Posted by Sabi in Inspiration, Travel, The Lily and Lionel Woman Series with 0 comments

We love getting to meet women who have forged their own path in life; who have made the choice to march to the beat of their own drum and see where it takes them. We found one such lady, Margaret Ulrich, whilst travelling around Cambodia. Here she shares how an obsession with fashion in New York led her to a private island off the coast of Cambodia called Song Saa.

I had a really clear idea of what I wanted my career to be… 

I applied to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. I grew up in New York State and thought, this is perfect, I get in-state tuition, I’ve been doing the fashion shows at my school, and designing and making all my friend’s prom dresses…I lived and breathed it.  And then I didn’t get in. Although I was really good at pattern making, I didn’t know enough at the time to sell myself, so I didn’t get in and I was crushed. But immediately - as I do - I found another avenue. I decided I was going to take a break, clear my head and go travel before school to see what I wanted to do with my life.

Travelling solo totally changed my perspective…

I travelled down to South America, where I went to the salt flats in Bolivia, into the Amazon rainforest, hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, went to the Galapagos. I was able to do so many incredible things that when I finally ended up going to school (to the Savannah College of Art and Design), I experienced a total change of heart. I initially went there to study fashion but I just didn’t have that passion for it anymore. I had seen a lot more of the world and so didn’t care about what button I used, or what kind of stitch it was. I was so much more interested in people and their stories after travelling, so I changed my major to writing. I ended up graduating at the top of my class and became a travel writer.

Sometimes failing is the best way to learn…

I knew that I needed an income while I started my writing career, so I decided to go to teach English in Cambodia. I thought, I have a degree in writing, how hard can it be? It was terrible. I was so bad at teaching and found Cambodia such a culture shock that I decided to go back to the States and figure out what it was I was doing with my travel writing. It was then I started realising that health and wellness was a huge part of my life. I had suffered with major anxiety and depression, and so started to practise yoga. It really clicked and I started working at a yoga studio. Every one of my instructors there was urging me to go to teacher training, so I decided to head to India for a couple of months and discover where it all comes from whilst becoming a qualified instructor.


A random conversation with a stranger was what I needed…

I was on a plane in India and got chatting to a girl who wanted to practise her English. She asked me what I was doing and I explained that I was doing a yoga teacher training programme, but I’m really a writer. She then asked me what I had written. I sat there thinking, nothing, I’ve done nothing - but I have this dream to do something. That was really a reality check because I realised that I needed to focus and find the right avenue.

I decided to go back to Cambodia to visit a friend and within a week of being there I got a job working at a magazine. As soon as I got that job, I was able to work with these incredible women, and hear and share their stories. These women were just so vivacious and passionate about women’s rights and being independent and educated. It was really wonderful and I’ve been working with individual women in Cambodia ever since, both expats and locals.

From one adventure to the next…

I avidly practised yoga while I was working at the magazine. One day, a colleague told me about his girlfriend who had been a yoga instructor on a private island resort called Song Saa. I decided to apply and got the job, but I wasn’t ready to cut myself off from life back on the mainland, from my own yoga clients there. So I said I’m sorry, but I’m just not ready yet. Things fell into place last year, so I asked if they were still looking for a yoga instructor and as it happened, they were. I’ve been here ever since.

Life in paradise… 

My favourite part of the day is taking the boat back and forth every day. I grew up sailing and there’s no other feeling like being on the water. Getting to do that every day feels like I get to connect with my past and my family. I also love the people I get to work with. I know that everyone says that, and that it sounds really cheesy but I have bonded so much with my spa team. We have to be so close because we’re together day in, day out.

Cambodian culture does not work in a linear fashion and that’s what I love about it here. It challenges you - it can be frustrating sometimes, I won’t lie about that - but it keeps you on your toes. It’s perfect for the spa. I’ve been training with the team here for 5 ½ months and every single time I get a treatment, it’s different. I think that’s why everyone really enjoys it. They don’t have that robotic-ness here like a lot of spas back home, they just keep it loose. And it’s not just the island, it’s Cambodia. That’s what I love about it here.

Follow Margaret's adventures on Instagram: @margaret_writer

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