10 Things To Expect From An Unsettled Experience

By: Monet Thomas, Porto Alumni 2018

An Unsettled trip isn’t a vacation. It’s about living your everyday life in a new place for a significant amount of time, and meeting people who will challenge and engage your perspective.

Being a writer, I have had the luxury to live and write from almost any part of the world. After recently spending a year abroad in China, I decided I needed a change in scenery, something that wasn’t back home in the States. I was speaking to an old friend from university who also happened to be an Experience Leader at Unsettled. Patrick Elliott and I have known each other for a decade and he knew being in a new location would be good for my creativity (and soul). Next thing I knew, I was boarding a plane to Portugal to live Unsettled for one month and work on my memoir. I went into the experience hoping that living in Porto would be invigorating, but what I came away with was much more than I could have ever expected.

Based on my experience - which, of course, everyone’s experience is a bit different, which is how Unsettled designs it  - I put this little list together that may be useful for anyone who’s on the fence, or thinking about living the Unsettled life. I hope it helps!

Here are 10 things you might expect from your Unsettled experience:

1. You’ll live like a local

After the first few days, you’ll begin to feel like you’re part of the city rather than a tourist. You’ll have your favorite grocery store and cafe. You’ll know the street vendor who sells produce by your house, and know him well enough to greet him in Portuguese as you pass by each morning. Of course, you’ll still visit the famous monuments and sites of the city, but once you start living like a local you’ll gain a richer insight into what it means to be a local in your temporary home. Skip the cab or Uber for the subway or bus or ask your waitress at lunch where she gets her favorite dessert. Find a new route and take a side road. It may feel a little uncomfortable, but isn’t that where the magic is…?

2. You’ll be an ambassador

If you’re like me, you may find yourself in the middle of sporadic conversations with locals and travelers alike, either while waiting in line or sitting at the bar. While I was on my first Unsettled trip this last summer in Porto, I indulged in conversation that would flow to topics of culture or world events within minutes. Other participants would want to know how the government works in your country, or how safe is it to travel on your own in South East Asia. As you will learn about the city and country you’ve chosen to live Unsettled in, unknowingly you’ll also leave an impression behind on the people you meet and interact with on the daily. Make the most of it!

3. You’ll learn from your palate

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You can read all the books in the world, but nothing will teach you about another culture the way the local food will. From coffee culture, to the salted cod known as Bacalhau, to paying for food at the end of the meal, I learned so much about Portugal every time I sat down to eat or drink. During the process, I was also pleasantly surprised by how much I took my own food culture in the States for granted. Little things like how across Europe, a meal is ended with a shot of espresso and as someone who’d grown up in America, this was a rather energetic way to end a meal (Unlike that Ben & Jerry back at home!)  

4. You’ll get as much as you give

When I was younger, it was common sight to see a little container next to the cashier in gas stations and convenience stores. In that container there was always spare change, usually pennies, for when a customer was short and needed them. You could either add a penny or take a penny. As I got older I began to appreciate the simplicity of this exchange. During your time with Unsettled, you’ll have the opportunity to be part of workshops led by your fellow participants. You’ll have family dinners with food made by your housemates. Meanwhile someone else in the group will organize a day trip to a small beach town or gather everyone for a tile-making class. Everyone has something to offer and everyone is free to take what they need.

5. You’ll have space to reflect

It rained the day I went to visit Bom Jesus Do Montes, a famous sanctuary and pilgrimage site in Braga, with my two new Unsettled friends. Perched at the top of a large hill, the church looks down over the city and even through the fog and clouds it was a beautiful view. For pilgrims, the final leg of the journey is up a baroque stairway that climbs 116 meters. The last leg of the stairs were completed in the 1760s, which means they’d existed for almost 300 years, and I was still lucky enough to see them. It was one of those many moments during my trip that made me stop and reflect on how far I’d come in life… and how much farther I have to go. When we’re stuck in our everyday routine, we don’t get many opportunities like this that truly poke you from within.  

6. You’ll dive deep

When was the last time you had a  surface level conversation with your coworker, your mum or your partner?  In just a few days with your new Unsettled crew, you’ll find yourself getting into the routine of going below the surface, delving down to the real meat of what it means to be human. In Porto, I was often on the terrace late into the night listening to others talk about their dreams and goals. We talked about how we, as individuals, could make an impact on our immediate surroundings. After family dinners, usually with glasses of wine or port in hand, we discussed what we’d learned in our travels from the week before.

When we’re stuck in our everyday routine, we don’t get many opportunities like this that truly poke you from within.

7. You’ll shift your perspective

Unsettled attracts diversity, and in my group there were a gamut of professions represented: from accountants of large companies to professional lighting designers, to freelance marketers, and a few people between jobs and considering their next career moves. But no matter the job, we were all interested in taking our skills to the next level. That’s what makes Unsettled so awesome, because when you bring all those different disciplines together, it’s bound to give you a new way of thinking about your own work.

8. You’ll build a global network

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Just like you’ll gain insights to different ways of seeing and accessing the world, you’ll also gain a plethora of resources from your fellow Unsettlers. Everyone is so talented and forward-thinking, including you, and together there is the space and opportunity on a trip to  create an impressive network that can be accessed long after you leave. Wondering if you know anyone who can help you with a new project? Tap into the Unsettled alumni global network that spans over a 1,000 people from 70 countries across the world.

9. You’ll live boldly

It’s not an easy decision —  choosing to live in a foreign country for two weeks or more with complete strangers. Despite all the different walks of life that come together, you’ll be surprised at how much you have in common. During my trip in Porto, I grew so close with another American woman that only a few hours into the trip, we were finishing each other’s sentences. No one believed that we’d never met before, our brains were so in sync. When you try to explain it to family and friends back home, you may find they don’t understand. But that’s okay, because this is your experience, not theirs…

10. You’ll live a lifetime of memories

Imagine your next dinner party. Each person around the table is sharing a funny tidbit about themselves from their time in Uni or from a recent vacation. Finally, it’s your turn, all eyes are on you. Maybe you’ve already got a few funny or interesting stories, but after an Unsettled trip, you’ll be bursting with them. It’s still amazing to me how much we packed into a month’s worth of time and how much I learned about myself in those 30 days in Porto. From all the day trips, to the avant garde meals, to visiting the museums, there were so many special moments in my Unsettled experience, how can I not share them with the world?

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Monet Patrice Thomas is a writer from North Carolina. She earned an MFA from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University. Her fiction, nonfiction, and poetry can all be found here and her interviews with debut authors can be found at The Rumpus. She's currently in New Jersey after recently returning from a year abroad in China where she is expecting to return very soon.