I call out to you with a heavy, heavy heart. Let us begin at the beginning shall we?
The American Dream, as I see it, includes:: radical independence, obtaining an expensive quality education, white picket fence surrounding a home with a porch AND massive yard, two kids + a dog, maybe a business owner, and definitely the ability to afford to place your elderly parents in a home. The American norm is to attend formal schooling until seventeen or eighteen years old and go from there into university. Once that is finalized and the degree is in hand, one either continues on to a Masters level or obtains a salaried position in an entry level job pertaining to their “career.” Maybe you job hop every two years or so, move out of Mommy and Daddy’s house, finally into your own place and begin paying endless bills until you die. A weekend getaway trip every few months weasels its way into your life in between happy hours and taking work home with you every night (thank you technology). Engagement, marriage, kids, and the white picket fence. Redundancy, monotony, mid-life crises, lethargy, and anxiety medication.
Here’s what’s missing in this whole typically boring (IMHO) scheme; travel.
My mom was a high school educator and thus received three months off every summer; my dad was a cop, so he also got a nice chunk of vacation time annually. Thanks to their chosen careers, I have been fortunate to travel internationally since birth. I realize that this seriously isn’t the case for most Americans, but considering that a large number of American youth finish college; I interpret that as meaning that there IS a sufficient amount of money that can be spent on travel. The only difference is that I made the conscious choice to be educated via travel (as well as academically). I learned more about international development and cross cultural communication (my degree focus) from the overseas travel I did throughout university than my actual courses. #SorryUMD
I recall having an hour long conversation with a Palestinian man in front of the Jaffa Gate
in Israel about the Israeli Palestinian struggle and gained more from that hour than my preceding four-month course on “Israeli & Palestinian Conflict.” I drank typical Jordanian tea in a Bedouin home in the middle of Wadi Rum, Jordan on a whim, because it felt right.
I experienced a lock-in at Larkin’s Pub in Tipperary, Ireland and was incensed to see an impromptu Irish step dance performance by two young girls while their large family played instruments in the background. I put the finishing touches on a home for four (two young kids and two deaf parents) via Habitat for Humanity in a South African township riddled with poverty, desperation and HIV. These adventures taught me the soft, yet vital skills necessary to succeed in this new globally connected climate. Cultural sensitivity, stereotype and judgement alleviation, crossing language barriers with smiles and universally kind gestures, flexibility, learning to breathe through a crisis, patience and tolerance, staying up to date on world news and being able to converse about it with people of different upbringings, and the list goes way on.
The pressure to succeed, have a career and be so serious about life is ingrained in the American culture. So much so that when I brought up to a select few people that I planned on living abroad for several months, ALL I got was negativity and general confusion. Confusion about seeing beyond my safe and comfortable borders into a world filled with opportunity, lessons, excitement, loneliness, real problem solving, and self love to name a few. The first thing I noticed, at about a week into my “big move” was that my normal stress and worry levels were slowly disappearing. Things that normally ticked me off or got me really antsy, suddenly didn’t matter. I seriously considered anxiety medication when I was living in NJ! I feel vindication in the knowledge that what I have been saying about anxiety for years is proving true for at least myself; you ARE a product of your environment. I do not give a flying how much yoga or meditation you do to suppress your natural inclination to stress, your environment has a direct correlation with your outlook on daily events and/or life as a whole.
American parental units, all I want is for you to place world travel higher on the priority list for the betterment of your kiddies. Allowing them to blossom under different and uncomfortable circumstances maybe the best gift you could have provided. Have them work at your parents’ Colorado dude ranch for an entire summer (kudos Karen) or let them volunteer overseas with a program for 6 weeks. Ensure that they study abroad for a semester, summer or year while in school. A full gap year is ideal, but understandably, I might be pushing it. College will always be there ready and willing to take your money. School upon school upon school does not necessarily dictate to seventeen year-olds what they want to pursue in life. Circumstances and experiences can be a better guide in finding out not only what they excel at, but also what should remain a hobby and what can become a satisfying career. Imagine that!
Before I move on, I just want to clarify that I truly believe that a post secondary education is a necessity in today’s world and forever onward. You simply need at least an undergraduate degree and eventually, a Master’s degree might find its way insidiously into your life plans. My point here is that a formal education in conjunction with an experiential one creates absolutely quality individuals. Extremely well rounded, humbled, self-reliant individuals. As you’ll see later in this point, I staunchly believe that if you’re in high school and you’re not 100% sure of what you want to pursue professionally…travel. If you are sure and you feel you must attend school immediately, DO IT! Just promise me you’ll study abroad, become a voluntourist for summer break or take some time in between graduation and accepting a job to experience our planet.
I mentioned this blog post to those currently staying at this hostel with me (Vivo Escondido), and this is what they had to say about the difference in experiential education via travel versus classroom education (most have attended university).
– Perfecting your second or third language, unlike in the classroom; you can communicate with people from all over the world. Andrei, Banking Lawyer, Russia
– “No matter how many history or geography lessons I received, I have learned about those aspects much more and with more vigor when I’ve visited those places. Culture, history, and religion are better learned when traveling to those places and speaking with locals. Unless you go, you’ll never fully feel, see or understand the world.” Hannah, International Vagabond & Flight Attendant
– “I have learned the most about myself; what atmospheres I feel good or bad in or what people I can and can’t get along with. If you know what job you want, then study first and travel like I did. If you’re doubtful about a career, travel first and make decisions after.” Romain, Computer Science, France
– The meaning of certain things such as: sharing, patience, inventory of countries visited, multiculturalism, understanding of mutual aid. It has allowed me to practice what I learned in my collegiate psych courses. Finally, travel perfectly reflects the image of what we really are and helps us to learn a lot about oneself. The journey teaches us to live in harmony with ourselves and others, whereas university only allows us to validate rote intellect.” Abdel, Psychologist, France
– “Common sense. Street smarts. Figuring out how to properly cross roads.” Molly, Licensed Massage Therapist, Oregon
– ” Language ability only becomes fully fluent when you immerse in a culture.” Dean, AgroTourism, Oregon
-“I knew I wasn’t ready for uni straight away when I finished my high school certificate. I wanted to travel to become more focused on what I do want to do when I return, or at least have a better understanding.” Ella, Student, Australia
– “You get to test yourself in a new environment, which is a completely different challenge than the comfortable bubble you’re in at home.” Julia, Potential Student, Sweden
– “The world is not as dangerous of a place as the media portrays. I have spent months in Mexico and Central America and I have been humbled countless times by the kindness, hospitality, and genuine relationships that I have created on the road. The world is full of wonderful people and your stereotypes and prejudices begin to deteriorate when you get out there and feel the world. Allow your understanding of the world to be felt through your skin and not through the pages of a textbook.” Kayla, International Development Major, Canada
P.S. Thanks to all my homies at Vivo for the candid comments 🙂