April 9, 2019

Culture

I Sold My Stuff and Moved to Europe

By: Chip Bishop

I spent nearly a decade in the DC policy world, first at a well-known think tank and then in policy and analysis roles in the federal government. I recently left it all behind and moved to Europe.

I left the comfortable perks afforded by stable work and a familiar city (one that I grew fond of, by the way), not because I got bored of the policy discussions or thought the work was unimportant, but because a blend of responsibility and a desire to expand my horizons took me elsewhere. It was a great decision.

My wife and I met through the DC policy scene (at Cato University), and she worked in the liberty-advancing space long after I jumped ship to work for the government. She rose from intern to coordinator to manager to associate director to director, accruing experience and developing a taste for building an organization. So it wasn’t a stretch when, after a bunch of discussion, soul searching, and investigation, she decided to pursue an MBA.

We chose to look at universities abroad because there were more options with one-year programs and higher average age and experience levels, and they were in exciting major cities. We ultimately selected IE Business School, in Madrid, Spain. The school is generally among the best ranked international MBA programs, boasts a diverse class in terms of both nationality (over 50 countries are represented) and professional background (ranging from finance to wedding planning to family businesses), and living in Spain would afford me the opportunity to polish my latent Spanish ability.

I took three years of Spanish in college, capping it off with a study abroad in Mexico. Even though that was over a dozen years ago, I managed to maintain conversational ability, but I never felt truly confident using the language, much less being fluent. So when we arrived in Spain I enrolled in intensive language classes, 4 hours a day, 5 days a week. Within a few months I significantly improved my ability, which was empowering since it produced greater confidence and also new opportunities. And just recently I landed a job at a Spanish company (more on that culture shock in a future piece).

On the weekends, often extended due to numerous Spanish holidays, we have been exploring Europe. We’ve wandered ancient ruins in Rome, eaten fresh chocolate in Switzerland, and snowboarded the Pyrenees Mountains in Andorra. This adventuring has opened my eyes to new cultures, ideas, opportunities, and ways societies operate.

Through it all, I haven’t been able to escape viewing things from the policy lens I spent years refining. And that’s been a good thing. All the time I spent debating, discussing, defending, persuading, and promoting has sharpened my ability to engage in productive conversations, and also equipped me to find opportunities and market myself outside my comfort zone.

It is easy to daydream about all possible career and life options you could pursue, it’s a different thing altogether to press the reset button and start fresh. I never pictured myself living in Europe or leading a business development team in a foreign language, but both pursuing new opportunities and executing the opportunity in front of me are practices I learned to embrace while working in the fast-moving policy world. I’m very personally relearning the lesson that while you can’t always pick your opportunities, you can choose your response.

There’s a wide and wild world to explore. Taking a leap into the unknown may not be comfortable, especially to go without an income or a place that you can confidently call home, but it’s a rich experience. And discomfort truly tends to spur growth. I’m not sure where this path leads, but we’ll find out soon enough.

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