Nathalie Jäschke is a biologist with a specialisation in animal-assisted therapy, who has an insatiable sense of wanderlust. Homefree for the past three years, she has recently lived in Australia where she worked on an organic farm and trained a pig named Georgie to visit the elderly at the local nursing home.
I talked with Nathalie about her love for humans and animals, travel as a way of life, fear, bravery, and her dreams and plans for the future.
Daria: You’re a passionate traveler and wanderer. We, too, met in South Africa in 2012. Guided and influenced by moments, life, people you met and animals you worked with, you kept wandering ever since. You have many different passions – you’re “different Nathalies” as you put it on your blog. How did you become the person you are today?
Nathalie: My whole life with all its ups and downs has made me this person. My love for animals has always been there – I’ve always wanted to do “something with animals.” I was studying biology when I went to Australia for five months in 2008. It was the first big trip I went on by myself. There, I experienced freedom. My wanderlust was born. I listened up whenever someone talked about their travels ever since. My heart always started beating faster. I wanted to pack my bags and leave again each time this happened.
D: How would you describe this sense of freedom?
N: To me, freedom means being able to structure and live my life the way I want: following my heart rather than the norms that tie so many others down. I like to be at the ocean and in nature a lot… that’s where I feel free.
“Fear shows me the way”
D: It takes a lot of bravery to walk down this uncertain path and to choose it again, day after day. How do you bring up the courage?
N: I sometimes wonder about that, too. A lot of friends and fellow travelers often tell me how great and brave all of this is and how much they’d like to do the same. They think they can’t though – everyone has their own reason. I don’t look at myself like that at all, and I usually play it down a lot. I tend to be rather critical of myself. In the end, it all comes down to fear.
Fear is often perceived as such a negative trait. I don’t think that I’m much different from anyone else. I question things and myself quite often. I make sacrifices but then I also get something else in return. I believe it’s up to us to decide whether we want our lives to be led by fear or not. Ultimately, I think that fear and doubts show me the way.
If my fear gets the better of me anyways, I like to meditate to break the cycle.
Friends and family are also really important. People who support me even if they don’t understand or share my way of life at all. People can give you so much strength, but they can also sap your energy. It’s important to choose those who give you strength. Our thoughts are so powerful. They create our reality. We are capable of so much more than we can imagine.
Thoughts create our reality: there is another way
D: You represent and live “sonder” in an amazing way. On your blog, Guteweltgeschichten, you tell good stories from around the world as well as stories about a good world. Where did you get this idea?
N: I was in India before we met in South Africa. That’s where I met Elaine, a British woman who has left everything behind in order to take care of street dogs. My friend and I were able to follow Elaine at work, and she explained to us that she uses her savings as well as donations to fund her project. She didn’t have a website back then and I kept thinking how wonderful it would be to give projects like hers a platform to introduce themselves. I want to support people who help without thinking of themselves first.
There are so many bad news and stories out there that a lot of people develop a similarly negative mindset. Still, so many good things keep happening in this world. We should really focus on the good stuff. Hate and negativity doesn’t get us anywhere.
Ultimately, I want to inspire people. I want to show that there is another way and that “different” definitely doesn’t mean “fearless.” Everybody is afraid of something.
D: How would you like people to think of fear?
N: It’s perfectly normal to be afraid of things. It’s nothing we should be ashamed of. Fear is vital as long as it isn’t excessive. I wish we could talk openly about our fears, and that it would be seen as a sign of strength rather than a sign of weakness.
In our society, fear is planted in our minds in order to keep us small. As soon as we take a step out of our comfort zone, fear comes crashing down on us: all these doubts and reasons that ultimately hold us back.
I like to look at fear as a guide. After all, so many great things could happen.
“If I wake up and decide to leave, I can do just that”
D: You haven’t had a permanent residence for the past three years. What does that feel like?
N: My life is quite diverse. I easily feel at home in different places. Sometimes I long for some privacy which I oftentimes don’t get. Still, I’m free to go wherever I want. If I wake up and decide to leave, I can do just that.
D: How do you feel about the word “home”?
N: I have many homes in this world. Knowing that I can go back to so many places and feel at home is wonderful. “Home-home” will always be my family though.
Big dreams: animal-assisted therapy and social farming
D: You’re a certified biologist. Last year, you were additionally qualified to work in animal-assisted therapy. What does that mean, generally and for you?
N: Basically, animals and humans are brought together in a way that everyone has a great time. There are many different projects: animals can be brought into nursing homes and hospitals; they can help with occupational therapy and physiotherapy; they can help the disabled and trauma patients… Animals heal. They’re honest and they don’t judge. Animals take humans just the way they are.
I did the apprenticeship together with my sister. Sometime in the future, we want to open our own therapy farm.
D: What does the farm look like when you think of it?
N: It’s supposed to be a very welcoming place where people feel calm and at ease. I’ve played around with the concept of “social farming” for quite some time. You can find similar projects in Holland already. On our farm, I would like to grow as many fruits and vegetables as possible and also have many animals. Elderly people, who are oftentimes lonely, usually arrive in the morning to help with the daily farming. At noon everyone cooks together, and in the afternoon they go back home. I also want to offer one-on-one therapy.
I have a lot of project ideas as well. I’d love to create an entire community: a place that brings people together and sparks their creativity. Thinking big is always great.
D: How is working with animals different from interacting with humans?
N: Animals are more in the moment. They’re honest and they don’t care about formalities – they see your soul and energy. Humans often judge based on what things look like. We’re so alienated from nature that a lot of people feel more at ease in cities these days.
Animals can bring us back into the moment which is about being together. They accept us, and we feel accepted and loved. I believe that we can learn a lot from them.
Are animals the better humans?
D: According to the proverb, animals are the better humans.
N: Animals definitely judge less than people do. We are too self-centered a lot of the time. I don’t think that animals would ever make a statement like that. As humans, we constantly try to compare each other – I believe that we’re all one.
D: You’ve recently returned from your second big trip to Australia, and you’ve had trouble readjusting at home before. How do you feel so far?
N: It’s been challenging! Jumping from summer to winter. Leaving Australia, a country that’s a home to me. A lot of things have changed and progressed during the past year, which makes it one of the most important ones of my life. I didn’t go on just another trip – I found myself in many ways. Since all of this happened abroad and not at home, I couldn’t just pick up my life where I had left it. Coming home can be tough, but I’m happy to spend time with my family and friends.
Luckily, I also planned ahead: When I booked my flight back home, I also booked a flight to Bali in February. It takes away a lot of pressure and allows me to truly enjoy my time in Germany.
Strength, love, and trust
D: Bali – wow! Is that the only plan you have so far or do you know where this trip will take you?
N: So far I only know that a lot of signs are leading me to Bali. That’s why I booked my flight. I have a few ideas but I haven’t made any specific plans. Weirdly enough, I’m hardly making plans at all even though I usually always need one. I deeply believe that I will have an incredible time, and that everything else will happen when it does. I definitely want to take some time for myself. The words I’ve chosen for 2017 are “strength,” “love,” and “trust.” That’s what I want to work on.
Being at home is currently putting me right back into my comfort zone. I’m starting to get a little worried about the trip. What does that mean? I’m on the right path.