Inter-College Program (ICP '18) alumnus Forest Hall is taking remote work to a whole new level. He is a digital nomad, a person who earns a living working online in various locations and holds several simultaneous positions across the globe. While working internationally has its challenges, Forest wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I've had a chance to see more in the last five years in terms of the world than I had in the previous couple of decades combined,” he says.
When we met virtually, Forest was in Thailand and spoke to me from the lobby of the hotel where he was staying with his family. After Thailand, they were off to Vietnam, Portugal, then Morocco.
“Generally, I just pick a location I want to be for a while and take it one step at a time.”
A Student Without Borders
So how did this globetrotter from Keene, New Hampshire, find his way to the University of Minnesota?
“I applied to eleven large public schools throughout the entire US, and Minnesota was one of my top three,” Forest says. He figured that even with the cost of going back and forth to New Hampshire, out-of-state tuition at UMN would still be less expensive than attending his local university.
He initially thought he would go to business school but soon realized that his values were steering him more toward mission-driven work and making an impact on vulnerable communities.
Forest found the Inter-College Program through an information session. “Karen Moon was giving a talk about CCAPS and specifically the ICP major, and that ultimately became my final choice. She provided such a valuable, insightful, and influential speech about the program.” Forest chose to focus on social justice, leadership, and applied business.
During his sophomore year, he spent a month in India on a service learning trip. The experience made him appreciate the value of hands-on learning. He then voluntarily spent a week sleeping outside, speaking with unhoused individuals, case managers, and people who work at food pantries and shelters. He also attended a conference in Washington DC on how to make our food systems more sustainable and equitable. These rich learning opportunities allowed him to view a systemic challenge from different angles and disciplines.
Forest felt that after all the “golden tickets” he was given as a middle class, white, cisgender male, it was important to care for others and give back. He began to wonder how he could use his privilege and access to address the inequities in the world.
“Because at the end of the day… I don’t deserve more than anyone else… The only difference between me and (someone else) is simply when and where I was born.”
The Complicated Answer to So What Do You Do?
Forest admits he is the classic American who values work too much and whose identity is closely tied to their profession. As someone who has multiple part-time jobs and volunteer gigs, work for Forest feels more like an extension of his various interests and hobbies.
“Life is a ‘yes and,’ more than an ‘either or.’
"I've been fortunate to hear from future-of-work experts around the world, and many of them predict what they call 'portfolio careers' where many people will hold multiple jobs at once. They might have one job at 20 hours per week that mostly pays the bills, another job at 10 hours per week that may not pay as well, but is mostly for skill-development and mentorship opportunities, and then they might spend another 10 hours per week fueling their own sense of purpose by volunteering for a mission-driven organization of their choice. I’m ecstatic and grateful that I personally get to be experiencing this type of 'portfolio career' at the moment."
Currently, Forest is one of the leaders of a group called Plumia. Plumia supports forming a recognized country on the Internet that has no borders, where people could live wherever they want and follow local laws, but get the government support and services they need through the internet. The group presented to the United Nations in 2021.
"Then the world would be a very different place," Forest says. "Then the Leonardo da Vincis, the Albert Einsteins, the Steve Jobs of the world will all of a sudden become women from Thailand and Zambia and Colombia. And that's how we start to overcome resource depletion, political unrest, climate catastrophe, financial ruin, by having truly diverse, innovative solutions, especially coming from the people that are most affected by these global challenges. So it's an honor to be a part of this group."
He is also the president of Free Haven, a woman-led organization working to eradicate poverty through a multipronged approach through education, health care, nutrition, and gender empowerment in Zambia.
Forest is the chief of operations and sales for a web development company and a digital writing agency. He also recently started his own sales agency that supports growing businesses by helping them hire people in developing countries.
"I try to embody 'anything built for a community without being created by the community is not for the community.' And so my role is really to use my resources, network, and experience to share that power and privilege."
Why the ICP Is a Great Choice
"I think the ICP program is so incredible because it really supports students by giving them not only practical skills… but also indirectly and subconsciously instilling good ethics and values."
Today’s job market, he continues, requires that people excel at more than one thing. Employers are looking for folks who can collaborate and work alone, write code and manage a project, design a website and write for it.
"Those are the people who adapt really well, who employers appreciate because they’re quick learners. I think the ICP program really fosters an environment and encourages a sense of pursuing multiple things like that.
"Life is a 'yes and,' more than an 'either or.' When you take the philosophy of yes, you can study this and that… you end up combining different skills and knowledge in a way that is not only professionally really valuable, but personally way more fun."
"I think it is less about the knowledge I learned and more about developing some of my values and providing a sense of wisdom. My academic learning just really helped shape me into being a curious learner and helped me look at the world with greater compassion and interest. Then when I would find things that I really wanted to embrace… I knew how to engage with it."
Pro Tips for Students
- Join a club. "Or several. I was stimulating my academic and educational interests. I would go in person, and even if it didn't lead to a friend, it was social connection that really helped me. Plus, they often have free food!"
- Use U Resources. "I did four or five different counseling therapy programs. It was really comforting for me to get access to that and to be a resource to others."
All photos courtesy of Forest Hall