From a Desk Job to a Yoga Retreat in Thailand

by Dea Martinjonis October 12, 2018
yoga, thailand, woman

Every new jobbaticler story convinces me of a simple truth – what you wish for will come true. Take the story of Olivia Mercado from Bolivia. She studied graphic design and worked as an art teacher in her home country. Till the day she saw her very first photo of a Thai beach that made her say a quiet promise – “I don’t know how, I don’t know when, but I’ll work there one day!”

Olivia dreamed of paradisiac Thai beaches and her dreams came true. Photo credit: Olivia Mercado. 

Break the Norms

Olivia was born and raised in Bolivia. In her opinion, Bolivia is a country run by one mainstream ideology. The beliefs that fuel Bolivia exclude pillars such as diversity and authenticity. “People still maintain set ways of doing things. There are things and actions considered “right” and “wrong” and the gender stereotypes are strong,” describes Olivia. “Bolivia is still strongly ruled by Catholicism and there’s a strong pull towards being correct and incorrect and I believe these to be very subjective terms. A sense of curiosity and adventure are needed in order to break the norm and have a sense of expansion. Doing things “the right way” will always bear the same results.”

Tripping in Bolivia. Photo credit: Olivia Mercado. 

Dreaming of Thailand

As you might’ve guessed already, Olivia believes in doing things differently. She yearned to explore different cultures as long as she can remember. “But it takes courage to go against the current of a society. Yet, it’s very rewarding to outgrow the mainstream and become an individual. Traveling helps to do that. For me, traveling meant discovering new ways to live, express, and perceive life. The ability to be in other people’s shoes, see things from a fresh and new perspective, ask ourselves higher-order questions. If we’re attentive and have an open mind, answers come and we can begin to choose how to live rather than live as we’re told we should. This is very empowering.”

When Olivia was still working as a school teacher in Bolivia, a colleague of hers came one day to work and started showing photos of her vacation in Thailand. For some reason, Olivia felt an instant connection with that Asian country. “From the moment I saw my very first picture of a Thai beach, I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know when, I don’t know HOW, but I’ll live here – eventually.’”

Koh Samui really seems like paradise on Earth. Photo credit: Ozerov Alexander/Shutterstock. 

Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher

Olivia studied at an American School in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia – her hometown. After finishing her studies in graphic design and obtaining a Master’s Degree in Education, she was hired as the Middle and High School Art Teacher for the same school she had graduated from in Bolivia.

“It was challenging as I was 25 and my oldest students were 18, so they would tease me a lot and never wanted to speak to me in English – which was precisely why their parents paid soooo much money for – so they could learn English!  Also, I had the biggest teaching load and only one spare period for lesson planning. But I loved it still! Art continues to be a passion of mine.”

New Countries, New Profession

To satisfy the traveler in her, she had the opportunity to go and teach abroad in Vietnam and Malaysia. She’d been living in Malaysia for five years when a friend told her about Jobbatical. Olivia started browsing the site and noticed a job opportunity in Thailand – an executive marketing position at Vikasa Yoga Retreat in Koh Samui.

Chilling with one of Kuala Lumpur’s most iconic landmarks as a backdrop. Photo credit: Olivia Mercado. 

“I really felt like changing scenery – and Thailand had been on my mind since forever! So, I decided to take the leap and applied for the job.”

Yoga Retreat on a Paradisiac Island

Actually, she was more than prepared to move to Thailand. When she was teaching part-time in Malaysia, Olivia took a month off to become a yoga teacher and the training had taken place on Koh Samui!

“The owner of the learning center where I worked as a teacher, totally supported me in the decision to expand my knowledge in yoga. She gave me space and time to take a leave of absence and train in Thailand. The other thing – it was expensive as most Yoga teacher courses are these days but it was worth every cent considering where I am today,” Olivia says.

Yoga helped Olivia to overcome some health issues. Photo credit: Olivia Mercado. 

A Hobby That Helped Land a Dream Job

Olivia had started practicing yoga already in her native Bolivia to overcome some health issues. “My back pain subsided, my mind was clearer and I slept better. Yoga was great medicine for me at the time when I was not fully satisfied with my work situation and hadn’t yet discovered my inner power. Through the two years of practice back then, I really learned to listen to my body, calm and soothe my mind, become more open, and always come back to my heart center for answers.”

Being a yoga teacher helped her in applying for the job at the yoga retreat. And thanks to her yoga training she already knew Koh Samui, too. But it also must’ve taken a big amount of courage to apply for a job she hadn’t done before. “Courage is all we have. We must trust. Our intuition. Our hearts. Embarking on a new career in marketing meant learning, questioning, reading and staying on top of the game. It has been a challenge and I continue to grow and learn every day.”

Not exactly bad scenery for working, is it? Photo credit: Olivia Mercado.

Humans Are Like Oranges

Olivia sums up her jobbatical as a great working experience. However, it took her a while to get used to the fact that living and working on an island meant everything moves much slower. “The general laid-backness of it all is very interesting – including business protocol. At least, this is how I perceived it, especially coming from a very high-intensity environment from my previous company in bustling startup city, Kuala Lumpur. It took me a long while to learn how to relax and ‘just chill’”, says Olivia.

She also learned that humans are like oranges. “Only when you squeeze them when life puts pressure on them, can you really know the quality of what’s inside.”

Celebrating with yoga students. Photo credit: Olivia Mercado.

Learning to Love Your Own Company

After the initial honeymoon phase on paradisiac Koh Samui, Olivia was forced to settle into reality. “I started to realize how tiny of a place it is and how difficult it is to maintain friendships, as Samui is a tourist destination and very few people stay for longer than a few months or weeks, at best,” says Olivia. “I did manage to make some very good friends with whom I’m still in touch. However, I also learned to enjoy my own company, to go to the (only) movie theatre alone, to go to the beach alone…and to smile and be content while I am at it.”

woman, travel, Asia

Olivia traveling.

Through Vietnam, Malaysia, And Heartbreak

When Olivia initially started teaching in Vietnam and then Malaysia, she had a partner. After a breakup, she moved to Thailand on her own. “It was not easy to start a new life this way – without any fallback plans, with only me and my skills to trust. It was extremely scary and very rewarding.”

I think many people can relate here – moving to a new country after a breakup seems like the best way to restart your life. No chance of bumping into your ex and no possibility of trying to get back together only to break up again. It can also be the perfect excuse to finally go and visit that country on your bucket list you never might have done while still in a relationship. And more often than not people find out that singledom is just what the “doctor ordered” – helping them find a new home, try out a new career, and, ultimately, fall in love again.

Thailand Accepts And Smiles Back

Olivia’s favorite thing about Thailand is how open and embracing the country is with people from all walks of life. “Thailand does not discriminate. It accepts, and smiles back.”

When Olivia worked on Koh Samui, she never took it for granted. “Waking up to a perfect day in paradise always filled me with a sense of gratitude and abundance.” Plus palm trees made her feel very happy and at home.

Thailand, hammock, beautiful woman

Paradisiac working conditions. Photo credit: Olivia Mercado.

The Sunsets in Koh Samui

Not all was crystal blue water and coconuts though. There was some miscommunication at work. A lack of proper feedback in moments where I felt I needed to touch base with higher management. And as mentioned before, the lack of close friends to support me on rainy, gloomy days,” tells Olivia.

Olivia is grateful for all the experiences and teachings that helped her evolve to this new stage. Professionally, she gained an understanding that she’s a “hell of a good employee”. “I am fond of open communication, clear, explicit expectations, going above and beyond the basics and I’m a team player. If ever I doubted this in the past, through my work experience in Samui, I learned that whenever my skills and potential is not being fully maximized, I get bored and demotivated. So, I will always strive to be a part of a growing company, no matter how big or small. I need passion, creativity and a team of kickass individuals!”

Olivia will always keep the memory of the sunsets over the ocean on Koh Samui. “It was pure perfection – albeit different and unique every time, still perfect. Every single time.”

Yoga can be done everywhere. Photo credit: Olivia Mercado.

The biggest life change Olivia is grateful for is that Jobbatical assisted her in the transition from a desk job to a more nomadic lifestyle. “It gave me the freedom to work from wherever and manage my own schedule. I was paid to live and work from a place where people save years to go on a holiday or on their honeymoon. This was my backyard on any given weekday. I have been beautifully blessed. And Jobbatical got me there.”

Jobbaticler Becomes an Entrepreneur

In fact, Jobbatical got Olivia where she is today. An independent digital nomad. At the beginning of this year, she left Vikasa Yoga retreat and started her own company.I had gathered enough knowledge and hands-on experience to launch my own baby product: I know there’s a ton of yoga out there nowadays in the form of videos, tutorials, etc…However, there’s a big piece missing  – the guided journey and an actual teacher behind it all to ensure that beginners grow their practice step by step, in a systematic way. I believe it’s unethical to just have videos here and there and not take on the full responsibility of “being there” for your students as they embark on such a life-changing journey as is yoga.”

yoga, Thailand, beach, woman

Olivia has now started her own company that offers guided yoga courses. Photo credit: Olivia Mercado.

This is the gap Olivia is trying now to fill with her guided course where she is personally available online for questions and assistance.

Bali, acro yoga, love

And through travels, learnings, job and career changes along with her journey, Olivia also found her yogi love, with whom she flies high practicing Acro Yoga and exploring exotic destinations like this one in Bali.

Considering a career adventure abroad? Olivia has some life hacks to share. “Travel light. Enjoy the highs and lows, as it’s all part of the “show”. Connections are probably the best thing you’ll take from this experience, therefore direct your energy to smile, doing your best and learning as much as you can.”

How about landing a job in Asia, too? Check out all the available jobs we have in this beautiful region right now.

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