Eric Chambers was just 13 years-old when his parents suggested that he join a month-long cultural exchange that would send him to Australia and New Zealand. He admits he wasn’t in love with the idea right away — he wasn’t sure he wanted to give up a month during the summer break from school and his friends. But, his parents persisted, ultimately convincing Eric to embark on what they promised would be a unique life-changing experience.
He signed up for the program led by People to People, a former nonprofit founded in 1956 by US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, which encouraged American citizens to form interpersonal bonds that cross international boundaries. For the first time in his young life, he was over 10,000 miles from home... virtually on the other side of the globe. He remembers an atmosphere of tears and anxiety amongst his peers at the airport, but Eric felt far less fearful.
When my parents first told me that I should do it, I was very reluctant. I wanted to hang out with my friends, not leave the country. But I did it, because they assured me it was going to be one of those lifelong learning experiences that I would appreciate after the fact. And I did.”
Today, Eric’s approach to life and work abroad is fueled by a powerful sense of curiosity. First and foremost, he has a great interest in people — learning about other cultures, new languages, and the thrill that comes with novel experiences and demanding terrains.
For Eric, travel is about adventuring into and embracing the unknown. “I’ve trekked the Inca Trail in Peru to Machu Picchu, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, camped in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, and recently paraglided above the Chicamocha Canyon in Colombia,” he recounts. “I also love exploring the sea and enjoy sailing. I’m a certified scuba diver and mostly dive in the Caribbean.” He enjoys challenging himself abroad more than merely taking in the scenery from a lounge chair.
Often, I see people travel abroad to exotic locales and all that comes of it is posting the sights and sounds on Instagram. But, to me, it’s about engaging with the people and the experience first.”
Eric has co-lived with local residents and connected with cultures on several continents, all while gaining professional exposure to innovation ecosystems. His experiences have taken him from a Fulbright Scholar advising high-impact entrepreneurs in Brazil to coaching early-stage tech startups on lean-agile methods in Sweden, Finland, and Estonia. In between, he’s returned to the Northeast of the US, where he grew up — each time with a refreshed perspective on his path ahead.
Pro Tips for (Really) Remote Work
In the midst of the pandemic, when remote work became the norm for almost every desk worker in every country, Eric started what would become an invaluable Slack message exchange with fellow TheoremOne team member and remote work advocate Bal Sieber.
Bal is regularly profiled in industry magazines (most recently in a Disrupt article) for the prolific creative output he is able to produce and transmit from a small, sparsely populated beach town in Mexico. Last summer, he delivered a memorable talk to his colleagues about effectively integrating a digital nomad lifestyle with remote work as a Theorist. He concluded the presentation with words of encouragement to any TheoremOne employee who might consider working from farther afield.
Eric suddenly had so many questions about the tools essential for not just surviving, but thriving in challenging conditions abroad. He realized he was especially concerned about the technical constraints to maintaining regular communication with the rest of his team while away. “I’m thinking, ‘How good will the speed and quality of my internet connection be? How do I mitigate against blockers to collaborating with our product teams?’”
Bal also introduced Eric to the growing trend of digital nomad communities that explore destinations and co-live and work in “hubs” with high-speed internet. After a stint with a digital nomad community in Santa Marta in Colombia, Eric chose to relocate to the city of Medellin — about 500 miles within the Colombian interior — where he worked remotely for over four months.
An Outpouring of Possibilities
Over the past few years, internet access and speed has expanded to remote corners of the world. Today, Eric says, “you can work beside a beach in Canggu, Bali and have excellent connectivity while enjoying memorable weekends exploring a foreign land. You can also venture beyond Costa Rica and work from the historical city of Antigua in Guatemala. These times offer incredible opportunities for remote workers to live a well-balanced and fulfilling life.”
As we re-evaluate our career plans in a post-pandemic world, digital nomads won’t be a niche minority of the global workforce for much longer. For example, Eric left Europe for New York in 2012 to gain insider access to the then-emerging tech ecosystem there. “Now, many cities have their own burgeoning tech hubs. And that’s happening all over the world, and location-independent workers can choose to base themselves from a hub that closely matches their interests and values”
Eric’s break from remote work is concluding as he approaches 10 years of calling New York City home. He’s renewed his passport and plans to establish residency in Europe for the coming years. Like Bal, he now has pro tips for the uninitiated digital nomad.
Primarily, he advocates for staying put longer. “Some early adopters in the digital nomad community were just in it for destination travel alone,” he says. The proliferation of established digital hubs is changing that. Where there’s a critical mass of established digital nomads, people tend to stay longer in vibrant hubs.
How long is “longer”? Eric guesses the average is about 3 months — but he challenges others to try going “all in,” at least once, for 6 months or more in one location that they are inspired by and find most productive. What better way to understand the challenges of extended remote work, and to iterate savvier solutions — to “build it better,” as people say at TheoremOne — than to experience it yourself?
As someone who practices what he preaches, Eric can talk about his travels in three other languages.
Are you ready for change? Você está pronto para a mudança? ¿Estas lista/o para el cambio? Sei pronto a cambiare?
Yes? No? Maybe so? You can guess Eric’s answer.