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A digital nomad story: from US Marine to team leader with RemoteYear

Nikolina Kukoč

Nikolina Kukoč

05.01.2022.

You know how we always say that a digital nomad can be absolutely anyone. That is one of the reasons why we shared so many different experiences of Split’s digital nomads during the past year – from expected to unexpected and all in between! Therefore, we will start this new year by continuing to tell stories about interesting people we met in our hometown.

Meet Karen

Karen Quiles visited Split as a RemoteYear team leader during summer 2021 and we briefly got to meet her during one of the “Locals’n’Nomads” meetups she attended. However, we managed to catch her for a longer chat about her life on the road over a cup of coffee when she came back to Split at the end of 2021.

And what a story she had to share!

Before we headed to a nearby coffee place for a cup of coffee, we met with Karen at TheWorks coworking, which is the base coworking space for all the RemoteYear nomads who come to Split. Right off the bat, we asked her about her view of our city and what she likes best: “I love it here! Every day, before coming to TheWorks to work, I would just go to the seaside and kind of ground myself – take my shoes off, sit there, breathe, enjoy the scenery. And then I would come here ready for the day ahead! So that was my routine here in Split. And I got so used to having that homey feeling here! I could see myself doing that and being here for a longer period.

Usually, when you say home, you mean your place of birth. But that’s not always the case. For me, home is where you actually feel more.

Yes, your roots are important, but where you grow is even more so.

A lot of people think the grass is greener on the other side. If you ask me, the grass is green where you water it. And Split is pretty green in that aspect!! Being locals, you might not always see it. However, I am saying it to you now because I know that sometimes it takes hearing it from other people to truly appreciate what you have.

And you have something amazing right here in Split!”

Being a RemoteYear team leader

We were also very curious to learn what it’s like being a RemoteYear team leader. We got some feedback from digital nomads who took part in a RemoteYear journey but were curious to hear a different perspective: “RemoteYear offers a good setup for people who aren’t comfortable yet to venture too far out of their comfort zone. When we live in one place, we’re comfortable. We know where things are and who to go to for help of any kind.

Digital nomads don’t always have that safety net. RemoteYear provides that.

And not just for digital nomads, but also for people that do not travel often, but still get that travel bug sometimes. The logistics of navigating transport, rental apartments, workspaces, food, etc. can get very overwhelming. Therefore, having a platform like RemoteYear that already does all the logistics for you, and all you have to do is show up and pay the monthly fee, is so convenient!

And it is appreciated by beginners and even savvy travelers because, as a team leader, I have met a lot of well-traveled people who know that they don’t want to deal with the logistics. So they rather pay someone else to do all that. Also, some members of my RemoteYear groups work all day, they don’t have any time to plan anything at all. So they just show up to the events we plan with the local coordinators of a RemoteYear journey.

And they’re very thankful because they get to do their work remotely and still experience the country they’re visiting.

I think RemoteYear is a great platform to begin a digital nomad lifestyle without it being overwhelming. Because, aside from the logistics, with RemoteYear you also get a sense of community. A group of travelers you belong to, a team leader who is there for you. However, that does not stifle your own individuality because you still get to have your own journey while being a part of the RemoteYear journey you signed up for.

And as a team leader, I never have to micromanage everything.

I do have a job to do, a certain role to fulfill, and I’m there for any of the group members if they need me. But I don’t hover over them 24/7. They still get to experience things on their own.”

Even though being a RemoteYear team leader comes naturally to Karen, we were aware that was not the only thing she did in her life.

A journey through life

Once she started telling us about her experiences before joining RemoteYear as a team leader, we could just sit and listen: “I was the director of holistic wellness for a nonprofit. It is an organization based in Texas specifically for female veterans and their families. I am also a veteran. And when I got out of the military, I felt very isolated.

It was a very rough transition from the military mindset to who I am today. We are almost two different people!

I struggled a lot dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. But then I started volunteering for different nonprofits and that is when I realized I had a purpose even outside of the military. I found that purpose in volunteering and connecting with other veterans. I often jokingly say that trauma is a team sport. Through connecting with people who had a similar background, I discovered that hurtful things happen to all people. When you’re right in the middle of something bad, you think that it’s only happening to you.

And that’s not very true at all!

When I started volunteering for different nonprofits and listening to other people’s stories, I started re-connecting with people. In the process, I started connecting again with myself. And I found a lot of magic in that whole process through storytelling and connecting, and not pretending that the world revolved around me, but realizing that I’m an active participant in what’s happening and that I needed to be more engaged in it, instead of isolating myself.

And obviously, it’s not really who I am, because I love to travel and I love meeting and connecting with other people.

In the process of my own healing, I became a peer mentor for other veterans and I decided to go back to school. I started my Master’s degree in mind and body medicine and also became certified in mindfulness, meditation, and a lot of other things. Along the way, I helped develop a post-traumatic growth 16-week program with the nonprofits. It’s not a one-size-fits-all but tailored to each individual to maximize the program’s potential.

Eventually, I wanted to expand these services to more people because doing it one on one was very time-consuming. So I ended up publishing a journal called “Mastering Alchemy” based on one of the workshops that I hosted and focused on cognitive-behavioral coaching. That’s where RemoteYear came in. I wanted to join to be able to travel while I work on my third book, which is also a workbook.

In the process of applying for the RemoteYear journey and after considering my qualifications and some ideas I had, they ended up offering me the position of a team leader. I love helping people and, as a wellness coach, I was also able to provide some wellness-focused events, so I accepted their offer.

The thing is, with this pandemic, people’s mortality came to the forefront of their awareness.

Our health and wellness became very important. And I think that we should continue to keep that momentum going before we forget the importance of our own wellbeing again.

And the duration of a RemoteYear program is good for establishing long-term, consistent, and sustainable change in habits which is more conducive to wellness. I have so many other ideas to share and stories to tell, but we would need a lot more time for that!”

Why Karen loves Split

That is quite a life story! And Karen shows no signs of slowing down, with another book coming up and many more ideas to turn into reality. We are sure she could have told us more interesting stories about herself and her journey, both through life and as a digital nomad. However, we had to wrap up our extremely interesting chat with Karen and let her enjoy Split for the remainder of her short stay.

Before we did that, we did have one last question to ask her – what she loves about our city and what made her come back: “The history all around you! The Diocletian’s Palace is gorgeous! Nature around here is definitely a huge bonus. And so beautiful wherever you go – the sea or the mountains. The food is also so good here! You have some really amazing wines!

But the most important aspects of Split’s charm are its people – their kindness and warmth.

I had great experiences here in Split and most of them are related to Split’s citizens.”

In the end, we wished Karen all the best wherever life leads her, and we hope we will have a chance to see her again in Split in the future!

All photos in this article are from Karen’s personal album.

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About author:

Nikolina Kukoč

Researching is woven into my DNA, but I am a musician at heart. Interested in too many things and always curious. Forever in love with Split and enchanted by people who teach me new things. When I am not writing about Split's tech community, you will find me somewhere in nature, in the theater, or with my head stuck in a book. I do my best to live by the verse from the opera "Fedora" by Umberto Giordano: "Love forbids you not to love."

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