What does it mean to be a citizen of the world? For some of us, it is the feeling of connectedness to many places around the globe. For others, it is the act of solidarity in supporting humankind, or the urge to see as much as we can see.
Many of us feel this calling – this deep feeling to be part of something greater. When we hear from other individuals around the world who have the same philosophy as us, we feel connected to them and want to know their story.
In this THE GLOBAL LIFESTYLE, we’d like to share the story of Neil Ransom – a fellow global citizen whose journey has brought him from being a “third world kid,” international PhD student in Environmental Science and Policy, to an expert chocolatier and co-founder of Siamaya Chocolate in Chiang Mai.
Neil saw the world differently even as a child. As a “third world kid,” (meaning a child whose parents’ careers had them traveling around the world) Neil grew up in many different countries and cultures. From a very young age, he looked back on his “home” country, the United States, and did not feel connected.
He got used to having friends around the world, which Neil says helped him “to realize that there’s a diversity of opinions and ways of doing things – and different people and places that are just as interesting as my own.” Though Neil enjoyed his upbringing and learned valuable lessons, he and other third world kids face this pressing challenge: “figuring out where your place is in the world.” Neil shares with us:
“Growing up abroad has its problems and benefits where I feel like I’m much more open to other people, to other cultures and ideas, and feel very at home in and out of different places. But on the other hand, I don’t feel like I’m anchored to any particular place or culture, so it kind of feels like you’re floating a little bit, trying to find your people or your place.”
Lucky for Neil, the doors to international living continued to open, bringing him back to Kenya for a PhD in Environmental Science and Policy. Here he worked with small farmers and climate change challenges in the agricultural sector. While getting a PhD in Kenya may seem like a big leap for many, to Neil it felt like a normal life step.
While finishing his PhD, as well as writing and developing online courses, Neil felt attracted to Thailand, in particular – to Chiang Mai and decided to try it out. His academic passions turned into a professional/business passion, igniting the chocolate industry and cacao farming in the region.
Due to his love for chocolate and his desire to produce a tangible product that people could enjoy, Neil and his business partner founded Siamaya Chocolate, an artisan chocolate company. They are passionate about giving back and supporting the local economy. As a result they ensure that product sourcing and production stays in Thailand. In doing so, Siamaya is supporting small farmers who are learning how to cultivate and diversify their crops and receive above-average wages.
When it came to opening the business, Neil reminds us that in Thailand, bureaucratic policies, acquiring visas, business bank accounts, and business registration, are all challenging and require preparedness and patience. In the case of Siamaya Chocolate, it was a solid five months before their registration was clear. However, it has been worth it. The company supports small farmers and the local economy, has lower labor and facility costs and as a result has experienced excellent growth and success.
Neil indicates that, “We want to be the people who are contributing to the growth of the chocolate industry in Chiang Mai. We hope that in the end, there will be many chocolate companies, and when people think of Chiang Mai, they’ll think of coffee and chocolate. That’s one of our long term goals.”
For Neil, building a life abroad was a natural progression. But, Neil warns us that those who are making the jump to live abroad for the first time will have to keep certain factors in mind. Often times a digital nomad lifestyle is highly romanticized, and many prospects do not take the challenges seriously.
Neil explains that there is a risk of being so fascinated with your new city and its culture that you idealize it and instantly label it as superior to your home country. Neil advises that it is important to “navigate all these new cultures and places and enjoy the good things, but also be reflective on what you like about your own culture and place back home, and the new culture and place that you’re in.”
For anyone considering a move to Thailand, there are many positive aspects to consider, along with the not-so-positive. Neil reminds us that for him “the cost of living was just unbelievably low,” spending a mere $150 per month for a one-bedroom furnished apartment. You have to take a look at all your costs and remember that most likely you will not be buying a car or paying to furnish an apartment.
The role of technology is also a huge influencer for a lifestyle in Chiang Mai. For example, Neil has been able to teach university courses online while being able to move around. Working online has given Neil the luxury to diversify his workstyle, bouncing between home, coworking spaces, and coffee shops.
Neil shares that the “bouncing back and forth between places to live and sources of income was a way to add diversity and avoid burnt out.” Always keeping in mind the utility of technology. Neil has also used Airbnb as a tool to supplement his income, hosting travelers in spare bedrooms.
Getting to Chiang Mai – or anywhere abroad for that matter – is a grand opportunity for self-exploration. Neil reminds us that getting out and exploring the world “is so eye-opening. It has helped me in so many ways including figuring out what I want to do with my life and the way I want to live. I think that for many other people, it can help them do the same.”
“People should take this opportunity that we have right now to go out and explore the world. And even if you’re not able to do it for the long term, there’s a plenty of opportunities now where people can take a year off or get their company to let them do some remote work”.
When you’re in Thailand, remember that supporting artisanal businesses like Siamaya Chocolate is a way to truly give back to the community that has accepted you in. Whether you’re traveling or making the jump as a digital nomad, it is always a good time to explore.