Lesson #1: If you’re curious about something, check it out.

That defining moment in my life happened in early 1995. I quit my job, got a passport and left town. 23 years old and I’d never been outside my country.

Not only did I know little to nothing about where I was going, I had zero knowledge about the thing I would be doing there (teaching English in S. Korea).

What I did have was a sense of curiosity and a strong desire for something “different”.

After 3 years in the financial services industry, I was sick of working with faceless money.

And so I jumped.


Lesson #2: Helping people gives work meaning.

Despite feeling confused on a regular basis, I loved being surrounded by the differences – food, language, culture. 

I also loved working face to face with people – helping students prep for college entrance exams, salaried employees develop business English skills. No stocks or bonds in sight.

More than anything, I couldn’t believe I was being paid to talk to people. Building relationships and helping others achieve their goals came naturally.

Working on the other side of the world had other perks. In addition to trips up and down the divided peninsula, I visited neighboring Japan. Three times.

Backpacking through Europe the following summer, I made the decision to return to the birthplace of Zen and the Geisha, Godzilla and Hello Kitty.

This time I intended to learn the language and experience everything this rich culture had to offer.


Lesson #3: When things don’t go according to plan, be ready to adapt.

After my first year teaching for AEON on the island of Shikoku and one week before my first visit home, something happened that would change my life forever.

Celebrating my 27th birthday on a warm summer evening, too many tequila shots led to an ill-advised walk in the nearby foothills and a badly broken right leg.

I ended up missing my trip home and my brother’s wedding, as a result!

On the bright side, 6 ½ weeks in a rural Japanese hospital took my language skills to the next level. Furthermore, the unexpected setback taught me the meaning of resilience – never had I been hit so hard or getting up off the mat been harder.

Most importantly, I learned that life doesn’t always work out like you want or plan it to.

Before the accident, I’d been approached by HQ to take the high-profile position of Head Trainer for AEON – one of the biggest language schools in Japan (a big organization in a big industry).

Although I turned down the job, I was instrumental in opening two new branch schools during my two year stint.

Acting as ‘Shikoku Area Leader’, I also gained valuable experience leading monthly meetings and supporting the teaching staff.

Dusting the cobwebs off my backpack I set off for S. E. Asia and Australia where I had a few months to think about my next move.


Lesson #4: You might be done with something but it might not be done with you.

Relocating to San Francisco in late 1999, I was ready to settle down…or so I thought.

Within a few months, I found a job with a prestigious travel company leading international tours in places I wanted to visit.

“A chance to combine my passion with my profession!”

After tours in Alaska, the UK, Western Europe and China, I hit a wall – the dream job of work and travel had become replacing lost passports and babysitting helpless tourists.

However, leading tours around the Alps that summer I had made a decision. Not knowing how or when, I decided I’d be coming back to live (snowboarding in winter, hiking in the summer heavy on my mind).

After giving up the job and with it the travel connection, the universe intervened – this time in my favor.

I met a young woman at the language school in SF where I had taken the job of Lead Business Instructor. She happened to be from Munich, Germany – a place I knew well and which sat at the foot of the Alps. Incidentally, we now share a last name.

Without a moment’s hesitation, I put my life back in two suitcases and left – nothing had to convince me of potential opportunities this time.

However, I lacked the job and sponsor that had enabled me in years past. It didn’t matter – curiosity and desire for adventure were back in full force.

Lesson Learned 5: Experience is the best teacher.

With a background in business and teaching, I easily found work teaching English to business professionals. Fortunately, the early 21st century was a time of rapid growth and English was quickly emerging as the lingua franca.

In the ensuing years, one opportunity led to the next – Business English to Intercultural Competence, Management Skills to Leadership Development, and so it went.

The beauty was that I was doing exactly what I’d been doing in Far East Asia – building relationships and helping others achieve their goals. The context had changed, the focus hadn’t.

25+ years after taking a year off to try something “different”, I found myself with diverse work experience in multiple industries across four continents.

No study abroad program or international MBA could have provided that.

For the oral version of my story, check out this interview from a few years ago: