When I met Andreea Rusu for the first time, I was surprised by her simplicity and open-mindedness. After her childhood finished, she left her home in a remote Romanian village to pursue her career in the city. But she slowly realized that the city life is not everything. The peace and tranquillity of the countryside brought her back towards nature but in a different way. She found her paradise in coliving spaces and fell in love with the Galician nature. This is the story of her return to her roots.
Author: Drejc Kokošar
Andreea, where did I interrupt you? Where are you right now?
Right now, I’m in Spain, in Galicia, in ANCEU Coliving. It’s been about 1 year since I live in this place. I started my digital nomad path last year in June when I realized that I wanted to start travelling around the world. I discovered this place through Worldpackers.
Why did you decide to live as a digital nomad?
I love travelling, I think everyone does! My dream about exploring the world started when I was 20 years old. When I was in college and travelled on a cultural exchange programme in the United States for the first time. I come from Romania, where society still teaches you to do things in a specific order – you finish high school, college, then you work in the field that you’ve studied, you get married and get a credit from the bank to buy a house, you have kids, and then you pass away. It’s very straightforward and very fixed in mentality. I wanted to break out of this social norm, this way of living. My experience in the United States was so different from the one in Romania. It showed me that it’s possible to travel around the world. I realized that life could be much different from the one I knew in Romania. I realized that life and the world are much bigger and that you can live different ways of life.
I finished college and started to work in a company where I helped other students to go to the United States. I promoted the idea that you should go outside of the box, explore, and travel. It’s not so easy. You have to face not only logistical and financial hops but also personal barriers. What could happen if I’m there all alone in the world?
At the same time, I started thinking – how can I travel? I visited my “best friends” – Google and YouTube and started watching and documenting other people who travel around the world while still working. And this idea stuck in my mind. It took me about five years to make the shift towards working and travelling at the same time. These 5 years were like a whole process, like internal work. I was working as a normal employee from 9 to 5 at an office, but then I found out about the concept of digital nomadism. I realized that you need to have a remote job to work as a digital nomad, and I started to work as a freelancer. I learned a lot from the courses on Udemy and YouTube about content creation, video editing and social media marketing. After I learned the skills, I started to work as a freelancer. And then the pandemic hit. For me, these 3 years of pandemics were financially very prosperous as a lot of companies realized that they need to have an online platform presence.
Did the COVID-19 pandemic influence your decision to live as a digital nomad?
When the pandemic started, I moved and lived in different cities in Romania, living as a digital nomad. But at the same time, I began to feel alone as I lost my connection to my previous circle of friends from college. They got traditional jobs, and I couldn’t relate to them anymore. For them, my lifestyle wasn’t something real, something possible. So I was kind of alone.
Last year in June, when the COVID situation became more relaxed and the borders became open, the idea of travelling around the world, not only in Romania, became real. I decided to sell or donate almost all of my stuff and to adopt a minimalistic lifestyle with a backpack. I bought a one-way flight ticket. I realized that as long as I had a laptop and Internet connection and knew 2-3 languages, I think I’m fine to work from anywhere and explore the world. Everything started from a hunger for continuous exploration and knowledge. I wanted to meet new people and be wowed by new ideas, to get rid of judgmental thinking and just nourish my curiosity.
How did you find about the coliving spaces? How many have you visited by now?
At first, I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to go. I just knew that I wanted to go to places where I could find similar people. People like me, digital nomads and freelancers.
I discovered the concept of coliving when I was searching for places where I could volunteer with my skills. This is how I found out about ANCEU coliving. I came as a social media person with a task to promote the space online. At first, I wanted to just stay for a month. But after I arrived there and saw that there were like 15 other digital nomads living in this space, I was immediately for it. There were people of different professions – data analysts, web developers, and product managers. I realized that the world is big. There are many different jobs and many possibilities. I decided to stay longer, for 5 months. When I realized what the concept of coliving is, I knew that I wanted to stay here.
When Anceu was closed in the wintertime, I started searching for other colivings in Europe. I found Swiss Escape, another rural coliving space. And the third coliving was Cloud Citadel in France, a historical town in French Alps. But now I’m back at ANCEU for the whole year. I found that the Anceu Coliving is a place where I belong. Here’s a family-like vibe. You connect with the locals and help them.
Do you originally come from the countryside or urban area?
My home in Romania was remote, as it is now in Spain. I lived with my parents in a village until I was 14 years old. Afterwards, I moved to the city. In this way, I could experience both sides – rural and urban. As an adult, I realize now how valuable the life that I grew up in the countryside was. Living in the countryside, you are more connected to your roots as a human. You’re connected with nature, with soil. It’s really funny and beautiful to see now how rural and urban life blended very naturally together.
Would you say that living in urban areas is much different from living in rural areas? What are the biggest differences?
As an adult, I feel like I’m now more focused. Experiencing life and calmness in the countryside, I get to appreciate the slow pace of living and appreciating little things. Looking back on my city life, I think I cannot stand anymore the continuous noise with so many distractions. Even though you are always surrounded by people and activities, you feel very, very lonely in the city. You don’t have a real connection; everyone lives a very individual city life.
In urban areas, you have more distractions. You have to keep up. It’s like a continuous fight. The lifestyle is very expensive. I remember living in Bucharest and spending money every month on rent, utilities, transportation for going out with my friends.
On the other hand, what is missing in the countryside but is typical for urban life, are concerts, museums, and events. It’s much more slow-paced in the countryside.
What would you say are the most challenging situations living as a digital nomad with which you had to deal with?
Well, I think one of the most challenging situations when living in the countryside is that I don’t own a car. You need some way of transportation if you want to move around, be on your own. In my particular situation, the ANCEU Coliving has everything you might need in terms of utilities and amenities. You’re also surrounded by a community of people. There are 15-20 people whom you can talk to. Having a community like this in the countryside really provides things that you might have otherwise sought in the cities.
Do you use any specific digital tools that you might recommend to other digital nomads?
I used some interesting digital platforms to find places, like Worldpackers or WorkAway, with many different volunteer projects happening worldwide. There are different types of hosts that search and want to connect with volunteers. Eco farms, eco villages, colivings, yoga retreat centres, startup hubs, guest houses etc. They need volunteers for different things, like social media, cooking or cleaning.
Throughout my experience, I met so many digital nomads with whom I’m still in touch regularly. And this is another way how to find interesting places and ideas.
Would you say that young people can live a full life in the countryside?
Yes, and for this, you need to discover what you are looking for. You need to understand what you need and then try if the countryside can offer you that. Thanks to the recent changes in the job market, the growing concept of coliving and the availability of modern technology, you can live a richer, fuller life in the countryside. You realize that you don’t need so many things to live a happy life. But it’s a personal choice.
I think that in the urban areas there’s more competition and people try to present themselves with the best clothes or makeup. In contrary, in the countryside, you are who you are. You are more natural. You connect more with yourself.
You are also one of the co-founders of the support service Living Coliving. Can you explain more about it?
The Living Coliving has now existed for a year. As a volunteer, I got to understand what the community needs to function. I naturally emerged these months as a community builder, creating offline and online activities. At the same time, I partnered up with two other women that I met in the colivings. One of them is an interior designer, so she has a very good understanding of space and its functionality. The other one, Africa, is very good at management. She has an overview of managing a coliving, starting from the little details like where to put on the signs, how the week should be scheduled and so on. We realized that the three of us have very distinctive knowledge which we can combine together – interior design, management and community building. With Living Coliving, we want to help others by offering our knowledge, consultancy and support on how to open a coliving space.
So, for example, if someone comes to us and wants to open a coliving, we can help them with different things. For example, what colours they should use, and which values to focus on. We can support them with suggestions on decorating the space and online marketing. We can help build an online presence up to the moment when they open it.
We can organize creative weeks where we invite people from our network to live in the space for a week and afterwards collect feedback and offer practical advice based on their reviews.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I’m really, really happy about my life right now. I think that freedom and knowledge are the main principles and values in my life. And I know how much effort and struggle I needed back in Romania to fight against the system, to fight against the mentality. I’ve already started doing vlogs on YouTube, where I share my experience with other young people and with anyone interested in my story.
At first glance, what I did, may look very simple and easy to do. It’s a mindset, though, which is much harder to change. The way of living internationally, fulfilling your dreams. In the future, I want to travel around Europe to visit different projects connected to the concept of coliving, digital nomadism, remote work or freedom of travelling. I’ve started to build a network of people, which would help me in building new stories. I want to inform and educate people on the possibilities and encourage them to pursue their dreams.