A year ago, I was working in Student Learning and Transitions as a Peer Educator and sorting through the existential crisis that is graduation. I had completed my second degree at Nipissing University and felt an immense amount of pressure (mostly self-inflicted) to have my next steps figured out—and by “next steps,” I mean the next five years in full detail. I had crossed graduate studies off the list fairly fast; the timing just wasn’t right. It all came down to two options: applying for the Student Experience Coordinator, First Generation and Transition Programs position with Student Learning and Transitions—a position that felt like it would fit me like a glove—or taking my leftover OSAP and all my savings and travelling across the globe.
A year later, I sit in my office revising the new Record of Student Development (RSD) portal set to be launched before the school year starts. The RSD is one of my favourite responsibilities of the Student Experience Coordinator, First Generation and Transition Programs position. Partly because the new student portal looks stunning and I can’t wait for everyone to see it. But more so because, after taking four and a half months off of work and any additional schooling to reconnect with family at home and travel across Europe and the Middle East, I have a much stronger connection to the learning that occurs outside the classroom. Which isn’t to say that the learning that takes place within academia is any less than the learning that takes place outside of it; they’re just different, and the benefits of receiving both types of education outweigh only experiencing one.
When I told people of my travel plans, responses usually fell into two categories: the people who made it sound like a breeze (as if one just casually throws together a 44-day trip across three continents) and the people who said it sounds too hard to try; the reality falls somewhere in between. It is hard to plan a large-scale solo trip, especially when it means forgoing the start of your career and using up every last cent you own, not to mention knowing you’re travelling to places where you don’t speak the language, there have been recent terrorist attacks, and you can be arrested for your sexuality—these are pretty legit roadblocks to travel, so no, it’s not a breeze.
But it’s not impossible, and the reward is worth it. Sure, there were moments of fear and anxiety, and would it be nice to still have the $8,000 I spent? Absolutely. But when you’re standing inside the Hagia Sophia or climbing down into a pyramid or walking through the streets of Old Jerusalem, well, I’d say it more than balances out. The friendships I made, the sights I saw, the food I ate (I’d give anything to be back in Athens eating gyros), the supa fly photos I posted on Instagram—all of it makes the stress and anxiety pale in comparison.
And I wouldn’t be sitting in this office today in the job I wanted to be working a year ago if I hadn’t taken the time to acknowledge and pursue my very real passions and interests beyond a career. The benefits I reaped from travel are more than just the experiences; they’re the skills I developed. Before I had even left, I felt like a really competent, capable individual—and I maintain that I was. But the challenges and opportunities of my journey allowed me so much more growth. My decision-making, my ability to empathize, my confidence in negotiating conflict—these are skills that are honed through travel. If I were still a student, I’m sure these would help me navigate the classroom environment. And as a professional? You bet I’m using these skills on the regular.
But I do recognize that travel is a privilege. Not everyone can take several months off and spend thousands of dollars to roam, and not everyone wants to! I do think, however, that we all have passions and pursuits beyond our academic world, and that pursuing those has its own benefits. Maybe you don’t want to Eat Pray Love it up; instead, you just really love bowling. Cool, join a bowling team! Or maybe you love working with children and want to join NU Reads. That is awesome, and you absolutely should! It might be hard to find time to commit to your interests when you feel all your attention needs to be on school and work, but you can do it; it’s all about give and take. And when you do it (which I’m really hoping you inevitably will), take time to acknowledge the skills you’re working on. Acknowledge your growth, even if it isn’t being achieved through traditional methods. When you learn how to articulate your strengths and the ways you’ve evolved, it takes you places.
After all, I’m writing this from my new office.