The Digital Nomad

Most of us fear the unknown; fear taking that giant leap of chance. But many people take the jump and it turns out quite great. Kelly Kasulis is a Digital Nomad working as a journalist in South Korea. She is from a small town in Connecticut and decided to follow her dreams and move to South Korea only a year after graduating college. At the time, she wasn’t happy with her job— which many of us can closely relate to— and as a young professional, she knew that this was the perfect time for her to pursue a more exciting and fulfilling life elsewhere.

“It gets harder to walk away from your salary as it grows, harder to move from significant others, pets and family, especially those who are older. I was 23 but I decided to take this risk and be happy for myself.”

How She Did It

Contrary to popular belief, a decision like this is well thought out. Kelly spent approximately a year planning her venture. There are many logistics to think through when deciding to make a move as she did. Prior to her move, she saved $10,000 within her one year of planning. This may sound drastic for many, but she did this on a $40,000 salary while living in the heart of Boston and doing occasional freelance writing. Kelly still had the time and money to go out with friends and enjoy her life, but she kept in mind her monetary objective. To come up with an accurate savings goal, she created a very specific budget on an excel sheet. It included all the expenses she has currently and how it will change when she moves abroad. She considered things such as monthly rent in her chosen location, food expenses, transportation costs, and she even calculated in the cost of needing a plane ticket back in case of an emergency.

She does mention that, unfortunately, you also have to account for getting scammed. If you don’t know the language or you look different from the locals, there is a good chance that someone will try to take advantage of you. This happens often within the housing market, where realtors may charge illegal fees that don’t exist. Kelly got around this problem by finding all the right resources. Prior to finding an apartment, she read up on the housing market and her rights in English to be sure she doesn’t get swindled out of hundreds of dollars. So, the most important thing was to educate herself on her chosen country and and save the amount of money she’d need to survive for approximately 5 months should she not have a steady income.

Challenges of Being There

Even though Kelly is half Korean, she still looks different than native South Koreans and she doesn’t speak the language at a native level.  This makes her a target. Some people either try to scam foreigners, as stated previously, or they don’t want much to do with them. Kelly explains that it’s very important that she was able to advocate for herself, whether it was in regards to applying for health insurance or renewing her visa, etc.

“Often, people want to send you away because they don’t want to deal with you, so you have to stand your ground so that people don’t take advantage of you.”

Another problem she faced was making friends and dealing with her loneliness. To overcome this, she quickly joined many groups, clubs, language exchange programs and even started her own cafe meetup group. She also got a companion: a cat. Being someone who lives alone, her cat gave her a sense of home. And when the time comes that she decides to move again, her cat will certainly be joining her.  

Something that many digital nomads struggle with when traveling is the anxiety of communication, whether it be doctors appointments or things as simple as ordering something at a restaurant. Kelly would either frantically look up vocabulary to learn prior to going somewhere or she avoided certain situations all together. But that fear of miscommunication is something that needs to be acknowledged and accepted, she said. Perhaps it will be a bit awkward, but nothing bad happens — you just go about your life. Coming to terms with that has solved a lot of problems for her as she went on.

The Reward

Kelly has had many wonderful experiences since making her move, both within her work and as an individual. Professionally, living in South Korea, she had the opportunity to cover the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018 for a major U.S. news organization. She met with many of the athletes and wrote about their successes. Adapting to the drastically different work culture and learning the way people do things is also something Kelly is proud of. Most importantly, Kelly is thankful she has been able to build a life in South Korea without having to do jobs she doesn’t enjoy.

On a personal note, she has been able to improve her Korean language skills which has opened a lot of doors for her. She can now easily understand the news and pop culture, which makes her feel more a part of the culture and area she is in. She has also been able to reconnect with family she has in South Korea that she likely wouldn’t have known without being there.

As technology continues to expand as part of human life, the number of digital nomads will only grow. Just like any major events in life, it is scary and takes a lot of planning before venturing into the unknown; there are challenges and fears, but Kelly has clearly shown: The reward is well worth it. She has spent two years in South Korea and intends to stay there longer. From there, she will perhaps attend graduate school in Europe, as it is much cheaper than the United States. After that… well, let’s just say there is more of the unknown.

Kelly Kasulis, 25

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