How Going To School Has Been Like Traveling (And Why You Should Try It)

Feb 1, 2013 by

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1. Getting here started with a wicked road trip, replete with all the fun and stumbles that go along with regular travel. We saw waterfalls, ate in diners, had sing alongs in the car, and when we got to Marathon at 10:00 pm ready to crash for the night, we discovered that every. single. hotel room. was booked for miles. We were forced to drive until 2:00 am, checking every hotel, motel, and guesthouse we could find until arriving in Wawa and finding the last place available in the town. That certainly wasn’t the first (and I’m sure it won’t be the last) time that I have trouble finding accommodation at a convenient hour.

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2. I’ve been surrounded by amazing and inspiring people, and friendships have developed quickly and deeply, very much out of necessity, just like on the road. When I consider my closest and dearest friends in the world, I have met more of those friends while traveling than I know from chumming around in the same circle of people my whole life. While traveling, strong connections are made quickly with the right people, when it’s meant to be. Whether there is something to learn from another person, or a secret to be shared or just a lot of fun to be had, friends on the road are quick and long-lasting. At least that has been my experience. Here at school, we are all away from home, from our families, many from our significant others. Friendships at school developed within the first few days of orientation week because we are all we have here. We need each other. And that doesn’t mean the friendships are forced or false, it means that they get real a lot quicker. I have lost count of how many times I’ve heard that optometry is a big family. And just like the people I meet on the road, these people are incredible; they are talented, smart, hilarious, clever, sharp-witted, creative, extremely kind and giving, and they remind me that there is so much out there in life: poetry, music, food, sports, languages, other ways of life.

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3. Sometimes I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. This is probably more often than not. I could get off a train in a new city without a map, or I could forget to read my lab the night before we were to be looking at hemi-dissections of the human head. Sometimes it’s overwhelming, sometimes I’m confused, sometimes I feel horribly lost and just want to go home. Whether I feel this way from travel or if I feel it from school, the following is always true: no matter how dazed I may be,  it’s always worth it, and I find I am always a better person for it.

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4. I learn a lot! This goes without saying. Life on the road is a life of learning. It’s math, it’s languages, it’s history, it’s geography, it’s psychology. I get very good at doing currency conversions in my head. I pick up as many words as possible when I’m in a new country. Usually “please”, “thank you” and “cheers” are at the top of the list. I delve into a country’s history when I travel; I try to learn why a country’s psyche is the way it is. I can map out countries blindfolded once I travel a region enough; I learn the train system, the bus numbers, the neighbouring countries, and as many streets as possible. If I were to go back to Berlin, a city I haven’t visited since 2005, I bet I could still find my way around.

And school? Well, isn’t school for learning?

I explicitly want to draw a connection between travel and school because I don’t think travel gets enough credit for being educational. Just ask your bank.

 

Why You Should Think About Going To School

I met an Argentinian guy working in a hostel in Buenos Aires when I was there in 2010. He was brilliant; he could speak 5 languages with ease, and he got along with every single person who walked into the hostel. His love was for people and for travel, and as I got to know him and spend time with him, he told me about how miserable he was working in that hostel. I asked him if he had thought of going back to school. He immediately protested, telling me how he hates school, how it’s a waste of money, how it’s a bullshit system, all for a stupid piece of paper.

“Of course it’s a system,” I told him. “It’s a system, and you have to beat it.”

His temper quickly escalated, and his body language suggested to me that he felt attacked, accused of something, perhaps even lazy, as it this was something he’s been told before.

As our heated conversation went nowhere, I stopped him and just said, “You’re brilliant. You’re brilliant, and you don’t even realise how much.”

His face relaxed, he was quiet for a moment, and he said, “Thank you.”

The point I was trying to make was this: If you are unhappy where you are with what you are doing, don’t just sit around and be complacent. Do something about it. School isn’t always the answer, but it very often can be. If my Argentinian friend could get over the fact that school is a stupid system, he could get an education, obtain that piece of paper, and move ahead with his life, perhaps as a translator, a diplomat, a teacher overseas. I met him and saw endless opportunity. He saw himself at a dead-end job in Buenos Aires.

Audrey recently wrote an article in which she talks about What to Study When You Want a Life of Travel. If you read the article, the message is simple: do what you love, and the travel will follow. Read the comments, and you will see how young people have been doubted by other people and have doubted themselves in the choices they’ve made in their education, thinking they’ve pigeon-holed themselves into a life sans voyage. But this is not necessarily the case for any chosen field: the world over has need for business people, doctors, nurses, teachers, translators… and if you are willing and eager enough, you can be an entrepreneur and live virtually nomadically as a writer, photographer, graphic designer, or anything else you set your mind to doing.

Expat Kerri also touches on how education has played a role in her journey as a teacher in Korea. She details how she got her wonderful university level teaching job in this video. While she was applying, she continuously ran into the same road block: a teaching certificate she didn’t have. Eventually, she just went for it and got the certificate. This has empowered her and given her a higher degree of control in carving out the life she wants for herself. Her satisfaction in and excitement for her job oozes out of her when she talks about it.

In my own experience, education has only ever opened doors for me. Even though I am not working directly in the field of my first undergraduate degree (business), I was able to participate in 2 overseas exchanges while studying: to Mexico and to Denmark. I also spent 3 summers working 3 very different and special jobs that I otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to experience. Moving forward as a future optometrist, having a business degree will only help me.

Then, there’s optometry. I learned in business school that being in charge of my own life was very important to me. I learned I didn’t want to work for anyone else, and I also realised how important it is to me to be able to help people in a direct way. With my love of travel, the idea of traveling overseas to help the needy was appealing. I also knew that I didn’t want to be an assistant (though this role is invaluable in overseas missions). I wanted to be the person diagnosing, prescribing, making decisions. To be able to have this level of control, I knew more education was in order, and now here I am, a first year optometry student.

My message to you is to not be turned off by education. Education is not glamourous. It’s stressful, demanding and sometimes seems pointless. But travel can feel like this too. Despite all that, you will make new friends, you will be exposed to new ways of thought, and you will be challenged to be a better version of yourself.

For some people, school is not the answer, but it very often can be.

And don’t forget: you might find yourself somewhere studying and think, “Gee, this is a whole lot like traveling.” Don’t believe me? Try it.

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11 Comments

  1. It is an investment. I think one of the reasons why people don’t like the idea of school is that they think it will trap them for four years (or however long it takes to earn the degree). All of a sudden you have assignments, deadlines, and term dates to go by, so it feels like you’re giving up a bit of your independence. But, then there’s another way of looking at it – all the opportunities! You can study abroad, join causes you feel strongly about, meet new people, and take courses that truly interest you. It’s not always easy (ha!) but it pays off in the end.

    • Colleen

      It is definitely an investment, both of time and money. I’m glad you brought that up… very valid point!

  2. Raphael (@setlove1last)

    No doubt! Most of travels were because of my undergraduate course. Meetings in far away states, or countries(!), sometimes even funded by the university. And the possibility to connect with people through the science you love is exciting!

    • Colleen

      I’m glad to hear you were also able to take advantage of the opportunities presented to you through school!

  3. I loooove this post! I have been saying the same thing for years, but I feel like a lot of travelers don’t listen to me. They think they can get their education on the “road of life.” I think it definitely makes you a better person to travel, but it’s still not the same thing as going and getting higher education!

  4. latinabroad

    what’s funny is that my 16 months of travel throughout the Middle East and Europe were possible thanks to a full-ride study abroad scholarship I could only apply for as a college student!

    just like you said Colleen, it’s all about beating the system and finding ways to make it work for you. I was in school for 5.5 years, 1.5 of them spent traveling, learning new languages, and meeting new people ABROAD while earning credits toward my 2 bachelor degrees.

    Going to college is definitely an investment not to be taken lightly. That being said though, a higher-education degree will definitely help you get better jobs and/or prospects to build the location-independent career of your dreams. And I talk from experience!

    – Maria Alexandra

  5. *claps* wonderful post!

    My 16 months of travel throughout the Middle East and Europe were possible thanks to a full-ride study abroad scholarship I could only apply for as a college student!

    just like you said Colleen, it’s all about beating the system and finding ways to make it work for you. I was in school for 5.5 years, 1.5 of them spent traveling, learning new languages, and meeting new people ABROAD while earning credits toward my 2 bachelor degrees.

    Going to college is definitely an investment not to be taken lightly. That being said though, a higher-education degree will definitely help you get better jobs and/or prospects to build the location-independent career of your dreams. And I talk from experience!

    – Maria Alexandra

    • Colleen

      Thank you Maria! I’m glad to hear someone else was able to take advantage of the wonderful opportunities available to students. Thank you for your comment. Come back again soon!

  6. Awesome post. I am already jealous in advance of the life you will have once you have that degree and get out there and start helping people. I’m personally trying to figure out right now what I want my thing to be when I’m traveling — for so long I’ve been adamantly trying to get myself to become a writer, and while I still think I can do it, I kind of want to add something else onto it. Maybe I’ll just come hang out in optometry school with you?

    • Colleen

      If it’s any comfort at all, I was 24 when I went back to school in order to get into optometry. And I actually had to go back to get some high school credits… I did high school for the summer and got those credits and then I started at uni and did that for 2 years. There’s also an OAT (which is like an MCAT for optometry) and then there’s the application and interview process. It’s never too late to go back to school! I will be 30 when I graduate, and I’m still not the oldest in my class.

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