Guest post: My name is Troy Erstling, founder of BrainGain. Throughout my life I’ve visited over 20 countries and I’ve lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Seoul South Korea, and now Bangalore, India. These last five years of traveling have changed my life in countless ways, and I can confidently say that seeking out international opportunities has enabled me to carve out a unique path in life. I believe that traveling is the greatest form of education, and it is my passion to help others do the same.
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to live and work abroad. The idea of traveling the world and getting paid to do it has always appealed to me and making a career out of it seemed even more appealing. After graduating from high school in Manalapan, NJ I moved across the country to The University of Arizona in Tucson to obtain a degree in International Studies.
My junior year of college I had the opportunity to study abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was my first time out of the country and it was a reckless adventure filled with steak, yerba mate tea, wine, paragliding, a pathetic attempt to learn Spanish, and some of the greatest nightlife on earth. I made lifelong friends that I travel with to this day. It was the greatest study abroad experience I could've ever asked for.
During my time there a friend told me about Teaching English as a Foreign Language. Turns out, if you are looking to get international experience and work abroad, this is usually the best way to get your foot in the door. I was sold.
After graduating from University I made it my sole mission to get a teaching job abroad. I stayed in Tucson for an extra 2 months to get my TEFL certification and I began researching the best destinations to teach English.
I eventually came across South Korea; paid round trip airfare, housing, medical insurance, attractive salary, and $2000 severance pay. Compared to the other options it was a no-brainer. I searched for jobs on websites like Dave’s ESL café, and within a few short months and a long visa process, I had my job and a one-way ticket to Seoul.
I spent the next year in Seoul, South Korea teaching English to 7-year-old kindergarten students. It was amazing. I got paid to act like a child all day and teach my kids about Michael Jackson and The Beatles. I was able to save around $10,000USD (roughly about $1000/month in savings), and had three amazing trips to Thailand, Taiwan, and the Philippines for my vacations. It was an unforgettable experience, but I knew I didn't want to be a teacher for the rest of my life...
Around the time my contract in Korea was winding up, I reached out to a friend of mine whom I met while studying in Argentina. He had also been teaching English, but in Spain instead. Turns out, he was no longer in Spain and had been living in India for the past ten months on a fellowship in Social Enterprise.
I looked up the fellowship and it seemed like a great way to transition my career while continuing my pursuit of creating a career abroad. It was a win-win. There were 20 days left to apply, so I submit my application and hoped for the best.
At that point my options were to take the fellowship, and if I didn’t get in go backpack the world. Win-win, but one seemed better for the overall career.
I was accepted to the fellowship and placed in Bangalore, India. My friend from Argentina also successfully applied for the position of Field Coordinator and was placed in Bangalore as well!
For the next year I lived in Bangalore, India studying entrepreneurial ecosystems in Southeast Asia with The National Entrpreneurship Network and worked for one of India's most promising startups, Zoomcar.
Throughout that time I had a lot of people reaching out to me about working abroad. I had friends from the US reaching out to me saying, “I’m 3-4 years out of school, I still do 200 cold calls a day, my job doesn’t give me responsibility, I would love to work abroad…what are my options?” Then I also had friends from South Korea who would say to me “I want to continue working abroad but I don’t want to teach English anymore…what are my options?”
One day it dawned on me that if you want to work abroad after graduation, your options are limited to teaching English and volunteer work. Trustworthy career relevant opportunities are few and far between. But here I was, living and working abroad with one of India’s most promising startups. I felt that other people would want something similar.
With that in mind I quit my job and made helping people find jobs abroad my full time job. I approached startups and social enterprises in Bangalore asking, “Would you be interested in hiring talent from abroad?”, “What positions are you currently having a hard time hiring for that you feel someone from abroad might be able to fill?”, “What are you willing to pay these candidates?”, etc.
Six months later I started my first company, BrainGain. I have lined up 15 companies in Bangalore, India that are looking to hire everything from sales and marketing, to design, to tech. Early stage startups that are Seed or Series A funded and are willing to provide fresh graduates with more responsibility than they are able to handle.
It is my first serious entrepreneurial plunge and I couldn’t be more excited to do it. There is nothing in life that I am more passionate about, and nothing that excites me more than to help others find ways of exploring an international career. When I get on a phone call with someone and tell him or her about the ways that they can live and work abroad I feel like I drank a double espresso. It’s invigorating!
As I write this I am on a train to Boston to speak at Harvard University. To think that 5 years after my travels have began I would be back in the states speaking at universities inspiring students to travel and work abroad absolutely blows my mind. I couldn’t be happier with where my life has come throughout that time.
This is a field I foresee myself spending the rest of my career. It is something that I will dedicate myself to for years to come, and I couldn’t be more excited to watch my life unfold in this sector. It is my niche.
Guest post by Troy Erstling @troyerstling