The Career-Changing Asian Adventure
The Travelers Romaana Zia, Lasana Smith, and Renee Chase
Romaana's Lost Job Credit analyst
Destinations Japan, Thailand, China, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia
Romaana Zia was laid off from her high-pressure banking job at a particularly unexpected time—just three days after her final business-school exam. She immediately hit the pavement in pursuit of her next gig, but although several offers came through, she found herself turning them all down. "I had been burning the candle at both ends for three years, with 14-hour days and grad school, so I decided to take some me time. I knew that I had accomplished my banker dreams, and this was my opportunity to reinvent myself," she explains.
Meanwhile, Romaana's close friend Lasana Smith was wrapping up a grad-school internship in Tokyo, and Lasana's younger sister, Renee Chase, had just finished her undergrad studies. "We were all on the brink of change, with lots of endings and beginnings happening at once," Romaana says. So the trio decided to take a month off from all the decision-making and explore Asia together.
They plotted a route from Japan to Indonesia with stops in half a dozen countries along the way, and their experiences varied widely: They stayed in high-rise hotels, a tropical resort, and with Romaana's relatives in Malaysia; their meals came from street carts and fancy restaurants; and their itinerary held as much shopping as Buddha-spotting, each presenting its own type of enlightenment. "Once, we spent an entire day accidentally taking trains in the wrong direction and running from shrine to shrine before they closed. Finally, we made it to our last stop, Kamakura, to see Daibutsu, the Great Buddha, just before the sun set. It was the first time on the trip—or in ages, for that matter—when I really embraced the present moment," Romaana says.
She also fell in love with Tokyo's street culture and shopping: "It was like one big catwalk," she recalls. "The clothes, the hair, the makeup, the nails—it was constant stimulation." And after making her way through the boutiques of Harajuku and Shibuya and, later, the mega malls of Kuala Lumpur, something started to click. "Taking in all the style and culture around me, I felt like I was authentically me," Romaana says. "By the time I got back to the States, I was seriously considering fashion as my next career field."
More than any single city or sight, however, it was the sheer time and distance that made it possible for Romaana to think about her future in a new way. "I was able to clear my mind, refocus, and really find out who I was now that I was no longer a bank employee or a student," Romaana says. So who was she? As it turns out, an aspiring entrepreneur. One month after she returned home, Romaana joined forces with her sister, Saifra, who had also been laid off from a banking job, to launch their own line of handbags, Nyla Noor (nylanoor.com), which debuts this winter.