- October 28, 2019
- in Future of Work
- by Naum Kaluzhny
Kuungana is Forever: Returning from Remote Year
Editor’s Note: Naum Kaluzhny, a Fuze employee, traveled & worked abroad, as part of a four-month program with Remote Year. Read more about his journey in his other posts:
As quickly as it started, it ended. My Remote Year Experience has now been over for four months , the same duration as the actual program, and I write this post from my home in Boston. Four months, six countries, fifty new friends, a lifetime worth of memories (and a little less in my savings account), it was truly the wildest experience I have ever been a part of. How does one begin to put into words what they went through on Remote Year? Do I begin with the sights I saw, the food I ate, the people I met, or what I learned? I asked myself this on my grueling journey home in anticipation of all the questions I would get. As I have mentioned in my previous posts, prior to starting RY e were asked to write down our goals for the program as well as what we wanted to learn. One thing I am certain of: I now have many more questions than answers.
The End of the Road
The first two months felt like an eternity, with each week feeling like a month. The last two months flew by in what feels like two weeks. Since returninghome, RY feels like a day and yet a decade ago (this is what we call the Remote Year time warp). I found it quite difficult to write during the second half of the trip and after returning home for many reasons; we had more and more daily events, and as our remaining time together dwindled we tried to doas many group activities as possible. It is interesting and yet daunting to now reflect on the four months that changed my life forever, to think about what it all meant, what I took away from the journey, and what future direction I want to take my life to go.
The final week of the program in Valencia was an emotional rollercoaster. On one hand, we enjoyed each other’s company and pretended like nothing was about to change, yet on the other we were preparing to face our impending reality of separation. We spent every evening together having dinner, going out to our favorite places and reminiscing on all the good times we shared. One night we gathered at our work space for a “Last Supper” potluck where we feasted and took dozens of pictures reenacting the da Vinci masterpiece. Another evening we danced through the night while singing our beloved group songs that we by that point had perfected. It all seemed quite surreal that we were able to share such incredible heartwarming moments together knowing that they were some of the last times our group would ever be entirely together.
The second to last night of our official program we gathered at a beautiful outdoor venue for a farewell party organized by our program leader. Everyone was given an envelope containing the letter we wrote to ourselves at our first meeting as well as a yearbook style photo containing everyone in our group. I had completely forgotten what I had written in the letter and was surprised by my naïve expectations when I wrote down a plethora of goals I thought I would be able to achieve. They ranged from creating healthier habits and establishing positive routines to learning new skills and developing strong meaningful connections. I admit that I was overly ambitious, however, I was pleased to see that I had achieved several meaningful goals that I continue to build upon today.
The final day we spent together as a full group, with several of us (including myself) attending a flamenco lesson taught by underprivileged children who were incredible teachers and performers. Their passion and artistic abilities made me miss my ballroom dancing days and I was truly schooled when I got on stage to dance with them. We held a fundraiser for the organization at a friend’s restaurant as part of our Positive Impact initiative, where we were once again able to give back to a community that welcomed us with open arms. We celebrated our adventures with laughs, tears, and more group hugs than I have ever seen, then returned to our apartments to pack our bags and vacate our apartments.
Back to Reality
Some people flew straight home, other continued traveling to other countries, while a large group including myself decided to put off our departure by traveling together to Madrid and Barcelona for a few more days. We rented an Airbnb and worked remotely by using the app Croissant, which allows you to quickly locate and access co-working spaces all around the world. These last few days felt as though I was in an alternate reality, one in which I was still a part of Remote Year with no end in sight, but while still having a strange feeling of impending doom. Our very actual last night in Spain we pulled an all-nighter as we enjoyed one last fulfilling conversation, one last laugh and one last cry. In the morning, one by one with teary eyes, we hugged each other farewell as we got into our respective taxis to take us to the train station or airport. I took a train back from Barcelona to Valencia and then made my way to the airport. I remember lugging two heavy suitcases through the airport, one mine and one for a friend who continued her adventures and asked me to bring hers back with me. I remember thinking how I was leaving with much more weight in my suitcase (and my stomach) than I had left Boston with; weight comprised of souvenirs, experiences, love, food, dreams, and desires, all traveling back with me to my home in Boston.
Summer 2019 flew by in a flash. Readjusting to a life of routine was not an easy mental feat as I found myself quickly falling into my old habits while making a conscious effort to try new things in a city I know all too well. However, I did find solace in the little things: dinners with my family at my favorite restaurants, going to concerts regularly, working out (finally), having time to take care of myself and read, and sit on my friend’s couches having movie nights. During my trip, I had one fellow remote who also spoke fluent Russian, so I was able to practice while away, however, it was surprisingly difficult at first to force myself to speak in Russian consistently with my family. Similarly, I constantly felt the urge to say “hello” and “thank you” in a different language, for the first time really experiencing reverse culture shock. My friends were incredibly supportive of my decision to do RY and kept in constant contact with me throughout my time abroad, helping me get through my dips and enjoying my stories throughout. It was great to reconnect with them in person and to hear about what was new in their lives, and I was quite shocked that I was not bombarded with questions about my trip, which was somewhat of a relief as I was not quite ready to explain what I had truly experienced.
Walking into work on a Monday morning was surreal yet exciting; I was welcomed by my coworkers and found my desk practically untouched (minus a dozen spare phones and handsets spread across it). There were many familiar faces, and yet many I had never seen before as Fuze hired many individuals during my months away. It was at work where I was asked by every person I interacted with about my trip and the highlights, to which I could only respond with: “It was the best time of my life”. It felt good to be physically in the same place as my coworkers for the first time in a while, and to speak to people face-to-face after only seeing them over video chat during the prior months.
Here are my key takeaways from Remote Year:
Never be afraid to try something new: From simply deciding to do this program to climbing cliffs, swimming with sharks, confusing my taste buds, and living with complete strangers, every time you say “yes” to something you haven’t done before you are growing and evolving.
Embrace change: Living in a new city each month with varying daily routines and work schedules was not easy to adapt to. I am a creature of habit so allowing myself to accept rapid changes took some time, but in the end it made me a more flexible person who is willing to create new habits and develop new healthy practices.
Be accepting of everyone and learn from their stories: Every person I met during the program, whether they were part of RY or not, was unique, from different backgrounds and lived lives that I often could not relate to. Listening to them speak about their lives, jobs, adventures, and hardships really put my own life into perspective and made me appreciative of what I’ve been given. Meeting locals, having meals with them in their homes, and celebrating with them was rewarding and a major highlight.
Work smart, play smarter: Getting accustomed to a shifted work schedule meant I had to conserve and utilize my energy in a different pattern than I was used to. Some days I was able to sleep in late but others I had to be up early for tours and activities. Prioritizing my work tasks was important as I always had to plan based on the timing of events throughout the day. While creating a weekly calendar and lists was helpful, often unexpected tasks would be assigned or I would need to help a colleague, so I always had my laptop on me just in case.
Technology is often taken for granted: The only way I was able to do Remote year was by utilizing and relying on my phone and laptop. During my trip both were stolen at different times. IT was a huge headache to function and navigate in a new city and to access work for several days at a time while scrambling to find replacements. I will now be much more careful when I travel with my belongings and I have a new-found appreciation for these portable devices.
Embrace JOMO (The joy of missing out): It is impossible to do absolutely everything on Remote Year. I would see my friends going hang-gliding, on five-day safari trips, out to lavish dinners and on epic road trips. It was often very difficult to say no but I had to make sacrifices to get my work done and to give my mind and body a rest. When I pushed myself too hard, I would get sick and sometimes need to spend full days by myself recovering. It was necessary and liberating to find comfort in staying in, relaxing and making time for myself, to recharge and find inner peace.
Set realistic goals and be proud of incremental achievements: When I wrote down my goals before the start of and in the beginning of RY I had bitten off more than I could chew. I was disappointed at various points during the trip that I was not making as much progress as I had intended to. I realized when I came home was that I made much larger strides than I thought and that I should have been happy with the small steps I took throughout the trip that accumulated to the beginning of new habits and a new direction.
Friendship and networking is everything: The friends I made on Remote Year will stay with me forever. We met in the most amazing and unique circumstances I could ever imagine, creating immediate strong bonds that the jaws of life could not separate. Learning from my tramily opened new doors for me and I will be sure to connect with individuals on future opportunities. I have friends I have known my entire life who I will always cherish, but there is something special about meeting people while traveling that gives you a whole new perspective on the world and how we interact.
Home is where you make it: I have lived in Boston my entire life, born and bred. My entire family has lived here since I was born. I am comfortable in my city but sometimes too comfortable. It is amazing what living in a new city can open your eyes to the possibilities it creates. From just having a new apartment to a new favorite café or adjusting to an unfamiliar culture, change is constant and making sure that you love where you live in the moment and take advantage of what is around makes all the difference in your overall human experience.
Every individual in Kuungana (which is the name of our Remote Year group) had a significant impact on me; from teaching me about the different types of career paths, to helping me get out of my comfort zone and grow, to having meaningful existential conversations which I will think about forever. Kuungana (the name of my specific RY group) means 'connect' in Swahili. It defined our group in every sense of the word throughout our time together and will remain a part of us forever. We connected through daily activities, dinners, work, difficult times and through the best of times. Saying goodbye was extremely saddening and difficult, throwing me into a state of denial. Although I am no longer physically with my RY tramily, we still talk every single day on WhatsApp and have planned several reunions. It is a great feeling to know that I have new friends all over the world and that I will travel again with them someday.
From the bottom of my heart I would like to thank my entire Remote Year tramily, our amazing city teams and leaders, and the Remote Year company. I am grateful for my family, friends, and my colleagues and managers at Fuze, all who supported my decision to embark on this journey and helped me along the way.