|Yoo Chae-won / Korea Times photo by Yun Suh-young|
She will quit her job on May 10 as a tech reporter at a well-known online IT publication Technode in China, to embark on an eight-month road trip on a bike with a friend starting May 13.
Yoo was the first Korean to work for the Chinese publication -- a challenging job for someone who didn't speak a word of Chinese when she landed the role. Now she's fluent in Chinese and well established in the industry, but after three and a half years working in China and as a reporter, she thought it was time for a change.
"I felt sorry to myself to be in one place for so long. I have itchy feet. I love exploring new countries, experiencing new things. Realizing that I've been here for over three years, I knew it was time to go, set off for a new adventure," she said in an interview with The Korea Times.
Yoo was briefly visiting Seoul in late April to attract sponsors for her trip. When there are interested parties, she plans to stick their logo and attire on her bike and promote their businesses, in return for financial or material support along her journey. She was also looking for media partnerships, to publish her articles and broadcast her videos to a Korean audience.
"It's a good way to promote what I do as well as the companies. I wanted this project to be known because I want young people to be inspired and not be afraid to take challenges of their own," said Yoo.
She plans to travel along the Silk Road through 14 countries -- China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Albania, Croatia, Italy, Switzerland, France and the U.K. -- during which she will be interviewing startup entrepreneurs in those countries, utilizing her expertise as a tech reporter.
"I love this uncertainty. With bicycle trip, I have to go through places that I don't want to go. My initial plan was living in one country for a month, but I like this project better. I think this is the last gift I can give myself before I turn 30," she said.
The 28-year-old is truly a risk-taker. Not knowing how to speak Chinese at all, she landed herself as a reporter in a Chinese tech publication. She simply wanted to live and work in China so when she met Technode CEO at a conference, she pitched herself and got the job.
She didn't really consider the difficulties she would face when she boldly packed her bags and left for China. Although her job was to write in English, she had to speak the language to understand what was going on.
"When I went into a meeting at our company, I could understand zero of what they were saying. But I worked my way up real hard," she said.
China is the fifth country she is living in on her own. During college, she went on an exchange program to London after yearning to get out of Korea since fifth grade. Her year-and-a-half experience living in the United States with her parents from fourth to fifth grade in elementary school completely changed her life. Since then, she dreamed of living overseas. Soon after England she went to Ecuador for a year-long volunteer project teaching Korean.
After college, she took off to Israel to work for a Korean startup's overseas branch where she started interviewing and writing about startups, then moved to Silicon Valley to expand the business there. China is the longest foreign country she has lived in so far. These experiences made her stronger and independent.
"I had been quite independent since I was young, because both my parents were working. But I was timid during school years. It was my first experience overseas where I gained confidence. I never thought I would be a reporter. I never thought I would l write in English or use Chinese for work. I never thought I would be on a bike trip!
"I have thirst for foreign and new cultures. I love learning new things and exposing myself to new situations. I don't like status quo. I am fascinated by the opposite -- something that is completely different from the current situation. I want to live my life to the fullest."
No wonder she speaks three other languages than Korean -- English, Spanish and Chinese -- all of which she picked up from scratch, living overseas.
"I want to experience more things when I'm young. I'm free from restrictions or responsibilities because I don't have a husband, or a boyfriend, or an affiliation (anymore) or an important position at a company. That's why I can go on this trip."
Why suddenly a bike trip?
"I always had a fantasy about bike trip after watching a documentary in college about a Korean who went on a bike trip with his friend, then met a Serbian girl and got married. But I didn't think of this idea until recently. I joined a bike club in March where I met a 60-year-old British couple embarking on a bike trip from Shanghai to London. I was also introduced to a Columbian friend who is currently on a bike trip from Shanghai to New York. When I saw these people, I thought, if they can do it, I can do it too!"
Her future plans? Starting a business in five years, getting married and having children -- all of which she considers are fascinating adventures.