You could say that you are on a “career adventure” instead of a career path. Welcome to “Choose Your Own Adventure”! Our “career adventure” interview series charts the joys & challenges, and many different directions our career adventures can take us. Anything from career changes, working remotely, freelancing, contracting, self-employment, starting your own business, working on your own projects alongside your day job, having a side hustle or a portfolio career – all depending on what choices we make, what steps we choose to take, what opportunities or challenges that come our way in the most unlikely of places that help you to choose your own adventure.
We interviewed Kate Shell, born and raised in Arkansas, USA, who once upon a time decided to venture into the unknown and bought a one-way ticket to move to Spain! She now juggles being a an English Teacher in Madrid with remote work as an I.T. Engineer while launching her own creative side hustles in writing (check out her travel stories in Venture Yonder!) and photography. Of course, she also fits this all around her biggest passion in life: TRAVEL.
Thanks so much, Kate, for sharing your stories here of adventure, connection, and taking a giant, joyful leap of faith!
1. Tell us about yourself
Hello! My name is Kate Shell. I’m 31 years old, and I’m from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA. I’m currently living in Aranjuez, Spain (near Madrid) working as an English teacher. After spending several years in education and subsequently moving into the field of informational technology, I was in desperate need of a change.
When I got the opportunity to live and work in Spain, I grabbed it. It was the best decision I could have made!
In my free time, I enjoy doing yoga, kickboxing, traveling around Europe, taking photos, and writing for my blog: www.venture-yonder.com. I’m also far more fond of Italian food than is healthy for me, but I’m not sure if eating Italian food can be classified as a hobby or not…
2. What are you working on now?
My top priority is my work as an English assistant at a small school in Aranjuez, Spain. This allows me to live in Europe legally, so it’s pretty important since getting deported is not on my bucket list. I have amazing students and co-workers, so they make it easy for me to love my work. In the afternoons, I also work a few hours a day as a contract IT engineer for a company back in the USA. I worked for them before moving to Spain, and I was extremely lucky to continue my relationship with them while living abroad. I also have a side hustle: building my content in photography and travel blogging. It’s still in the beginner stages, but it’s become a passion that I hope to someday turn into a career.
3. Could you tell us about how your career adventure(s) started, about what experiences, challenges or opportunities you came across over the years that led you to choose your own adventure? Where has your career adventure taken you in the past leading you to where you are now?
When I was around 20 years old, I started feeling a sense of wanderlust pulling at my heart. I took a couple of trips to Europe and Asia and, at the time, I felt like it was something I could just “get out of my system.” However, after a very bumpy road that included pit stops in depression and divorce, I was left feeling stuck and restless. I enjoyed my job in IT, but I was afraid that I’d blink and suddenly be 85 years old wondering where my life had gone.
A friend who knew what I was going through sent me some information for a company called CIEE. They provide support and placement for individuals who want to study or teach abroad. They had opportunities in countries all over the world, but the one in Madrid, Spain caught my eye. A trip to Spain earlier that year gave me a deep desire to return to this beautiful country. In August 2018, I arrived in Madrid completely terrified, and also believing I had a decent foundation in the Spanish language (this later proved to be laughably inaccurate). Initially, the immersion was tough, but I was determined to stick it out. I slowly developed friendships in Aranjuez and Madrid, and at some point, I realized that my life in Spain had suddenly taken on a brand new sense of home.
My life and work abroad have given me so many incredible experiences: solo-hiking part of the Dingle Way in Western Ireland, running a Spartan race alongside the Hungarian armed forces, exploring ancient ruins from the time of Alexander the Great, dancing with friends in the streets of Barcelona, snorkeling in crystal-blue waters in the Canary Islands, and buzzing on limoncello in a local shop in Sorrento, Italy- just to name a few! Experience after experience has confirmed what I always knew: I was always meant to travel.
4. What past projects or anything that you have worked on spark joy for you when you look back at what you have worked on?
One of my favorite projects that has developed since I came to Spain has been recreational photography. My friend, Cristina, and I take groups up to a stable in the tiny town of Buitrago de Lozoya in Northern Madrid. We ride horses, eat paella, and enjoy endless sangria. Cristina and I take photos throughout the event so that the participants can post some great Instagram photos. I have also begun taking photos for Spain’s lacrosse teams. The goal is to grow the game since it is still in its early stages of recognition and popularity here in Europe.
5. How do you choose what to work on?
I am generally drawn to projects where I can genuinely connect with people in some way: assisting with technical problems or explaining things in a simple format. However, I also appreciate work where I am behind the scenes, accomplishing tasks on my own schedule. So, throughout my career and volunteer work, I have learned that I need to maintain an equal balance of both to prevent burnout.
My work in IT can often be more solitary and independent, so the time spent outside of my work tends to be more social, such as volunteering at a food bank, or mentoring children or teenagers. My teaching work is more social, so my free time is more often spent in an isolated environment, such as writing cards to loved ones.
It’s taken me a long time to figure out how important it is to be aware of your needs as an extrovert or introvert – not only in one’s social environment, but in a work environment as well.
6. What advice, practical or otherwise, would you give to someone looking to start a career adventure similar to your own?
Be relentless. Don’t let disappointment or fear stop you. Don’t wait for something to fall into your lap. Every story is different, but if you really want something, you’ll find a way to make it happen. Also, remember the value that people add to your life. I wouldn’t have accomplished any of my adventures in travel without the amazing friendships I’ve made in my career and personal life. Never underestimate the impact that genuine connections with other people can have on your journey.
7. Could you describe your day-to-day at “the office(s)”?
My days vary, but I usually travel on Fridays through Mondays, so I’m constantly gaining new experiences to add to my blog. On Tuesdays through Thursdays, I go nonstop. I work at the school from 9:00-14:00, get online for IT work from 15:00-18:00, and then teach private English lessons from 18:00-20:00. I don’t do private English lessons on Wednesdays, so I try to devote a little more time to writing and getting organized on those days. I also try to prioritize some sort of exercise or physical activity every day. Exercise keeps the blues away.
Every week, I schedule out my week in my planner. If I don’t make a general schedule, I tend to get lost in all of the things I need to accomplish. My teaching job is my top priority, but I’ve been lucky enough to more or less set my own hours in IT. In my free time after all of that, I try to devote about 30 minutes each evening to writing or improving my blog in some capacity. Writing is a rabbit hole for me. Once I get started, hours go by unnoticed. It’s a beautiful place to get lost, so I try to make as much time for it as possible.
8. Where do you feel you work best and thrive the most?
I tend to work best in a dedicated “work space.” If I’m sitting on my bed, I get distracted and end up watching YouTube videos of cats. I have a big desk in my room where I put Hans Zimmer on my Spotify and zone in. I’m also trying to get better about being productive while traveling. A two-hour flight is a great opportunity to do some writing or lesson planning. However, the best motivator for me is setting daily goals. I try to write down one thing to accomplish every day. It could be as simple as editing 5 photos or putting the finishing touches on my latest blog post, but progress is progress.
9. What inspires and drives you every day?
The concept of bravery drives me the most. I’m always inspired by stories of real-life heroes who put their fears aside to accomplish something that saved or changed lives. This summer, I got a tattoo on my inner forearm of the word valiente, which means brave in Spanish. When I have doubts, glancing at it reminds me of how far I’ve journeyed from the girl who first arrived in Spain in 2018. It gives me the fuel to strike up a conversation, book a trip, or dance like a maniac with friends in the middle of a dance floor in Poland.
10. What advice would you give to your younger self, knowing what you know now?
Give yourself grace. Allow for mistakes, because it’s only truly a mistake if you don’t learn or grow from it. Also, just because everyone else is following a certain life path doesn’t mean that it has to be your path too. You will never be happy if you follow another person’s dream, so be true to yourself and don’t settle for anything less.
Feel free to contact us at Project Anywhere if you have any questions about any of our career adventure stories. Come back soon to read more career adventures! Contact us here if you’d like to be featured here to share your own career adventures story or if you would like to write a guest blog for Project Anywhere.