When you were 17, what did you want to be?
I feel like I've changed my mind thousands of times. At one point, I wanted to be a physical therapist to help dancers and athletes. Then I thought I wanted to own my own dance studio. But when I was starting to apply for college, narrowing down majors, what I wanted to do was be a psychologist, specifically to help dancers struggling with eating disorders.
I started dancing when I was four years old. My mom threw me into class, just for something to do after school with my friends. But it wasn't until I started student teaching when I was 12 that I really, really fell in love with it. Being able to be that role model for younger dancers and have them look up to me was far more meaningful than any performance on stage, and that's when I realized that I wanted to make a future with it.
I started upping my own classes because the more styles that I took, the more styles I could teach. And I just wanted to be teaching as much as possible. My favorites were jazz, ballet, and lyrical. I didn’t really do tap or hip-hop, but I learned the basics so I could teach them. And I did acro for a little bit, which was a joke because I was not flexible enough to be an acrobat. So a little bit of everything.
Then, when I was 16, I developed an eating disorder. A lot of it probably had to do with the pressure I was putting on myself in dance. I was also running for my school’s track and cross-country teams. When I was going through treatment, I thought it was going to be something that I would carry with me forever, I thought there was no end in sight. So I wanted to be able to help others that were facing the same issues because I knew how it felt. I thought that I could help myself and others all at once if I went into psychology. And I've always been a people person, so it just seemed to make sense.
How did you decide to attend Florida Southern College?
My whole plan always was to get as far away from home as possible. My parents said that for my freshman year, I could either go to a state school or a community college, and if I went to a community college then I could transfer to a school in Florida or California, somewhere far. So I thought, "I'm going to do whatever it takes to get somewhere where there’s sun." So I went to community college for the first two years.
I studied abroad in Italy for the summer, and the biggest tip I could give anyone is to study abroad in community college. The entire summer program cost community college prices, which was a game-changer. So I always tell people to look into that when considering community college.
After two years, I was debating between transferring to Florida Southern College or the University of Florida, two very different schools. I thought I wanted the traditional college experience that you see in the movies, but I realized that coming from a small town and a small community college, I'd rather be a big fish in a small pond. And I'm so grateful I did that, because I feel like I would have gotten lost in the shuffle at University of Florida.
You hear about how great networking is at the big schools, but you don't realize that the small schools, in my opinion, have better networking opportunities post-grad because everyone knows everyone. I still keep in touch will all my professors, and they're really looking to help you. Florida Southern also had a study abroad guarantee built into your tuition, and I knew I wanted to keep traveling as much as possible.
How did you choose your major?
I started out as a psychology major, but when I took my first psychology course in school, I wasn't in love with it. But I wasn't ready to close that door because that was the grand plan. When I studied abroad in Italy that year, I saw how traveling really allowed me to feel free for the first time in five years. So I realized - I already knew - I didn't like psychology and I didn't want to go through with it, that there were other ways to help myself and others without going down that path.
So I started thinking about what majors I was interested in that would allow me to travel. While I was studying abroad, I took an intercultural communication course, international marketing, and international business, so I decided to go more in that direction. When it came time to declare my major, I went into advertising and public relations, because I figured those were two things that I would be able to use no matter what field I ended up in and would allow me to travel and hopefully make my way back to Italy.
How did you get from college to where you are now?
While I was studying at Florida Southern, one of my professors came across an internship in New York City doing public relations for a professional dance company. Again, because it’s a small school, the professors fully know you, and this professor came to me because he knew that I was a dancer and a PR major and I was from New York and was looking to go back to New York after graduation. How incredible is that?
So I went up to New York and did this spring internship and spent a semester in New York City, my last semester of college. And while I was there, I applied for a job at CBS and somehow managed to get the job without knowing anyone.
I started as an advertising sales assistant, and even though it wasn't something that I was necessarily looking to do, I felt like I couldn't turn down a job with CBS. So I got into the office nine-to-five New York City lifestyle. I learned so much, and it was a great foundation for my professional career, and it obviously looked good on my resume. But after a while, I started to realize that sales wasn't something that I really wanted to do and I didn't like the lifestyle of it.
People think I'm crazy, but my life was working nine to five, then going to a Yankees game with clients and then going to a Boyz II Men concert, doing pretty much anything the clients wanted to do. At first, it was a lot of fun, but after a while it just became tiring. As someone with an eating disorder who cares a lot about health and wellness, it just started to feel unhealthy. And I wanted to travel the world, but I didn't have very many vacation days. It just didn't make sense, as great an opportunity as it was.
Once I realized that it wasn't good for my physical and mental health, I wanted to figure out another route. One of my clients was opening a dance studio in my hometown on Long Island. I really needed to take care of my body, so I took a job with them. I was only planning on staying there for a couple of months, but almost a year and a half later, I was still working there. I really loved the culture and being surrounded by people with the same health and wellness mindset, and I felt like I was finally helping people that struggled with eating disorders and things like that.
But then I realized that I was still letting my eating disorder define me. I had always felt like I needed to find a way to make that my professional life, but really it's just something I went through. My life didn’t need to revolve around that. And the thing that had become really important to me was traveling. But everyone likes to travel, so I never thought that could be something that actually represents who I am.
I had been talking about being a digital nomad and traveling full time since I graduated college, and I thought, “What is holding me back?” So I started applying for only remote jobs and looking into visas. I started looking for jobs in September, by December I had a remote job, and by February I was traveling and working remotely. And here we are.
Now I'm working in the operations department for a travel start up called Journy. Journy is like the modern-age travel agent; you go on the website or the app and tell us where you're going, when you're going, who you're going with, kind of like a personality quiz. Then they send those answers to a trip expert like me, and I create a really customized, immersive itinerary for you. We try to make it more about really experiencing the city rather than just seeing the top tourist attractions.
The main part of my job is building itineraries, but I also help create destination guides and things like that for social media. They allow us to work remotely which is great and they give us a travel stipend to help with expenses and we get to utilize all the tour companies our clients use. I love my job because I'm able to help other people travel deeply instead of being tourists.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
My grandma said to me almost daily when I was growing up that everything happens for a reason. She was very religious and I think she meant it in a God's plan kind of way, but what I've realized over time is that, as always, she's right. I'm constantly trying to plan everything out, but if there's one thing I've learned, it’s that you can't.
Being a digital nomad, I feel like the best part about traveling is just coming across experiences, people, places that will totally change your plans. And that is kind of the beauty of it, so I'm trying to let myself go with the flow a little more. I want to go into this and just see where it takes me. And in the worst-case scenario, it's a learning and growing experience.
And I'm going to sound annoying when I say this, but really listen to your parents. I feel like everything my parents told me when I was 17, I just wanted to do the opposite, but take what they have to say and be open-minded.