taking time off include worries that your skills will atrophy, that interviewers won’t take you seriously, and that it will be hard to explain the “gap” in your resume.

I think it is worth mentioning that exactly one person I spoke with did in fact embody all of these prejudices, but he was a rarity — most people I met when I started thinking about employment again were both enthusiastic and intensely curious about the trip, and in at least one case (Amazon), it was the single most important factor in their interest. I don’t know how many potential employers rejected my resume without contacting me, but within three months of starting my search I was in late-round interviews with Amazon, a bulge bracket bank in Manhattan, and two established startups in the fintech arena. I ended up choosing from multiple offers. I mention this for the benefit of people who might be contemplating their own extended trip — you can come back!

I took a job in Boston which had the benefit of being near my family in addition to giving me a chance to do extremely interesting work in analytics; but as is apparently my fate, after three years in Boston and a month after finally moving in to my own place in Cambridge, my new firm asked me to move to New York City. To borrow from Thoreau, “at present I am a sojourner in civilized life again”, living happily in Manhattan for just over a year now, and very, very glad I took this trip.

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