RACHEL JONES ON EXPAT LIFE IN GOA
Written By Kelley Mullarkey
Despite being raised in a small town in Ohio, Rachel Jones has always had a free-spirited and adventurous nature running through her veins. A former nurse who left her state side career to back pack and live abroad, Rachel writes about India’s sliver lining and encourages others to explore the incredible country. We chat with her about the American Dream, Goa’s expat community and everyday life in India.
You’ve been living in Goa, India, for over two years now. How did the decision come about? What was the transition process like both emotionally and physically?
I left my job as a cardiac nurse in Charlotte, NC to backpack India on a whim. I had a crazy time and eventually met a guy when I got to Goa. We only knew each other two weeks before I headed home on an assignment in Seattle, but after three months I was back in Goa living with him.
There were two difficult things: my parents worrying about my future, and me worrying they were right to be worried about my future. After all, I didn’t have a career set up in Goa or any way to make an income.
It’s interesting to think about where we’re from contributes to our travel experiences. You’re originally from the Midwest, which is known for its hospitality and laid back mentality. Has this come into play while traveling?
I think being from the Midwest made me trust people more, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s helped me to meet local people because I’m not afraid to chat with them or just simply smile at them. While in the US if you’re walking down the aisle at the grocery store and catch eye contact with a stranger, you smile, you don’t act strange and look away. But it’s also made me expect too much kindness from people. Americans have this “niceness” about them even if they don’t want to be nice. It’s all about customer service, or even being overly friendly to strangers. While meeting travelers of other nationalities, it was strange to see people be a bit rude to one another and no one seem hurt by it.
How did your journey with traveling began?
I started traveling when I was 19 and took a summer vacation backpacking Western Europe for a month. It was eye-opening and I was hooked. The next summer, I went back to Europe to explore Eastern Europe. The following winter, I was dying to go to Africa, and found a way to spend a month in Uganda over winter break. I worked as a nurse assistant, in a book shop, nannying, and at a café for a short stint to save money. I would be back to broke after each trip abroad. The year I went to Africa, I graduated with my BSN and moved to North Carolina. I only lasted one year before quitting my job, backpacking India, and eventually moving here.
There’s been a rise with our generation seeking out traveling over a steady job. Why do you think this is happening and why is it important?
I think a lot of people have seen their parents lose jobs they were loyal to for 20+ years and because of that we think loyalty doesn’t matter as much, and getting a better job or taking time off is more exciting. I think seeing older siblings or family get degrees and still have a hard time finding a job made traveling a better option as well.
The American Dream is harder to achieve and everyone is in debt. Going to college and getting a degree is no longer a guarantee to a high paying job and the $100,000 house, so taking a gap year like many other nationalities do was more appealing.
Once you take that gap year and see the world it’s hard to go back. Worrying about retirement, a 401k, getting a down-payment on a house in a neighborhood with good schools, where we will be 10 years from now is on the minds of many of my American friends, but not so much on the minds of my European friends who grew up maybe a bit more freely and with less pressure to achieve “The Dream”.
What has life in India taught you?
Patience! India is a hard enough place for locals, so being an expat here takes nerves, smarts, and patience. I’ve learned to read people, to know which people I can trust here.
India is the land of extremes and it opened my eyes that there are two sides to every country. I had to become good at dealing with Indian people in business from my website, to selling candles here, to just getting the refrigerator fixed. They often have very funny cunning plans and I’ve learned to see them. Overall, just living abroad has changed the way I want to live my life.
Something that is hard in India, is sometimes very simple in America. Living here makes me appreciate how smoothly things run back home and how safe I was with police I could trust or taxis with working meters.
Tell me about some of the extraordinary people you’ve met on your travels.
The people I meet in Goa are all so intriguing. In general, many foreign kids grew up here in India while their parent’s bopped around the hippie scene. They speak local dialect and relate with being Indian. Most went to boarding school but then shipped off to England or France for university. They’re all so well-educated and wordly. But if I told American friends back home I wanted to raise kids in Goa I’m sure they would never see a positive outcome from that.
What is the expat scene like in Goa now?
Many of the Goa kids are now designers, artists, musicians, but none are working 9-to-5’s. They make a living even though they didn’t do their math flashcards after school every day. Even though they aren’t rich, they’re happy. Most of the older expats here have really traveled the world, eaten weird foods, participated in Tribal dancing, partied with Kate Moss, or have other amazing stories to share. It’s such a unique crowd in Goa.
I think Goa is seen as “over” by the world and not many places follow the trance music coming from here anymore. I think younger kids come here to find that old hippie vibe and some leave disappointed. Even the older hippies here have started businesses selling purses or opened restaurants and no one is running around the beaches naked anymore.
Arambol still has the drum circles, and many beaches still have the all night, to the next day, psy parties. Goa has gangs and drug problems like anywhere else, and along with rising prices and taxi scams; I don’t know what the future of Goa will be like.
If you want that Goa trance hippie scene, it’s still here but it’s not easily accessible for the backpackers anymore because the locals and expats don’t want it to be. There are more people moving to Goa for business opportunities than for an acid trip these days.
What single fact do you think people need to be made most aware of when considering how India is portrayed in the media?
That there are two sides. It can be cruel how different the two sides are, with Mercedes dealerships situated on the edge of a slum and it might be hard to accept, but you can’t ignore the beauty of the extremes. It’s one thing that makes India unique.
People come visit me and are shocked to get incredible and cleanly cooked French or Italian food, to see giant mansions, BMW’s, and people dressed in the latest designer clothes.
India has that 5 star experience across the board if you want it. It has clean beaches, surf, mountains, jungles filled with wildlife, and lots of tiny villages that are completely non-developed. For some reason, people don’t want to think of all that, they just want to think of the slums, which are present in so many other countries, but really amped up in the media toward India. It’s a shame but in a selfish way, it’s what’s made me a career. Sharing the positives of India and how to travel in India easier than you’d expect has made my blog grow as not many people are doing it compared to Europe or SE Asia, especially Americans.
As an American we’re trained from birth about the golden possibilities that our country promises. Has your idea of the American Dream shifted?
I don’t know if I ever quite wanted the American Dream. Growing up I wanted to be a spy, or work for the UN, or do something different and live abroad. But after living abroad, I don’t really get the American Dream. I don’t get working your butt off every day just to buy things and stay broke and work harder just to have kids you pay babysitters to take care of while you work more, retire, and eventually get put in a nursing home and you’re broke again.
Almost everyone I know back home is in debt from school or buying a car and house. I have more money in my account now working online than I did working as a nurse because I spend less even though I make way less. Because I live on a beach away from as many material things, I shop less.
I spend my days at the beach or working from home instead of at a desk. I don’t want to wait until I’m old to retire and travel, and even if my blog goes away one day and I lose it all – at least I had it for a couple years and I surely will never regret all that I’ve done these last couple years living in India.
I don’t want to bash people who are living the American Dream, It’s just not for me. I couldn’t do two weeks vacation because travel is what’s most important to me. If having a pretty house and kids and a good job is what you want and what you’ve got and you’re happy then good, but if you’re waiting, waiting to retire to live, then I don’t think it’s much of a dream.