One Semester as a Digital Nomad

Illustration by Janet Ali.

Illustration by Janet Ali.

Maybe another coffee will help. The cubicle’s walls are closing in, the stack of papers on the desk are even higher than when the workday started, and the office dropped down to arctic temperatures thanks to the freezing AC. This is what four years in college has lead to. Eight hours a day, five days a week; this is the reality for the average working American. But it doesn’t have to be, and it won’t be for much longer. The job market is changing. 

Digital nomads are people who can work from anywhere, using technology to perform their jobs. This career path is becoming more popular and more common. The job market is changing as more companies switch to online platforms. As such, college students should take at least one semester of online classes to prepare themselves for the benefits and challenges of a remote job.

Trending Instagram accounts feature people who travel across the States in a van or backpack through Europe. This lifestyle is no longer reserved for the elite or the retired. 

More and more millennials are switching out a mainstream career for more flexibility and freedom. 9-5 jobs don’t cut it anymore, unless it’s for a cause or company they deeply believe in. Research by MBO Partners found that people who spend 80% or more of their workweek working remotely increased from 24 to 31% in 2017. This same report says that 4.8 million workers currently describe themselves as digital nomads, a number that keeps on climbing. There’s a change happening in the job market - one that can’t be ignored.

Location-independent jobs don’t just appeal to those with insatiable wanderlust. Parents are searching for jobs that can keep them at home with their children. 

Freelancers are opting to work from an aesthetically pleasing coffee shop — which is probably why the average latte now comes with the desperate hunt for an empty chair. 

There is no set career path for the digital nomad. Many work in creative fields, like writers and designers, or in marketing or e-commerce. Other popular jobs of digital nomads include IT professionals, developers, administrative assistants, translators, and project managers. Companies in every industry will continue to add remote positions and require local alternatives to cheaper foreign outsourcing. A career that’s safely confined by the walls of an office is slowly becoming extinct. 

Higher education isn’t off-limits for the digital nomad either. Colleges across the United States are offering online classes, and some even have fully accredited degrees through a Distance Learning Program. Santa Monica College is no different, with online classes in almost every area of emphasis. However, the majority of college students still choose a traditional classroom setting. Because of this, they may be missing out on some invaluable experiences. 

The world of academia applauds a Cum Laude or a 4.0 GPA, but future employers are simply looking for someone who can get the job done well and on time without too much constant oversight. Most digital nomads make their own schedule. This requires more time management skills and self-discipline than the traditional worker. Digital nomads are also more dependent upon their devices, so they have to know communication apps like Slack, file-sharing platforms like G-Suite and Dropbox, and project management tools like Asana like the back of their hand. If students graduate without transferable job skills like time management and prioritization of tasks, and without at least a basic understanding of popular productivity tools, then their first jobs will come with a steep learning curve. 

One semester as a digital nomad will prepare students for a changing job market. A few months without the physical presence of professors, set class times, and familiar environments will do more for personal development than all other semesters combined. This online semester does not have to take place in the Philippines or the dunes of Morocco. Anywhere outside of their normal environment will have an effect, although international travel will expedite the process.

Internet-enabled work takes on a more prominent role every day. Businesses are quick to move their sales and structures to online platforms, which could force college students to adjust to a remote working position rather soon. Taking one full online semester will prepare the student to navigate the challenges and benefits of remote jobs. 

A word of warning: the nomadic lifestyle is addictive. Checking off your General Education classes while getting a sunburn, or your third cappuccino, might ruin your traditional career plans for life.