“Look down, he’s right under you”, I heard the captain’s voice in the distance, as I adjusted my snorkel and stuck my head in the water. For a second the world froze. Right there, less than 3 meters away from me was the largest fish in the sea, a beautiful 10m long whaleshark. Our eyes met, shooting waves of excitement through my entire body. Mesmerised and still in complete shock, I swam alongside the whale shark…

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Back on the boat, I wrapped myself in a sarong and dangled my feet off the side of the boat,  looking out onto the crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean. I couldn’t wrap my head around this incredible experience. I had spent the last week on the Coral Coast of Western Australia, living out of a campervan, spending days soaking up the sun rays on white sandy beaches, snorkeling and diving in one of the largest fringing reef in the world. Every day would end with a beautiful sunset and every morning would begin with another adventure ahead.

This was the life. The life I had always dreamed of.

Sunset at Turquoise Bay. Exmouth. Western Australia

Beautiful sunset at Turquoise Bay in Exmouth, Western Australia

Just 4 years ago, I was a typical twenty-five-something girl stuck in a rat race in Toronto, Canada. My life looked perfect, but deep down, I wasn’t happy. Something was missing.

I had a caught the travel bug back in 2008 on my very first trip to Europe and my wanderlust had never gone away.  I had tried to find joy in work and everyday life, but the truth is, no matter what I did, I no longer felt alive.

I knew things had to change, so I grabbed onto the only dream I had and decided to move to London. Within weeks of making the decision, I had researched all possible avenues: from relocation with my current employer, to various work/travel visa options. Nothing seemed to be a good option.

“Would you ever consider further education? Maybe you could get a Masters?”,  a friend asked me one night.
“Yeah, but I could never afford to do it abroad”, I replied without giving it a second thought.

But the conversation sparked an idea. Could this actually be an option?

London Eye, London. England

For years, it was my dream to move to London!

I spent that night frantically researching my options for studying abroad. To add value to my resume and step up my career I knew that an MBA (Masters of Business Administration) was my only option. Within a few days, I had carefully studied the Financial Times list of Top MBA Schools in Europe, along with similar lists from the Economist, Find MBA, and Forbes. I researched each school and each program, narrowing down my list to 5 Universities in the UK. I had met with a financial advisor and within a few weeks received pre-approval for a Post Graduate Education Loan.

My research and detailed calculations proved that not only was studying abroad financially feasible, but it was actually only marginally more expensive than getting an MBA at home in Toronto. (Turns out, those MBA programs are bloody expensive no matter where you go!)

Within the next 3 months, I moved back with my parents to save on rent, I studied my butt off, passed my GMAT exams, and applied to all 5 universities on my list. I cried from disbelief and happiness when I got the phone call notifying me of my acceptance to my school of choice. Hult International Business School wasn’t the highest ranked business school on the list, nor was it the cheapest, but it would allow me to do something that no other MBA school in London could match – it would allow me to travel the world. The MBA program at Hult was quite unique, it offered students an opportunity to experience International Business first hand by studying not only in London, but also in Dubai, Shanghai, Boston, and San Francisco. It was exactly what I wanted and what I needed!

2 months after that phone call, I had quit my job, said goodbye to my friends and family, packed up my life into 2 suitcases (and 2 oversized carry-ons) and left for London. The plan was to spend 9 months studying at Hult in London and then rotate to Hult Shanghai and Dubai campuses as per the program’s schedule. My parents hoped that I would get the travel bug out of my system and be back within 12 months…

Flight over Swiss Alps. Europe.

Leaving on a jet plane…

It’s been 4 years and I haven’t returned yet.

I never expected it to, but MBA School changed my life. It may or may not have taught me much more about business. It may or may not have added any true value to my resume. And it may or may not have helped me find jobs in China and then again in Australia. But what it did do is open my eyes up to the world.

My MBA class consisted of 100 students that came from 50 different countries around the world. (And here I thought I was used to diversity having grown up in multicultural Toronto). Everyone in my class had a different story and came from a different background. Some were well off, others, like me, were scraping the bottoms of their education loans to get by. But it didn’t matter where we came from and where we all would end up. What mattered were the 12 months we spent together and the passion for the world that we all wholeheartedly shared.

We spent our weeks working on assignments and our weekends and holiday breaks adventuring around Europe. There was that time a small group of us took the train up to Edinburgh, or the time 20 of us went away for a weekend in Prague. We spent Christmas in Denmark, New Years in Berlin, spring break hopping around Eastern Europe and road tripping along the Amalfi Coast in Italy and even had a chance to escape to India!

Oksana and friends inside the Whisky Distillery in Edinburgh, Scotland

A few of the MBA classmates inside the Whisky Distillery in Edinburgh, Scotland

Oksana at Tivoli Gardens. Copenhagen, Denmark

Christmas at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark

Oksana and friends at Taj Mahal in India

Taj Mahal, India, 2013

There was never a dull moment, and most of the education happened outside the classroom. In the span of 9 months we’d gone from rookies to travel experts. When time came to pack up my life and move to Shanghai, I was more than ready.

The Bund, Shanghai, China

The Bund, Shanghai, China

I arrived in Shanghai ready for a new chapter. I was hungry to explore a new region and experience a very different way of life. Shanghai had its ups and downs, but when time came to move on, I just wasn’t ready.

“I’m staying in Shanghai after graduation”, I announced to my parents on Skype one day. They were heartbroken and confused.
“Why would you want to stay in China? It’s dirty, it’s gross, and once all your classmates leave the city you’ll have no friends either”, they preached.

But I knew they were wrong. I felt more alive living in Shanghai than I ever did in Toronto.

Exploring life in Shanghai's laneways

I loved getting lost in the simple day to day life on the streets of Shanghai!

I learned some Mandarin, made some new friends, found a decent job, and continued to live the dream. I traveled to rural China seeing incredible sights and walking well off the beaten track.

Oksana in Huangshan Mountains, China

After 2 days of hiking in Huangshan Mountains, China

While there, I also found time to escape to South East Asia. I followed the backpacker trail adding incredible experiences to my ever growing bucket list. I rode an elephant, learned how to cook Thai cuisine, swam in waterfalls, partied my heart out at the full moon party in Thailand, and cried my eyes out after a visit to the K21 prison and Killing fields in Cambodia.

Hanging out with elephants at Woody's Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai

Hanging out with elephants at Woody’s Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai

Oksana at Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan, Thailand

Getting ready for the Full Moon Party in 2012. Surrounded by buckets and fluorescent paint …as you do.

Diving in Koh Tao, Thailand

Chasing fish in Koh Tao, Thailand

Eventually, China got the best of me and I was ready to move on. But I wasn’t ready to go back home. So I followed my heart and a hot guy and moved to Australia. For the last 2 years this has been my home. Together with the hot guy (also known as Max, my now fiancé) we traveled to India, Brazil, Philippines, Costa Rica and Sri Lanka. We have explored the most remote corners of Australia, climbing mountains, hiking in rainforests, and to add to our latest achievements – swimming with whale sharks.

At the top of Adam's Peak in Sri Lanka

Max and I at the top of Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka

Max and I on the fence ready to watch the bull riding

Ready to watch the bull riding in Paraiso, Costa Rica

Max and I at the France vs Nigeria World Cup game in Brasilia, Brazil

At the France vs Nigeria World Cup game in Brasilia, Brazil

Max and I at the top of Mt Warning in January 2014

Max and I at the top of Mt Warning in January 2014

“That was pretty freaking amazing, eh?”, I finally announced, as I rested my head on Max’s shoulder back on the boat. “Let’s never stop our crazy adventures”

After seeing so many places, living in so many countries, and experiencing so many unforgettable moments all over the world, there is no going back for me. This is life and it’s the only way to live it!

Max and Oksana. Cable Beach. Broome. Western Australia

Chilling on Cable Beach in Broome

The only way is forward, into the life of more travels, more adventures, and more unforgettable experiences. (Just as soon as I am done paying off that pesky MBA loan)

People often ask me if studying abroad and racking up $100,000 in debt was worth it. My answer has never changed:
“Have you seen my life? It was worth every penny!”

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In 2011, I packed my life and left Canada to spend one year studying abroad in London. It’s been 4 years and I haven’t returned yet. The world is now my home!

Have you ever considered studying abroad?
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