From Dubai to Estonia: How to Build Your Dream Career With No Plan

by Maria June 26, 2019
man and woman pointing at a map

She’s ambitious, she’s determined, and she has no plan. 

That’s right, Bhavna Madhav isn’t one to plan very far ahead. Or rather, none of her plans ever go according to plan, as she puts it. ‘I want whatever life throws at me,’ she says. ‘I’m going to take it with open arms.’

Perhaps that’s how, at 24, Bhavna has already managed to live on three continents. A self-described ‘Indian who’s never lived in India’, Bhavna grew up in Dubai, studied in Singapore, interned in the United States, briefly stopped in India, and is currently based in Estonia. 

That’s quite the trail she’s left on the world map in a fairly short time. And yet there’s a method to this moving madness. Because when Bhavna says she has no plan, she doesn’t mean that she has no goals or ambition. She’s got plenty of goals and mountains of ambition. ‘I have an idea as to where I want to go in my life in the next five to ten years, but I don’t overthink it,’ she says. ‘I go with my gut.’

So she might not know what exactly is coming up next for her, or when. But she does know that she wants to roam around like an unusually mobile sponge, soaking up all the knowledge and experience she possibly can. ‘I want to travel a lot,’ Bhavna says. ‘When I say travel, I don’t mean I want to be a tourist. I want to experience the place and its culture and cuisine and meet local people. Be as local as I possibly can be. For that, I need time, I need opportunities that come my way.’

Opportunities, you say? There’s no shortage of those on Jobbatical, which is exactly where Bhavna found her latest life-changer of a career move.

Two women sitting on a swing in a typical startup office
Bhavna (left) having coffee on a swing with Maria, Jobbatical’s content strategist

It was another adventurous friend who told Bhavna about Jobbatical, the cross-border job platform. Skeptical at first, Bhavna wasn’t sure if this site could make it happen for her. She’d been burned before by platforms that promise jobs abroad. (‘There was one, International something, it doesn’t even stick in my head,’ Bhavna half-recalls a service so disappointing she’s forgotten its name.) 

The importance of good communication

Going with her gut, Bhavna applied on Jobbatical on the nothing-to-lose principle. And promptly landed a job as a marketing executive at Synctuition. Quite poetically, the Estonia-based company provides a meditation app with 3D sounds that promise to take your mind on an incredible adventure. A fitting step on the career journey of someone whose entire life is an incredible adventure!

‘Honestly speaking, I didn’t have a game plan,’ she says, unsurprisingly, when asked why this particular role caught her eye. ‘At the time I was applying, I was more into brand strategizing, on the agency side. Now I’m towards the client side of digital marketing. I knew this was what I wanted to do, but I never had a roadmap. I’ve always been a spontaneous person. I don’t say no to an opportunity when I see one and I think that helps me adapt easier and faster.’

But the real kicker when it comes to Bhavna’s ultimately life-changing job application? ‘I didn’t have experience on my resume,’ she reveals. ‘You could consider me a fresh graduate. I had less than two years of work experience. I didn’t think I had a shot. But I was like, why not, let’s try this out.’

The role at Synctuition ended up being a great fit for her skill set in digital marketing. But just as importantly, Bhavna knew just how to sell herself—with honesty and openness about her abilities. ‘I knew what they were expecting of me and I knew that I could deliver,’ she says. ‘I wasn’t over-promising.’ 

According to Bhavna, open communication like this is key to starting a professional relationship off on the right foot. Especially from a distance. ‘We built a good rapport in our first two conversations,’ she recalls. ‘If you don’t have that comfort and those synchronized energies, it won’t click. And I think that fell into place more than anything else. Yes, I can deal with pressure. Yes, I don’t have the experience that other people would bring to the table, but I’m also a quick learner. And I think they saw that in me. I’m hungry to learn everything and anything you throw at me.’

Checking another continent off the list

Out of Bhavna’s many homes, we settled on Dubai as her ‘place of origin’ because we had to choose one. Let’s pretend for a moment that it’s that simple.

And so in January 2019, Bhavna landed in Tallinn, Estonia, where the weather—to make a giant understatement—is quite different from that in India. ‘Cold!’ she sums up her first impressions. ‘It was cold in a good way. I haven’t experienced and lived in a place where it snows so much and gets so cold. So I was like a five-year-old child—give it to me, I want it! It was good and I’m actually waiting to see my first snowfall.’

Always one to wholeheartedly embrace the new, Bhavna immediately started making the most of life in her latest home base, enjoying the thrill of the unfamiliar. ‘In my first couple of months I had the habit of switching off my GPS and just walking, even though it was really, really cold,’ she says. ‘As long as I was warmly dressed, I used to like losing my way intentionally, because it helped me figure out the streets.’ 

In the process of adjusting, she found out why people in northerly latitudes talk about the weather a lot: It changes. All. The. Time. ‘I’m always speculating and checking my weather app,’ she says. ‘I’ve never checked the weather so much! I’ve learned how the weather app works and the humidity and all the intricacies. It’s pretty cool!’

Bhavna’s first reaction to the locals was similar to her thoughts about the weather. ‘Yes, they seemed cold. I was kind of intimidated, I didn’t know how to approach an Estonian.’ 

Her theory? It must be the weather. ‘They experience eight months of winter!* It’s natural for any human being to be like, leave me alone! They’re very warm people when you break through the ice. There is a gentleness about them.’

*Editor’s note: While Estonian winters do often stretch beyond the ‘official’ three months, eight is an overstatement!

A new home, a whole new person

Although she’s settling in and loving it, ‘home’ might not be the best word for what Tallinn is to Bhavna. As a third culture kid, her definition of home is something she’s had to figure out for herself over the years. ‘Dubai was my home for the longest period of time,’ Bhavna says. ‘It contributed a lot to me being me. India has also contributed to certain aspects of my life. Right now, home for me is where my mom and dad are. The feeling I get when I’m with them is home.’

Having made peace with being far from her parents (she FaceTimes them regularly and they’re visiting this summer), Bhavna’s thrown herself fully into becoming a local in Tallinn. ‘It’s been good, it’s been refreshing,’ she enthuses. ‘In terms of living, adapting, culture, the people and the lifestyle, it’s refreshing and I don’t regret it at all.’

Collage of landscapes, the sea, a city, and a young woman sitting
Snapshots of life around the world. Can you tell Bhavna likes to chase beaches and sunsets? Photos courtesy of Bhavna Madhav

Figuring things out in a new place has been a worthy challenge for this fiercely independent only child. ‘The good, bad and ugly, all of it was on me,’ she says. ‘My colleagues, of course, were definitely a help. But 95% of it I did by myself. I researched, I googled. If there was a doubt, I would ask.’ 

Even the smallest challenges (‘It took me 25 minutes to find cheese at the supermarket’) have been effective character builders. Since she moved to Estonia, Bhavna has already noticed a handful of changes to her habits and personality.

Take basic life admin tasks as an example. For the first month and a half, Bhavna suffered greatly at the hands of her own cooking. ‘I’m the worst cook that you could ever meet,’ she says. ‘Do not come to my dinner parties—you’ll probably starve and die. I used to get spoiled at home. Here I do every single thing. That’s something I have developed and worked on.’

Other welcome changes have gradually crept in, too. ‘I used to be a lot more impulsive back home,’ Bhavna observes. ‘Now, I think twice before saying something. I’m open to opportunities, but I also take time to process.’ There’s also been a shift in her patience levels. ‘I’m not into instant gratification,’ she says. ‘I used to be, but now I’m calmer.’

And as much as she shies away from making too many plans, Bhavna is in no hurry to leave Estonia just yet. ‘I’m going to stay here for some time,’ she says. ‘I will stick around. I like it.’

5 tips from Bhavna for building your career abroad

At this exciting stage of her career where she’s learning and absorbing a lot every day, Bhavna is deeply appreciative of the opportunity she found on Jobbatical. ‘I’m so happy it exists,’ she says about the platform. ‘I’m so happy it works and so grateful that it’s an honest platform that actually helps you.’

For anyone else considering a career move abroad, Bhavna has these words of advice:

1. If you want to go abroad, you need to be 100% sure that you’re doing it for yourself, not for someone else. Be clear in your head about your choices.

2. Be as open as you possibly can be to experiencing something that you might have not experienced back at home. The minute you start overthinking, when the doubt pops in, that’s when things start getting muddled up and you might find it hard to find your way out.

3. Try to have fun. It’s an experience! What’s the worst that can happen?

4. Just don’t give up. If you want something, it will work out. Do your bit. And know your bit, don’t bullshit your way through. (I’m sorry for cussing!)

5. Don’t let the fear get in the way. You’re holding yourself from experiencing something new. If you are true, honest, and good at what you do, even if things don’t work out abroad, you can go back home. If you’re in a space, time and age where you can go for it—go for it.

Follow Bhavna’s fearless lead: Sign up on Jobbatical to get matched to your dream tech job abroad.

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