When A Gap Year Becomes Permanent

January 28, 2015
ravel Life: I Went for 3 Months & Stayed for 8 Years

One spring day, I arrived at my mind-numbing cubicle job to the news that I had become redundant. The voice of reason suggested that I live frugally and begin job-searching immediately. That voice was swiftly interrupted by the fun-loving, irresponsible voice in my head which suggested a gap year as a more suitable alternative. Unfortunately, the golden era of carefree, long-term backpacking around Europe wasn’t a possibility anymore due to the 90-day Schengen travel restrictions for non-EU citizens. Thus, my gap “year” was whittled down to a gap “summer.”

Moving to Norway was something I had been superficially considering for years since I have a familial connection, but the inflated cost of living deterred me. Coincidentally, I came across a residential university program called the International Summer School (ISS) held every summer on the University of Oslo (UiO) campus.

The ink on my bachelor’s diploma was hardly dry, and I had zero interest in studying again. However, room and board were included in the program which solved my main logistics issue, and off I went.

Travel Life: I Went for 3 Months & Stayed for 8 Years

At the time, I considered ISS a fun diversion from my real life, yet something had changed in me by summer’s end. September came too soon, and the thought of returning home evoked unexpected feelings. I called it “homesickness,” which to me meant “the idea of going home makes one sick.”

I sat forlorn on that fight back to Los Angeles. Whenever I heard the ping on the PA system, I fantasized that captain would announce that we needed to make an emergency landing in Paris or De Moines or anywhere as long as it wasn’t our destination. I thought my time abroad was supposed to make me appreciate things I once took for granted, but it only made my distaste for the familiar more acute and my resolve to not stay stronger.

Predictably, things didn’t improve with time. I missed Europe. I was too old to obtain a nanny visa, but I was still eligible for a student visa. Once again it was back to UiO, this time for a two-year masters program. Upon graduation, Norwegian immigration politely invited me to leave the country, so I moved on.

Predictably, things didn’t improve with time. I missed Europe.

I did some research and concluded that a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certificate was my ticket to long-term employment abroad. I decided that the Czech Republic was the best place to obtain this training.

After that summer, I’d all but forgotten about Norway. I was smitten with Prague, but my visa predicament prevented me from staying; and after two years without a paycheck, a good salary was of paramount importance. Without much thought, I followed the money to South Korea to teach English. I knew Seoul wasn’t the place for me after a school year, but the experience opened a lot of doors while I gained some enduring friendships.

In fact, I left for my next contract in Hungary one year after arriving in Seoul. I unexpectedly formed an immediate bond with my lovely colleagues, my motivated students, and a few particularly hospitable locals, and I was feeling quite content. Unfortunately, this feeling didn’t last as I realized I was just plain allergic to Hungary. After emergency hospital visits, tables, and injections —none of which worked on my severe allergies— it came time to pack my bags.

Travel Life: I Went for 3 Months & Stayed for 8 Years

Once again without a plan, I Couchsurfed through Europe, living off of the bankroll I had accumulated in Seoul. As my negative associations with the US finally began to subside, I even began to romanticize the idea of life at home. I mused about dinner parties where I’d share interesting antidotes about Asia or tell funny stories about my time in Europe.

It all seemed the perfect ending to this story of mine. I started sending CVs all over the United States, even to the most far flung rural towns I could think of. Ironically, the best offer was in Los Angeles, and it seemed that I was going home, quite literally.

Once home, I found it exceedingly difficult to reconnect with friends, while no one wanted to hear my anecdotes. I needed an exit strategy once and for all. I had become more selective in regards to the jobs I would accept, so this took some time. Eventually, a fantastic two-year contract in East Bohemia, Czech Republic came along.

From there, I accepted a CV-building summer job in New York, and then it was on to Montenegro. There, I got very sick and was unable to finish my contract. After much self-loathing, I decided to recover and regroup in Norway.

Exemplifying the American dream was never in the cards for me, so why did I feel compelled to apologize for my choices?

During the recovery process, I finally worked through several issues which had troubled me over the years. I came to accept that I would likely be absent from holidays, birthdays, weddings and other family events. This was an unfortunate side-effect of my lifestyle but not a deal-breaker.

I also resolved to stop feeling guilty about what I might be giving up, such as home ownership, a career, a long-term relationship, pets, children, a retirement plan, regular dental visits, and so on.

Exemplifying the American dream was never in the cards for me, so why did I feel compelled to apologize for my choices? And I certainly needed to stop referring to last decade of my life as a “gap year!” With the realization that this was my real life and there was no going back, moving forward became much easier.

Today, I find myself at another crossroads. Do I give up my US citizenship and stick with the permanent resident designation when it comes time to renew my permit this year? For now, I think I’m satisfied with being a permanent resident and holding on to my US passport, even if only for nostalgia.

Travel Life: I Went for 3 Months & Stayed for 8 Years


Travel Life: I Went for 3 Months & Stayed for 8 Years

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Travel Life: I Went for 3 Months & Stayed for 8 Years photo credits: Marie F. 

About Marie Fiske Snoksrud

Originally from Southern California, Marie has lived in the Czech Republic, South Korea, Hungary, Montenegro and Norway. She taught English abroad for 8 years, eventually becoming a Head Teacher and TESOL teacher trainer before leaving the profession to pursue other opportunities. Marie doesn’t consider herself a “traveler” per se, rather, just someone who has made the most of each of her many relocation endeavors. These days, she still loves exploring new places near and far, but has settled down in Oslo, Norway, where she is living happily ever after with her husband and Schnauzer.

One thought on “When A Gap Year Becomes Permanent

  1. February 22, 2015

    A good piece! Inspiring.Certainly there are times when one just get fed up with “home” and just wish to roll around the world to fulfill that emptiness! Its good to see other worlds and learn out of that experience.I have also applied for the Oslo International Summer School 2015,and every day I pray for a positive response from Norway! Time will tell!

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