Chris Østergaard’s Journey From France to the US and Back Again

Introduce yourself! 🙂 Who are you? What do you do for work? And what is your nomadic story?

My name is Chris, and who I am and where I’m from has always been somewhat hard to define. My mother is English and my father Danish, and for some reason, I was born and raised in Lyon, France. While in theory, I would have three countries to call home, I quickly concluded that I barely had one. Please don’t start feeling sorry for me, which drove me to find the place I truly feel at home. 

Growing up in France, everyone was very quick to remind me of my English heritage. There has always been and will always be an intense rivalry between both nations. Anytime England lost to France in a football, rugby match, or any other sport, my friends would always like to tease me about it. Despite having grown up in the same town, sharing all the same experiences, and speaking the same language, I clearly wasn’t French to them. This made my decision to move to the UK to study very easy. This would mark the beginning of my nomadic journey. 

Chris Østergaard profile

Over the last decade, I have lived in four different countries: the UK, Denmark, the US, and France. I moved to the UK when I was 19 years old to study Music following a year of traveling after high school. While I loved my time at university and in the UK, I experienced the opposite of what I had growing up in France. Up until then, I had always been “l’Anglais” (the Englishman in French), but now I was “Frenchie.” I realized then that perhaps the UK wasn’t meant to be my final destination. 

After graduating from university, I moved to London, but quickly got bored with the sheer size and cost of living, that I decided to move back to Lyon. I didn’t want to settle down or have much of a career path laid out, so I worked in a pub for a year. 

With a better sense of what I wanted to do in life, I signed up for a master’s degree at the Copenhagen Business School. I moved to Denmark to study Creative Business Management and minored in neuromarketing. During my master’s degree, I married my girlfriend and childhood best friend. When she was offered a job in Madison, WI, we decided to move to the US once I’d passed all my exams. Three weeks after graduating, we were on a plane with our cat Toby, heading for the midwest! 

We didn’t know it yet, but Madison would be the penultimate stop on our nomadic journey. Madison is where my career in marketing really took off. Over the years, I have developed an expertise in Email Marketing and SEO. I am now in-house SEO and email marketing expert for Caravan Digital, an e-Commerce digital marketing agency based out of Madison, WI. I have been working for Caravan Digital for 18 months now, but since September 2020, I have been working fully remotely from France. After the birth of our daughter and the Covid pandemic, we decided to move back to Lyon to be closer to family. We have absolutely no desire to move anytime soon. 

What inspired you to start nomading? And how has nomading changed your perspective on life?

The fact that both my parents moved to a foreign country when they were in their early twenties means that nomading is in my DNA. They’ve always encouraged my siblings and me to do the same. I wouldn’t say my mother kicked me out of the house when I graduated high school but almost. A combination of upbringing and a desire to find a place to call home inspired me to start nomading. 

Nomading has dramatically changed my perspective on life because it has made me realize that I am, in fact, very French and that I should embrace it. Although not French enough to ever support them at sports. Much to my wife’s dismay. 

Chris Østergaard on Lake Mendota

What are the 2-3 favorite places where you’ve lived/traveled to and why?

Copenhagen, Denmark, has to be one of the best places I have ever lived. The life there is so easygoing. All commuting is done by bicycle, and the city is very clean and safe, it has all the culture you could want. 

Lyon has to be up here. I wouldn’t have moved back if it weren’t. Lyon is the second-largest French city. It also happens to be the food capital of France and, therefore, the world. There is an ungodly quantity of boulangeries (French bakeries). My consumption of pain au chocolat has skyrocketed since returning. 

Queenstown, New Zealand, will forever be my favorite travel destination. I remember having the best burger I’d ever had in my life. Going to hike the Franz Joseph glacier and bungy jumping were some of my favorite traveling experiences. 

What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about nomading?

Whatever your motives are, go for it. It’s better to make a mistake than not go and to wonder what your life would be like if you’d gone. Even if nomading isn’t for you, you’ll at least have this as a new experience. 

My biggest anxiety about moving around was knowing that I would be missing out on so much back home. Being in the US, I missed out on many shared experiences with my friends back home. But I was also creating many of my own experiences. This feeling is totally normal. 

Please tell us your detailed story of how you got into your line of work and how you turned it into a remote career.

I have always been fascinated by the mechanisms that get people to purchase. Naturally, I was drawn to marketing. I dabbled here and there with various marketing channels (social media, content) and found my calling with SEO and email marketing. 

When I first joined Caravan Digital, all we had were three desks pushed together in a co-working space in downtown Madison. We were all forced to go fully remote when Covid hit, and the workspace was closed. Like most people around the world during 2020, we were confronted with the concept of working remotely. 

The transition to working fully remotely was relatively simple. The real challenge was working from France with a 7-hour difference. But with efficient communication and organization, the time difference was easily overcome. If anything, the time difference has made me work that much harder on my organization and communication skills. I understand that this may be something that causes you to reconsider working remotely, but from my perspective, the transition was relatively seamless. 

If you’re thinking about moving to a different time zone, I would suggest heading East as it gives you more time to reach the deadline. 

As the only core team member living outside of Wisconsin, I can never make it to work social events. The last time the team met up for drinks, they played and sang songs together. My FOMO was through the roof! Working remotely can trigger a sense of alienation sometimes. It’s important not to let it get to you and find ways to remain a part of the team.

Chris Østergaard kayaking

What does a day in your work life look like? Paint a picture for us :).

I will begin my day by reading and answering the emails I received during the night. I will then go to Trello to map out my day’s work. Making sure I have a plan to complete all my tasks on time. 

Noon, I walk down to the bakery and buy myself a sandwich, come home and sit down in front of an episode of Arrested Development while I have my lunch. 

Afternoons are generally when I will have meetings with the team or with clients. My workday ends at 6 pm when it’s time for me to start cooking my daughter’s dinner.  

If you were to look over my shoulder while I work, you would probably see me setting up AB tests on every conceivable variable within. 

What digital tools do you use for your work?

The main tool we use as a team to stay on top of all our work is Trello. Very easy to use and very collaborative. Allows us all to see where various projects stand and minimize email exchanges. 

Zoom is also essential to the overall company cohesion. This is the tool we use to manage internal and client meetings. 

Slack is also an important tool to the Caravan Digital team. Using it for any work-related communication is totally banned. We only use it for “water cooler” conversations. We have several channels ranging from what songs we’re currently listening to, to a channel where we share pictures of our pets. It’s important to have an informal way to communicate with your coworkers. This allows me to still feel connected to my coworkers, even if I don’t see them every day. 

My favorite work tool is the Klaviyo AB test feature on sign-up forms. I constantly have an AB Test running for each of our clients. You can never get complacent with digital marketing, and it is continuously growing and changing. Purchasing habits, browsing habits, and social media habits are changing, so it’s essential to always stay on top of it. 

For someone interested in getting into your field of work, what’s the best advice you would give? And what books, podcasts, thought leaders, or other learning resources do you recommend?

If you’re passionate about marketing and want to do it as a career, information is abundant online on SEO, content creation, Google Ads, email marketing. While it’s good to have a broad understanding of all areas of digital marketing, pick your specialty. If you’re result-driven, paid ads or email is the way to go. If you’re more interested in long-term yields, SEO might be more up your alley. 

A great place to start if you’re trying to find what gets you excited about marketing is to sign up for My Digital Marketing Mastery marketing courses with Eagan Heath. This is where I acquired most of my knowledge. 

Chris Østergaard skydiving

If you only had a few minutes to live, what are the most important life lessons you would share with the world?

This might sound a little cliché, but take life as it comes. You can’t plan for everything that will go wrong. If you anticipate the worst, the worst is what you’ll get! Be optimistic; things always work themselves out! 

What do you travel with that you couldn’t imagine traveling without?

Passport. Keep it safe. Don’t ever lose your passport! I lost mine in Vietnam and had to get an emergency replacement one in Hanoi two days before heading off to Laos. Trust me, losing your passport is not a fun experience.

A travel log or journal. We rely too heavily on our phones and cameras today; try writing down your experiences instead. Whether you write in it every day or every other week, it’s still a fun thing to do. When you read it over again, you’ll remember how losing your passport made you feel! 

What’s your favorite book and why?

My favorite book is “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. For someone working remotely and from my own home, I found I was very easily distracted. I no longer had coworkers all around me, and therefore the social pressure of remaining focused on the task at hand was gone. It got to the point where I would subconsciously pick up my phone and scroll social media or pick up my guitar and play a few songs. What “The Power of Habit” allowed me to do, was identify all those procrastination habits and isolate all the cues that trigger those habits. By keeping my guitar in its case and my social media apps in a folder deep in my phone, I am less tempted to begin with, but I have also added extra steps in the cue. And in rare cases where the temptation is so big, by creating additional steps to trigger my habit, I can prevent myself from falling into that trap.   

What small change has made a big difference in your life?

 A small change that has made the most significant change in my life is cutting out screen time at 10 pm sharp. This habitual change had a much deeper impact than I anticipated. By cutting screen time out at 10 pm, I went to bed earlier, read more, and slept better. In the first three weeks, following this habit changed, I had lost 4lbs without even exercising. The payoff was immediate.  

How can people learn more about you and your work?

You can find more about me on LinkedIn or watch this podcast episode of What’s Working in e-Commerce. If you’re interested in seeing my work in action, you can check out some of our client’s websites, The Healthy Place, a health and wellness store in Madison WI, Choose Hope, an e-commerce website selling cancer awareness productsBurman Coffee Tradersgreen coffee beans and home coffee roasters retailers, or even Splendid Beast, e-commerce creating custom pet oil paintings. These paintings are so amazing. I had one commissioned for my cat Toby!

 

Lauren Allain
Lauren is a freelance journalist from Seattle. She travels the globe in search of the best grocery stores, bouldering gyms, and snorkeling locations. Her mission at Freedom Is Everything is to help others make the transition into location-independent lifestyles.