I thought it would be years before I’d hear the buzz of Bali’s streets again. As it turns out, the universe had other plans. I wasn’t going to complain. Wanderlust may have drained my bank account but not my urge to pack up everything and hop on a plane.
I guess that’s why I saw no harm in applying for a “dream internship” posted on Facebook by a company I’d never heard of, and pressed submit even after realising, if I managed to wrangle this, I’d have to be in Bali, in a week.
When the email came through from the Institute of Code (IOC) explaining I’d made the shortlist of 12 interns out of more than 100 applicants I was feeling pretty chuffed. The email came with a video from the company’s co-founder, Tina May, casually dropping tempting phrases like “digital nomad”, “travelling for work” and “getting paid to explore the world”.
Before this point, like any temporarily grounded traveller, I’d been thinking who cares what their deal is, free trip! But, after watching it, I was like, woah! Wait a minute, I think these are my kind of people. I don’t know them yet, but I know that they get me and my quest for a non-traditional travel-based life. I was engaged.
I hastily put together a video application. Added some silly dancing at the end good measure and then, of course, panicked about that decision for a long time after.
Luckily, it turned out to be a good one. Two days later my phone rang. I’d got the internship. It wasn’t until I was on the back of the scooter several days later that I actually started to feel that it was really happening. I was back on the road again though, and listening to the constant beep of horns as I zipped through the streets of Ubud, I felt home again.
Waking up the first day, and meeting the IOC crew for the first time I was, of course, nervous. Being a seasoned traveller, and also a skeptical journalist, it crossed my mind that this was all too good to be true. I even tossed and turned most of that first night because I’d arrived too late for a proper introduction. Ten days on a website coding retreat in a beautiful Balinese resort, with accommodation, food and activities like stand up paddleboarding included?
When I’m travelling, a clean bunk bed in a hostel and street food is more than enough to keep me happy.
So, you can understand why a small part of me wondered if this was going to be legit. But, slotting in next to the rest of the IOC team the next morning as they busily tapped away at their computers before breakfast, it wasn’t long before I was doing a victory dance in my head. It was definitely real.
I’d had a chance to do some light reading about IOC before I arrived, but setting up the huge private space at the Indigo Tree Villa with the crew, I started to get a clearer picture. They thought outside the box when it came to work, just like me. I found out Tina and her partner Emilio started IOC because they were passionate about creating careers which allowed them to
earn money while travelling the world, and wanted to teach others how to do the same.
You may have heard Tim Ferriss, the author of The Four Hour Work Week, call it “lifestyle design”. The IOC follows a similar ideal but its version involves teaching the highly sought after skill of website coding in an overseas luxury retreat.
IOC’s intensive 10 day coding retreats are held in Bali at the moment but the startup is expanding further from home soon, to exotic places like Mexico.
Tina, Emilio and the IOC team are based in Melbourne but, of course, a classroom in the suburbs would be too dull an environment for a team of travel bugs and their nomadic students to learn how to code.
It was while on the retreat that I found out why a luxury villa, tucked away in rice paddies a few kilometres from central Ubud, was an ideal spot to learn.
One section of the entire villa was blocked off to IOC crew and students only.
At its centre was an infinity pool surrounded by beautiful rainforest plants and draping vines.
Nearby was a kitchen where the private chef prepared daily meals and the classroom which resembled a trendy co-working space, especially when it was filled with Macbooks.
Part of the package was daily yoga classes, taught by an incredibly talented instructor, and daily adventures to explore the surrounding area. Think magical waterfalls and spontaneous dancing on a beach at sunset.
The theory behind this traveller-friendly approach is that students learn better in an intensive retreat-style environment where they’re not distracted by the hassles of daily life, like chores.
Chilling out by the pool or casually chatting with the mentors and other students between lessons, this made a lot of sense.
As an intern, I didn’t learn how to code myself, but I was with the students every step of the way which gave me a chance to observe how the program works from the outside, and behind the scenes. The experience was similar to that of going on a working holiday, but in a much shorter time frame.
I mean that in the sense that all of us, crew and students, spent nearly every waking moment with each other over the 10 day retreat.
Sharing meals, learning, relaxing, having fun and facing challenges (Bali time) together. Most of us hadn’t met before. It was a classic recipe for bonding, and building lasting friendships. The secret ingredient was a group of like-minded people who had many things in common but this one especially – a love for making the most of every day.
I’d had several life changing travel experiences before this, but they were over long stints overseas, living and working with new friends for months, even years at a time. I didn’t expect the same things would happen in just over a week. I was honestly surprised. People were transforming. This was a space they felt safe to share their dreams and go for them. There were even tears shed.
These students went home with much more than what they anticipated when they signed up for the IOC retreat.
Yes, they mastered a new skill, but in years to come I don’t think that’s what they’ll remember. What will stick in their minds is those 10 days in Bali where they got a new lease on life, made friends with incredible people, and importantly (for a group of talented professionals with big dreams) – the feeling they’re not alone.
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