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Brookdale Alum Turns ‘Digital Nomad,’ Packs Bag for Asia
A man stands in a Brookdale classroom next to two packed backpacks on a desk.

It’s been a long, winding road for Paul Kovalski. And that’s just the way he likes it.

To date, the 28-year-old Marlboro native and burgeoning entrepreneur has visited more than 20 countries, launching a podcast in the process and working to grow a new digital brand centered on travel, meditation and the pursuit of passion.

Ten years ago, however, Kovalski was none of these things. A self-described “underachiever” in high school, Kovalski graduated near the bottom of his class at Marlboro High and watched in frustration as his friends went off to four-year universities the following summer. Determined to make up for lost time and reclaim the life he saw passing him by, Kovalski enrolled at Brookdale in the fall of 2008.

“Starting at Brookdale, starting at community college, it made me hungry,” said Kovalski. “It was an opportunity for me to start writing a comeback story.”

In short order, Kovalski began to pile up straight-A semesters. He joined the Brookdale Democratic Club and attended the 2009 presidential inauguration in Washington D.C. And, most importantly, he connected with Brookdale’s International Education Center, where signed up for a semester abroad in Italy. Traveling overseas for the first time, Kovalski was able to study international business and economics through the American University of Rome. Returning home, Kovalski knew what he wanted to do with his life.

“I was like, ‘This is amazing. I want more of this,'” he said. “I saw people who were traveling and working at the same time, and I wanted to figure out a way to make that happen.”

In 2010 Kovalski was accepted into Cornell University, on the back of an exemplary academic transcript and an application letter describing the “comeback story” he began writing on his first day at Brookdale. He graduated from Cornell in 2012 and spent the following five years traveling the world, working for travel-based companies and even launching a startup in 2013 to provide affordable travel arrangements for students studying abroad.

While the startup did not take off, Kovalski’s passion for travel remained as strong as ever. Throughout the past few years, as Kovalski built up a successful career in digital marketing with the San Francisco-based firm AdRoll, wanderlust began to itch at the back of his mind. In late 2017, after ignoring the itch for as long as he could, Kovalski decided to make a change.

In November Kovalski launched The PaulCast, a daily podcast featuring interviews with marketing officers, motorcyclists, videographers, meditation experts, writers, entrepreneurs and a variety of other professionals who are forsaking traditional office jobs and taking their careers on the road.

A man stands in front of a classroom in the MAC building and speaks with students sitting at desks.

Paul Kovalski (left) speaks with students during the Career Connections program in Lincroft on Jan. 23.

Leveraging widespread internet access and the growing possibilities for remote work, a new wave of professionals are choosing to write advertising copy from a laptop in Berlin, create computer software from a beachside patio in Mexico or manage news websites from Kuala Lumpur.

While profiling these globetrotting guests on The PaulCast, Kovalski was also making plans to join their ranks. In December he officially parted ways with his office job and bought a one-way ticket to Bali, where he plans to begin his new life as a “digital nomad.”

“I’ve been trying, and sometimes failing, to make this happen for a long time now, and I finally felt that my career was at a point where I could take a risk,” he said, adding that he hopes to continue to grow The Paulcast while living cheaply in southeast Asia. “And it is a risk, for sure. But I have to see it through. That’s why I bought a one-way ticket.”

Only hours prior to his departure, however, Kovalski decided to return to his alma mater and speak with a group of Brookdale students about his plans, his passion and the lessons he’s learned on his long, winding path to the present. The talk, offered as part of the annual Career Connections series sponsored by the Brookdale Alumni Association, was co-hosted by the Brookdale International Center.

Kovalski walked students through the nuts and bolts of his new venture, including his minimalist travel gear (two backpacks containing his recording equipment, a camera and a few items of clothing) and his plans for making money (growing the podcast and leveraging remote opportunities in digital communications). He also encouraged the attendees to make the most of their time in college, not simply by completing a degree program and graduating quickly but by studying themselves as closely as they study a course packet.

“I think a lot of students can get caught up in completing specific credits to transfer to a specific school to pursue a specific degree. To me, I think it should be more about what you are passionate about,” he said. “My goal, coming here today, is to help get students out of that one-track mindset and get them thinking about their passions, what they are good at and what they can do in life. There are so many more possibilities than you might think.”

For Sarah Olmo, an international relations major in her final year at Brookdale, Kovalski’s talk was as reassuring as it was inspiring.

“My life’s dream is to travel. To work and live abroad, to build a career that allows you to do that, that’s everything I want,” said Olmo, following the talk. “It’s so inspiring to see someone drop everything and just go follow their passion like that. It’s good to know that it’s possible.”

To subscribe to Kovalski’s podcast and follow his travels as a digital nomad, visit www.PaulKovalski.com.

The Career Connections program was emceed by Alumni Association President Lauren Concar and International Education Center Director Janice Thomas.

Learn more about the Brookdale Alumni Association and its exclusive member benefits hereCheck out the International Education Center and learn about Brookdale’s affordable study abroad programs here

Check out more photos of Paul Kovalski’s talk here.