Living Abroad for Creativity – How Moving to China Set Off the Most Creative Period in My Life

This article was created for The Travel Project by Quincy Smith, a digital nomad currently working in China, and currently working on a new project to help aspiring ESL teachers.

I always say that I moved abroad for adventure and I stayed because of the creative benefits.  These benefits have caused me to extend my stay indefinitely, start (and fail) new businesses, and even change my career path.  There’s just something about being challenged every day that appeals to me.

I wasn’t always like this. Despite having traveled a bit in college and even spending a year as an ESL teacher in Korea, I returned home and soon fell into the daily grind of meetings, project reports, and working for someone else.

The thing about travel is, it has the unique ability to leave you wanting more, and I often found myself sitting at my desk and daydreaming about going back abroad.  I’d do tortuous things like read travel blogs and scout flights to distant lands, just to see if I could make it work.

In the end it became too much and I left the states for China, a place where I had traveled before and always wanted to see more of.  My plan was to get back into teaching and see where it took me – I knew I didn’t want to teach long term, but at least it served as getting me back abroad.

This was not an easy move to make – I had an arguably good job at a growing company and my decision was met with a healthy amount of skepticism from family and friends alike.

Luckily, it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life so far.  Fast forward 3 years and I am still living in China but with far more opportunity than I would have had in the states.

I’ve moved from teaching to freelancing (in an industry semi-related to my job back home), started a website, and found more inspiration and motivation than I could hope for.

How did it happen?

I fully credit my decision to move back abroad with getting me to where I am today.  Anyone that has ever traveled knows that experiencing a new place can be inspirational – just think about how many videos, blog posts, and journal entries have been created around travel and vacations.  However, when you actually move to a new place, these feelings never really subside.

Sure, you get more familiar with the city and country, but you never really go on autopilot as if you were back home.  In my opinion, there are 3 pieces to this that really impacted my time in China.

New Challenges

I get challenged every single day and as a result I’m constantly planning ahead or solving issues on the spot.

Things like taking a bus or buying a specific cut of meat are more complicated because I need to look up and practice the translation ahead of time.  Going to the doctor might require me to approach 3 strangers and ask for directions or pantomime that my throat hurts to the nurse.

These types of things seem minor, but it’s these challenges that have really caused me to flex my brain on things that would come easy in the states.  As a result, I constantly find myself planning ahead, anticipating problems, and doing more research for stuff in both my personal and professional lives.

New People

The old adage goes that you are a product of the people with whom you spend the most time.  Guess what?  If your close friends back home are all doing similar things, then it’s going to be very difficult for you to go against the grain.

Just as traveling allows people to meet some amazingly unique individuals, living in a new country affords me the same type of opportunities but on a more regular basis.

China has allowed me to get to know a lot of incredible people, many of whom have inspired me by how they live their lives or run their businesses.

It’s important to note that inspirational people are everywhere and China is not unique in that regard, but living abroad allows you to meet and interact with interesting people much easier than at home.  Expats and perpetual travelers are already a unique bunch and regularly seeing and interacting with people from all over the world has led to some amazing friendships and learning opportunities.

New Experiences

There really is no substitute for new experiences and I’ve never felt more encouraged to try new things than during my time abroad.  I’ve seen people that might have the same daily routine back home try things like painting in a Japanese garden, or learning to cook local dishes just for the experience.

I’ve been fortunate enough to partake in things like traditional tea ceremonies and dinner with 3 generations of a Chinese family – at the worst these types of things teach you something, at the best they influence your world view.

Jump and a Net Will Appear

My point in writing this is not to say that you cannot be creative, successful, or motivated without traveling – only that going back abroad was the epitome of ‘right place right time’ for me.  It was a risk that paid off and I feel fulfilled every day because of it.

Regardless of whether you’re interested in living or traveling abroad, if you feel stuck, uninspired, or unsatisfied then my advice is to go out and try something new.

Eat at a new restaurant, get off at a different metro stop and walk to work, attend a random Meetup – the event itself is not important, it’s the act of doing something new that can help provide some fresh ideas and reset your mindset.

Have you, like Quincy, moved abroad only to discover a new realm of creative possibility? Perhaps you work in a job that allows you to fulfil your travel dreams? We want to hear about it. Head here to become a community contributor for six-two.