Welcome to Inspirational Nomads, a Turf to Surf series where I interview travelers around the world about working abroad and living their dreams.
I’ve met dynamic characters all over the world doing every kind of job imaginable and I’ve been inspired by their stories about where they’ve traveled, what they’ve done for work and the amazing adventures they’ve had. Read on to learn more about the people who travel and work and how they got their start.
“This sounds awful, but I could never date an American,” Andrew says to me after a few glasses of wine and whiskey, which made me laugh…because he is American. “I just like being with people from different cultures, from completely different backgrounds – it makes things so much more interesting, you know what I mean?”
“What, are you kidding?” I say. “I’m married to a Brit who’s not lived in the UK since he was 17. I know exactly what you mean.”
When I turned up on Andrew’s doorstep in Perth, we were essentially strangers who had met once before in college, at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York. But when you spend your life on the move, making new friends in every new city, even the smallest connections can draw two people together.
As Ryan and I dragged our sailing bags into Andrew’s living room, we shared news about our mutual friend Tim, who was the reason I at Andrew’s house in Western Australia. Tim had sent me a message when I arrived to Albany with the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, telling me to go visit his friend Andrew in Perth — that I would like him. And Tim was right.
I knew lots of geology students at St. Lawrence University because it seemed to be one of the school’s most popular majors, other than environmental studies. Located just north of the Adirondack Mountains in a rural town, St. Lawrence attracts outdoorsy students — mostly from New England — who love hiking, skiing, rock climbing, organic produce and, I guess, geology. But I would never have guessed back in college that a degree in geology could lead to a life of travel. Who knew?
Andrew shares how he built his geology career and his life abroad.
What made you study geology in college?
At St. Lawrence, I originally was majoring in anthropology with a focus on archeology, but at the same time I was taking geology courses. And I realized there are a lot of parallels between the two disciplines, especially when the type of archeology is focused on proto-humans, early hominids, like in Africa. Eventually I decided to major in both of them and pursue a career in geology, as there are a lot more jobs out there for geologists than archeologists.
What did you do after college?
I moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to be a ski bum. There were a lot of St. Lawrence grads living out there, so it was a really fun time.
When did you start thinking about traveling with your geology degree?
You know, I really didn’t think about it at the time. I ended up moving back home from Jackson Hole to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where I took a job as a geologist working at an environmental consulting company.
What was your first leap abroad with work then?
I moved to Colorado and I’d been working for several years as a geologist in Colorado. At the same time, I had done some pro bono work for an NGO doing water projects in Africa. So I had done several trips at this point to Africa with this geology company and we had a lot of work going on in Mongolia. I applied for a job to work on one of the big projects we had in Mongolia and they selected me. So I went to Mongolia for about five or six months to work over there.
At that point, were you looking to seek out more work abroad or was it just something that evolved from that project?
Definitely that project and the work that I was doing in Africa was a catalyst for me to want to work more and more abroad. In 2010, I was offered a job to work in east Africa for an NGO dealing with their ground water projects there, which is the type of geology I had been doing in the U.S. And I felt like it was quite an opportunity to be offered the job, so I went to live and work full-time in Africa. It’s a part of the world I really loved from previous trips and, at that point in my life, I really wanted to live and work abroad. So I took that opportunity and I moved to Malawi.
How long were you in Malawi?
I was in Malawi for about two and half years and I finished up there in March of 2012. I’d already had an interview at that point for a job in Australia and I wasn’t sure I wanted to move back to the U.S. So I took the job in Australia.
Were you surprised that there was so much work in your field abroad?
No, because a lot of geology involves working in remote areas, especially if you’re doing geology related to mineral or oil and gas exploration. I mean, geology really encompasses everything on earth. So it’s pretty normal that geologists work in remote areas of their own country or even work abroad. Plus, in addition to living and working in other countries, I’ve also worked in some pretty remote places in northern Canada and western Australia and even in the United States. In Canada, I worked in a place called Fort McMurray, which is a big oil mining area in North Eastern Alberta. I’ve definitely been to places that you would never, ever visit if it wasn’t work-related, and that’s certainly one of them.
Do you like those kinds of places or do you kind of endure them because you go for work?
I think it’s a bit of both. It feels nice to get out and see new places and experience new challenges, but it can get tiring to be living in a camp in the middle of nowhere for a long time. In Canada it is quite cold and I worked there in the winter. But I think it’s these kinds of challenges that also make the job interesting. In Mongolia and Africa, I feel like we ate goat all the time. Especially in Mongolia. I think I ate goat for every single meal for weeks on end, which is kind of funny now, but it was terrible at the time.
When you had time off from work, did you get to travel much?
Certainly, and I should clarify that when I worked in Africa, I had a pretty normal work schedule. I worked in an office most of the time and would only go out to the field as needed. So I actually had a pretty typical routine minus the fact that I was living in the middle of Africa, so everything around me was quite abnormal. And I definitely took opportunities with work to travel around Mongolia in between periods of work. I traveled around the country and saw some pretty unique places. It’s nice when you can shoehorn in a little bit of travel on the end of a work trip, especially if you can get work to pay for it!
What were some of the most memorable or enjoyable places you’ve traveled to?
I’d probably say east Africa. I mean, it has a pretty special place in my heart. I like Mozambique a lot. I never worked there but I traveled there when I was living in Malawi. And I also went to Vietnam last year, just for a little holiday, and I also thought the northern part of Vietnam was just fantastic.
What did you like about Mozambique so much?
I like countries that are a little bit rough around the edges, if you know what I mean. They had endured a pretty long civil war and yet the country was really blossoming. It had a lot of culture and great food and it was scenic and beautiful. I really enjoyed Mozambique a lot.
What was it like when you first got to Australia two years ago? Was it much of an adjustment?
It was a pretty easy adjustment moving there after coming from Africa. But, I mean it’s similar to the U.S. Obviously it is a different country – well, they drive on the other side of the road — but that’s not much of a difficulty. People are really easy going. Things are very expensive, as you’ve noticed, but it’s all relative. The salaries are good, so it’s not that expensive if you’re making Australian money.
Do you still like it or are you thinking about moving or traveling again?
Yeah, well I’ve been interested in working in Kenya for a while, but I’d like to stay here for a while. I might look at taking a year off and living in France, maybe; kind of like a sabbatical. I think you’d agree that so many Americans are so focused on working. And they kind of just throw themselves into these jobs because they have mortgages or car payments, and I just feel like, as an American, you have to work hard and focus. And most Americans don’t really think about taking a year off and traveling. They just don’t think it’s possible, or they don’t see the point – not even people in their 20s, or even people in their 30s, and definitely not Americans with a family and children… There’s just this pressure that your whole life has to revolve around work.
I know what you mean. It’s recently come out that about 2 million Americans will become unemployed because they only reason they had a job was so they could get access to health insurance. And now that health care isn’t linked to work, the media is saying, “But what will all these people DO if they don’t work?!” Personally, I could think of a LOT of things…
Yeah, I completely agree. You know, I was between jobs for about three months here and, as part of my visa, I am required to carry private health insurance. And private health insurance here is so affordable compared to the U.S. It’s $220 a month for insurance that that covers absolutely everything – you can get cheaper insurance, but for $220, I thought, hell, give me everything! It has excellent dental and vision coverage and it covers prescriptions. It even covers getting massages! I mean, you go to the hospital and everything is 100% covered — and I mean everything. It’s really shocking what you get for your $220 here. And since it’s not tied to a job, you don’t really have to worry about losing your job, or if you decide to quit your job and take a break.
So how does someone studying geology get into your line of work, which allows them to travel and live abroad?
Well, in a lot of countries like the U.S and Canada, you can get professionally certified. You take an examination and you pass a test, kind of like a lawyer or doctor would, and that certifies you to be a professional geologist. That kind of certification doesn’t exist in every country, and Australia doesn’t have it, so in a way, anybody can call themselves a geologist in Australia. But you do need a bachelor’s degree. In the U.S. and Canada, you would probably get professionally certified.
What are the kinds of jobs a geologist would look for if they are looking to break in to the field?
Well, a lot of geology majors nowadays probably go to grad school. So that’s going to focus the type of geology even further. And from there, you would probably try to work at a company that specializes in the type of the geology that you studied in your masters program.
I would say there’s three to four main types of geology work. There’s the oil and gas type of geology, there’s minerals, like mining, and then there’s water and the environment. Those are the three to four main areas that most geologists get jobs under. Maybe a fifth one would be geology and engineering combined, and then most geologists would be employed either at a mining company, an oil company or a consulting company that provides services to these types of companies.
What would you say is the best part about your job being a geologist?
Well, I get to be outside occasionally. I get to do science-related stuff. And I get to travel.
And what is it that you like so much about living abroad?
I guess living in different cultures and meeting people from other cultures. There are always new experiences to be had when you live abroad. And if you live in a country like Australia, most of your friends are expats. So you meet people from all over the world and it’s just really nice to see how other people grew up and how your life compares to theirs and the experiences they’ve had.
And in Africa, obviously, there a lot more unique cultures compared to, say, Australia, which is more similar to the U.S. But just being able to meet people from different backgrounds and experience things that you didn’t experience growing up – that, I find pretty fascinating.
If you met someone now who wanted to travel and work abroad as a geologist, what advice would you give them?
I’d say that there are definitely a lot of opportunities. You know, for the most part, the people who travel abroad for work aren’t the newest employees. Usually, it’s those employees that have few years’ experience under their belt because if you’re talking about working in different countries, then you need the experience to be able to not only do the work, but also handle living in a different country.
I would also say there’s a definite advantage if you work for a larger, international or multinational company because there are opportunities, too, within the company itself to relocate to different parts of your country or different parts of the world. And often times the bigger companies take on more complex projects in different countries. So a bigger company — not always, but usually — will offer more opportunities to travel than a smaller company.
Great! Thanks so much for sharing, Andrew! I imagine we’ll run into each other again…hopefully in another country.