Nicole Conway Williams educator, Korean linguist, flight attendant and international traveler
Jean Nicole Conway was the girl with her nose in a book. She was tall and willowy with shoulder length dark curly hair, fair skin and freckles, with two distinct laughs...one felt deep in the belly and one unmistakably polite.
Flash forward, Nicole Conway Williams is modelesque with beautiful silver wavy hair and a personality that’s confident and ready to take on the world.
Over the past several days, Williams has posted on Facebook that she will be taking a six month break from her job as a flight attendant. Along with the post, is a picture of Williams standing in front of a plane in skirted uniform wearing a red bandanna mask covering and red scarf tied neatly around her neck. Her girlish posture implying ‘until we meet again.’
After graduating from Paducah Tilghman High School in the 80’s, Williams attended Murray State University. She spent her last semester studying abroad in France, staying after graduation to work as a nanny for a year, before returning to Paducah.
One afternoon, Williams cruised past a billboard and a light bulb turned on. “I joined the army...on a whim... after driving by a billboard in Paducah. I always knew I wanted to travel the world but I didn’t know how to earn a living.” Williams was never one to let anything get in the way of her dreams.
While in the army, Williams became a Korean linguist in the intelligence field focusing on North Korea. Kim Jung IL was dictator at the time and he began strengthening his military force and tightening economic controls by collectivizing agricultural land. He restricted the media to essentially isolate the country from the rest of the world. Williams security clearance was top level.
During the three years as a Korean linguist, Williams lived in Monterey, California. It was here where Williams met her husband, a Chinese linguist. Shortly after marrying, the couple moved to Taipei Taiwan.
Both Williams and her husband had a passion for international travel. After Taiwan, they returned to California, each earning Master's Degrees in Education and U.S. teaching credentials. They both sought careers as middle school and high school teachers instructing Expat children (American or other Nationalities) that needed to continue traditional education while living abroad.
For 17 years they taught in Taiwan, Manila, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Tokyo. As teachers, they had summers and holidays off, free to travel and see more of the world. They traveled extensively from Indonesia to Thailand and Turkey to Morocco.
Williams said, “I’ve loved living in all those countries because each one has taught me about other cultures and helped me understand others.” She continued, “While in Saudi Arabia, I wandered around spice souks where the aromas of Frankincense and saffron were amazing. I learned about various carpets and how to look for a bargain.” Williams added that lots of small talk and tea drinking were required for insider information.
Saudi Arabia and Singapore were Williams’ favorite places to live. While in Singapore, they took quick trips with short flights to Bangkok, Malaysia, and Bali. All of these beautiful places were easily accessed over a four day weekend or during spring and fall breaks. “Singapore is a beautiful island situated in the heart of Southeast Asia with rich cultural architecture, and an amazing array of foods from Malay to Chinese dishes.” said Williams.
While living in Singapore, Williams received the ‘best Christmas Day present ever,’ her newly- adopted son. In 2003, the couple adopted their son from Kathmandu, Nepal. “He was a very sick baby,” said Williams. They actually picked him up after being released from the hospital where he had been treated twice for pneumonia.
Williams knew he was a fighter. Through all the restless nights of no sleep with a 13 week-old newborn, not to mention sick newborn, he fought his way back and grew into a strong, active little boy. Today, her son is 17 and loving life right along with Williams.
A rewarding teaching experience was another reason Singapore was special to Williams. “My favorite teaching gig was in Tokyo where I taught high school at an All-Girl Catholic International School.” Williams said. She taught a variety of classes, from Middle School Cooking and Nutrition to High School Women's Studies, a popular class among her HS students. “Most of the focus was on mental, physical, and emotional aspects of each decade of a woman's life from her 20's to 70’s. It’s something to see confidence levels rise where there’s no competition between genders.”
Williams said traveling all over the world presented with a roller coaster of emotions. Sometimes it would be frustrating because the simplest of tasks were challenging. “Like finding milk in a store. You can’t read the labels and the milk itself is different colors.” She continued, “With each move, you start to get in a routine, figure things out, and it feels comfortable and exciting again.”
Williams admitted that there were sad moments too. “A holiday or a birthday would pop up and you missed home.” Bonding together as a family helped everyone get through the tough times.
After 17 years of teaching, the Williams’ returned to the States for good. The family moved to Las Vegas and Williams entered into a real estate career. She worked for Coldwell Banker Premier Realty and since she had no connections in Vegas, she built her business from the ground up. Every weekend, Williams held open houses and really hustled. Within the first month, she had sold her first house. She went on to win several awards while working for the company.
True to her jet-setter ways, Williams returned to the skies as a flight attendant. She started flying in 2017 and has loved most everything about it. She has the flexibility to choose her own schedule, which changes month-to-month, and flies with different co-workers frequently. Williams said by the end of a three day trip, all became ‘fast friends’ touring cities and enjoying new restaurants.
Since CoV-2, her life has changed. Back in March, Williams was still flying. When the pandemic hit hard, she said, “Walking through silent, empty airports was eerie. I was worried about bringing COVID-19 home to my family. Every trip ended with me leaving bags in the garage, undressing and throwing my uniform in the washer, and heading straight to the shower before even saying hello.” Williams said in between trips she would self-quarantine in hopes of protecting her family.
After CoV-2 shut down all travel, Williams took a three month paid leave. During this time, she came home to Paducah to visit family and friends. After the three months, she returned to flying. She said her airline has fared better than most, and she attributes that to company management and leadership. There have been no furloughs this year and many employees, like Nicole, are ‘stepping up’ to take voluntary time-off with pay to lessen expenditures.
Beginning September 1, Williams is taking six months off with pay. On her latest Facebook post she said, “Just finished my last trip for 6 months . It was a bittersweet trip flying with so many co-hearts who are either retiring early or, like me, taking 6-18 months off to help our company recover until some sense of normalcy returns. I’ll miss the fun with both my passengers and co-workers who have become my second family away from home. We are a unique bunch ! Let the 6 months vacation begin:) Anybody want a visitor or travel buddy?!”
Since returning to an ‘ordinary life’ Williams is relaxing in the pool and has started running again. Nobody knows the length of time it will take her to find a new adventure. Once international travel is reinstated, a friend has already invited her to visit Rome. She replied on her Facebook post, “I’m there as soon as they let us in!”