First off thank you for taking the time to get involved in this interview for my readers.
We connected recently as we’re both expats living in Malaysia and have written content about life in Penang.
Over coffee at my local co-working space in Penang, I discovered you have been here for over 7-years as a freelancer
writer and blogger.
I am keen to discover more about your story, why you’re based in Penang, and how you got started with your blog.
So, thanks Kirsten let’s jump straight into this with my first question.
What’s your story? It would be great to get some background on where you’re from, your early life, work, etc.
I’m originally from Chicago, but as soon as I graduated college, I took off. I worked on archaeological digs in France and Greece and then found myself living in London for a year.
From there, I had short stints back in Chicago, but mostly to regroup and figure out how to jet off again. After four months in Brazil and 2 years in South Africa, I decided to settle down in Chicago for a while.
A few years later, I started a wholesale apparel showroom, which I ran for a decade until we decided to move to Penang.
That’s me in a very tiny nutshell.
What made you first pack your bags and start exploring the world as a digital nomad?
I’ve always had an adventurous spirit. Maybe it’s the Sagittarian in me. Who knows?
In college, I studied cultural anthropology and immersed myself in faraway cultures. I sat in class dreaming about travel and how I could see some of those cultures with my own eyes.
As soon as I graduated, I was out. I lined up the digs, bought a one-way ticket, and took off on my own to see the world.
It was 1995, long before the term digital nomad came about. I was just traveling, finding odd jobs, and teaching English to pay the bills. I think I got hooked on that kind of lifestyle back then. I knew there had to be more to life than sitting in America following the path you are supposed to go down.
When Mark and I started dating in 2001, we talked about moving abroad. He had never lived abroad, so it became this future dream of ours. Although I don’t consider myself very nomadic, we are happy expats now.
You have traveled to 43 countries and lived in 5 so far. Where have you been and what have been the highlights?
Living in Cape Town for two years was a highlight for me. It was a huge struggle; we were broke and jobless, but something about that place has never left my heart.
As for travel highlights, my top three all have to do with wildlife.
- Spending time snuggling with baby chimps at Jane Goodall’s Ngamba Island, Uganda.
- Swimming with whale sharks in Holbox Island, Mexico.
- Visiting a wildlife refuge in Costa Rica and playing with monkeys and sloths.
You have settled in Penang for over 7 years now, what made you decide to stay here?
I’m not sure that we ever knowingly decided to stay. It just happened.
We love living in Penang for its diversity, culture, people, food, cost of living, the list goes on.
However, I have some moving abroad regrets, and I think we settled here more than we thought we would. But life is easy here. And we got sucked into it.
You’re not retired. So, what do you do for a living?
Mark and I both ran our own businesses, so we are no strangers to hard work. But we moved to Malaysia without a real plan. (PSA: Don’t do what we did.)
We had to reinvent ourselves since moving here, which has been fun, horrifying, and stressful. Luckily for me, I was hired as a travel writer pretty soon after moving here. That started my journey as a freelance writer.
Since then, I’ve written for BBC, Culture Trip, and International Living, to name a few.
I also work as a Pinterest manager for anyone who wants to drive traffic to their website without paying for advertisements.
So, between my freelance writing gigs and Pinterest, I keep busy.
Check out Kirsten’s latest article on the BBC Website
You set up a blog and write weekly posts on expat life, what was the inspiration for Sand in my Curls (great name by the way!)?
That’s a great question. Honestly, I just thought it was something to do – something that would be fun. I had no idea what kind of work it would take or the amount of time needed to keep it going.
But I love doing it, and I’ve learned a lot about the business of blogging.
What’s been your most memorable experience living and working abroad?
For the first year or so of living in Penang, I was in the honeymoon phase of culture shock. And in some ways, I still am. Every day was an adventure.
I love that about expat life.
Because we took a leap of faith and moved across the world, we opened ourselves up for new opportunities. We were regulars on a TV show called Indian Summers (I’m even in the opening sequence).
I became a travel writer for big-name magazines.
None of that would have happened if we were still in Chicago running our businesses.
I’ve learned a lot of lessons from living abroad. Some good, some harsh, some painful. But all are a part of the realities of expat life.
It’s been a challenging year, but I believe living in Malaysia has been a blessing. How do you see your business changing and growing in 2021?
I used 2020 to upskill.
I took a course on graphic design and a couple of Pinterest courses, so I feel like I’m more well-rounded and not singularly focused on freelance writing.
I want to be the woman you hire for help with content, site design, and drive traffic. I want people to know I can help them in multiple tiers of their biz, so I’m indispensable.
My word for this year is uncomfortable.
It is a reminder to push myself out of my comfort zone. To pitch more. To ask for the business. To be bold and network.