“Every moment is the Guru.” — Charlotte Joko Beck
As we return from summer holidays and begin to settle into a routine again, many of us may find it difficult to imagine a world that doesn’t revolve around school and nine o’clock start times. However, at some point in their academic careers, many students put a hold on their studies and look for adventure outside the classroom.
What those students do is as varied as the individuals themselves. The most common activities, though, include working, volunteering and travelling. Some are saving up for tuition, some are looking for new experiences, some are hoping to learn more about the world, and some are actively seeking to find themselves. The National Association for College Admission Counselling in the U.S. stresses preparation to ensure a year that is filled with fun, engaging and exciting learning experiences. Programs like SWAP working holidays offer tremendous opportunities for youth to work abroad while facilitating visas and other travel arrangements.
For some students and their parents, taking time off is thought to threaten whether a student will complete his or her post-secondary studies or whether or not it might result into a waste of time. Are these worries fair? According to Statistics Canada and a study done with the Canadian Policy Research Networks (CPRN), they may be. “Nearly 10 per cent more students who don’t interrupt their studies directly after high school attend post-secondary education by the time they’re 24 years old compared to those who do: 39 per cent versus 30 per cent.”
Regardless of what some studies might suggest, acquiring new experiences through traveling could be quite rewarding, especially in terms of being able to land a job once you’ve graduated. Despite every position being unique, there are some basic skills almost all employers are looking for. In an article entitled “What do employers really want?” Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D. and Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., list communication, adaptability and interpersonal skills as paramount to today’s work-force.
Exploring new environments, different societies, ways of living and cultures could provide a student with hands on experience regarding these social skills — a must, in order for an individual to be a successful asset part of the work force. If a person decides to travel abroad, especially somewhere his or her first language isn’t spoken, the individual quickly learns the value of clear communication. How great is it to be able to ask where the restroom is without resorting to wild gestures? How wonderful is it to feel understood?
Likewise, adapting to novel situations is a regular occurrence when traveling and when employed. We adapt at university too, of course, but not in the same way. How often would we walk into a classroom only to find out our Wednesday presentation has been moved to Monday? Or that an impromptu planning meeting has been called for which you’ll need to clear your schedules? Even though this could occur, in my three years as an Arts undergraduate at the U of M it did not. On the other hand, within three weeks of backpacking, I was caught in the middle of a sandstorm, stranded on a ferry and thrown into a local home-stay family. Plans change, and it’s all about rolling with the punches.
Travelling opens one’s mind, one’s field of vision and one’s opportunities as a citizen of the world. Take the chance, if you can. After all, as Mark Twain put it, “20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Katrina Broughton is a U of M religious studies graduate.