Monday, August 27, 2012

Five reasons to travel in college

I used to hate it when people talked about "finding themselves" through travel. Backpacking through Europe during college seemed like a rich-kid fantasy. My family could never have afforded something like that.

So for me, travel was only a luxury - something I could never afford and something I didn't need to "find myself." I still don't believe you "find yourself" in travel. But through my travel experiences in college, I learned that travel can be an important stop on your journey to creating yourself in college.
Whether you're like me and figured you could never travel in college because you can barely afford tuition itself, or if you're deciding whether taking that student loan to cover study abroad is worth the money, I hope the the five reasons to travel in college below will help you think more deeply about what you could gain. 

1. It's cheaper, and sometimes freer, than you think. I never flew on an airplane until the end of my sophomore year of college, to the Phi Theta Kappa International Convention in Nashville. And as the president of our Phi Theta Kappa chapter, the entire experience was free.

Many community colleges have clubs whose leaders get to travel to conferences, as well as offer scholarships to travel abroad. I got a scholarship that covered a two-week trip to England I took my junior year. And my senior year my University flew me to New Orleans to present my senior thesis (and try the famous, delicious beignets), absolutely free. These opportunities are out there for you too - start with your college website and ask your professors. 

2. It makes you memories. I know this may sound cheesy, but there is such value when college is treated as a complete experience. And when you commute to college, it can be hard to really bond with new friends through new experiences. 

My most treasured memories happened on trips in college. Those memories are what tie you to your friends long after you graduate. 

3. It adds to your academic curiosity. Have you ever driven home after class, put your car in park, and then realized you totally zoned out and cannot even remember driving home? This is what happens when we get familiar.
When you travel outside your hometown, your senses awaken in a way they just can't when we're in our familiar routines. 

Something powerful does happen when we explore new places and new people - we realize there is a huge world that exists outside our daily lives. We know this intellectually, of course, but it's another thing entirely to experience it. This kind of experiential understanding can't come from a book, but it does have the power to make books (and lectures) come alive. 

Once you start to see the world in a new way, you'll find you'll develop a thirst for knowledge that stays with you forever (and has an incredible impact on your grades).

4. You actually do have the time. With the exception of the college students who have full-time salaried job while going to school (and/or kids), you will never have more free time in your life than you do now. Once you accept a full time salaried job, it will not be easy to take off big chunks of time to travel. 

College jobs and the college schedule is much more flexible. This is the time to do it. And while yes it will require sacrifices, I hope these reasons are helping you see they're worth it.

5. You'll gain independence & motivation. When I first signed up for the two-week field study trip to England, I did so with a friend. However, a month before we were scheduled to leave, she couldn't go. I didn't know anyone else going on this trip, and without her, I questioned whether I could do it. But quickly I realized, no, I am still going to go. And I went.

Being totally alone, forced to make new friends, was one of the best experiences of my entire college journey. It was empowering. When you learn that you can manage yourself anywhere in the world, with anyone, you start to feel like anything is possible for you. This attitude is worth every penny when it comes to motivating yourself to achieve big goals in college. 

Whether it's a semester-long study abroad trip to learn a new language or a weekend-conference across your state, make it a top goal to travel somewhere during your college experience. You won't find yourself, but you will find yourself changed for the better

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