From a very early age, Alex knew he didn’t want to go to college. “I think from an early age I just never liked the classroom,” he recalls, “You’re on this track. It’s very comfortable. At school, I had to do things just because someone was saying that I had to do them. I wasn’t engaged. I don’t do well when I’m comfortable or bored; I have to have some skin in the game, I need things to be unpredictable. College just seemed like a four year comfort zone.”
At the same time, Alex didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to spend time with other interesting young people. If universities offered one thing, it was the chance to socialize with smart, engaging peers.
“I didn’t want to stay in DC,” Alex says of his motivation to join the fellowship. “When I found out that I could get up and move across the country and work and be inside the startup world where they’re building these companies and live with 18 people from around the world, with the freedom to do what I want… that’s why I decided to do UnCollege.”
Freedom is exactly what Alex found. After completing UnCollege’s three month launch phase, it was time for his voyage phase: the period where fellows travel abroad for three months to do independent work. Most of Alex’s colleagues took on work abroad — “tech incubators overseas, internships in Paris, au pairs in Spain,” and the like. [For upcoming fellows, the voyage phase will be slightly more structured, with options to choose from around the world.] Meanwhile, Alex and his roommate (who, he’s quick to say, is now one of his “absolute best friends”) bought two round trip tickets to Bangkok with no plans and just a backpack each. Neither had ever been out of the United States before.
“There’s something about going to Southeast Asia with no responsibilities and no plan. You’ve never had so much freedom in your life. If you weren’t having a good time, there was no excuse. You couldn’t stress about little things like waiting ten hours for the bus or sleeping on a bus with no AC. My takeaway was that if you’re going to stress about something, change it. If you care enough, you’ll change it. If you don’t change it, you don’t care enough, so stop stressing.”
Learning to let go of the little things is one revelation amongst many that UnCollege brought up for Alex. “UnCollege is about being very goal-oriented and very self-aware and self-reflective. I think I was somewhat self-aware and self-reflective before UnCollege, but the program showed me how you can break everything down. Now, I write down all my goals, every day. I write down the things I want to accomplish each month and each day.”
Back in Thailand, Alex traveled around the country and on the islands south of the mainland, staying in hostels and going where the wind blew. After about a month, Alex and his roommate decided to visit another UnCollege fellow who was in Malaysia before the three guys flew to Hanoi. “All this was on a whim. We wanted to ride motorcycles across the country, even though we’d never ridden motorcycles before. We arrived in Hanoi at 8 a.m., met three guys at the hostel who had just ridden from Ho Chi Minh city with their motorcycles. We bought them for $200 each, learned how to ride them that day, went to bed, and first thing in the morning we set out. We were still struggling, but we rode for three weeks on the Ho Chi Minh trail all the way across Vietnam, stopping in these little villages. Nobody spoke English. It was just an adventure. Our bikes would break down every other day. We had to tie ropes around our bikes and pull each other through the mountainside.”
That’s how, at the age of 18, while most of his high school friends were sitting in university lectures texting under their desks, Alex Tatem was motorcycling across Asia.
After his voyage phase, Alex knew what he wanted to do and headed back to DC, where he packed up his things and drove across the country back to San Francisco to begin work at an education technology company, where he now does sales operations and account executive work.
“It’s not as though I wouldn’t be doing this work if I hadn’t been in UnCollege. But I wouldn’t have traveled. And I wouldn’t have met these awesome, awesome people that I’m now friends with. That voyage was the best thing I’d done.”
To learn more about UnCollege and how you can become a fellow, check out UnCollege.org/program.
Have you thought about dropping out of college?
Maybe you’ve daydreamed about traveling the world, writing a book, or starting a business. Or maybe you don’t know what you want to do… you just know you aren’t happy where you are.
But you can’t just leave.
How will I support myself?
What will my parents think?
How will I get a job?
These are real concerns, but people have done it and gone on to thrive both personally and professionally – People just like you.
I talk to them every day. They have taken their education, career, and life into their own hands.
But what finally pushed them over the edge? How did they know it was time to drop out? Below are the top five signs from successful dropout that you should consider dropping out of college.
1) You are depressed (with no history of depression)
“That was my breaking point – I wasn’t prepared to live my life unhappily just to fulfill this ‘American Dream’ or to climb whatever social/career ladder that everyone believes is the way to a successful life.” –Dropout To Flight Attendant (Read her story)
2) You have no motivation
“The classes and programs offered by my college did not match with my interests so I naturally became unmotivated in school.” –Dropout To Data Scientist (Read her story)
3) You feel powerless
“I felt I needed to make decisions for myself instead of being a subordinate to people who thought they knew what was best for me.” –Dropout To Author/Yoga Instructor (Read her story)
4) You have something better going
“Why was I doing it? I’d just helped sign my first multi-platinum rock act and I wasn’t about to go back to the dorms.” –Dropout To Digital Marketer (Read his story)
5) You hate it
“I lived in a dorm, bought the overpriced books, and went from class to class with an optimistic attitude. The optimism faded when I realized something: I f#*$ing hated it.” –Dropout To Fashion Designer/Author (Read her story)
This definitely isn’t an exhaustive list; there are a ton of reasons to opt out, stop out, or drop out of college. However, for me, it was a combination of the reasons listed above.
I don’t know anyone who regrets taking time away from school. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, definitely take some time off.
Worst case scenario:
- At the end of the year you decide you want to go back to school and call it a gap year.
- You’ve saved some money and gained some work/volunteer experience.
- You’re confident school is the right place for you to be.
Best case scenario:
- Your depression disappears
- You discover what motivates you
- You feel empowered
- You build a career
- You love your life
“What finally convinced me to go ahead was simply that I was so unhappy not going ahead.” – Steven Pressfield
About the writer: Casey is the creator of Killing College. On his blog, he chronicles his journey as a college dropout and argues that college is no longer the best option for young, motivated, and intelligent people.
For the past year, I’ve dedicated myself to learning many skills across different fields. I’ve learned to rock climb, design iOS apps, DJ, write sales copy, and hip-hop dance.
Along the way, I discovered several unexpected benefits of learning lots of different skills.
Whether you are just getting started in self education or want to eventually become a specialist, there is a lot of value in spending a few months to a year to learn many different skills.
You have a better idea of what you want to do with your life.
There’s an expectation built into the education system that we should know what we want to do with our lives by 18 or 19. But really, there are many 45 year olds with no idea what they want.
For those of us who haven’t stumbled across our life’s mission, the way to figure it out is by trying many different things — except most 18 and 19 year olds haven’t had the time to gain that many experiences.
This is a goal that college ostensibly fills, but fails at. The problem is, learning about a job is not the same as actually doing it. Only by trying a new skill or job can we really know if we will enjoy it or now. Because as Dan Gilbert showed in his book, Stumbling on Happiness we are terrible predictors of what will make us happy.
By trying many different things, you find out a lot about yourself. This gives you confidence once you begin to focus on one thing.
You can relate to more people.
Relationships form the bedrock of all success. To build relationships, you need to be able to relate to people — that is, have something in common with them.
The more fields you understand, the greater your chances of being able to relate to someone. Often, you’ll connect with someone over something unrelated to how you end up getting value out of that relationship. For instance, I connected with a friend of mine over DJing and a love for travel, and now we do business together.
Not only will being able to relate to more people make you more friends and connections, but it will also help you become more persuasive. Empathy is the core of copywriting and successful marketing. And whether you are in business or not, we’re all selling something, whether it’s convincing your parents that dropping out of college is a good idea, diffusing a fight with a friend, or getting a date.
You become a connector.
Upon arriving in Saigon, I met a fellow entrepreneur named Jeremy who also happened to be a local musician. He made a few valuable introductions and now I have some DJing opportunities lined up.
What just happened there? By having a foot in two different communities, Jeremy was able to make several valuable introductions for me.
The more communities you are tapped into, the more often you can provide this type of value to people. Learning new skills lets you relate to more people, which lets you have friendships in more communities.
So not only do you get to learn a cool new skill and meet other interesting people involved in that skill, you also have the chance to connect these interesting people to each other.
You become a fascinating person.
Here’s a secret about spending time with successful people: you don’t have to be successful yourself. You just have to be interesting.
After spending a few months learning in different areas, you’ll be fascinating. Not many people can switch from talking about trading Bitcoin to surfing in Indonesia to the science of smart drugs to what makes a good sales page. Your skills will be different, but that’s how you’ll be unique.
It’s a cliche for a reason: you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Being interesting helps ensure those five people are successful.
You become better at learning.
Learning quickly and effectively is a skill. And like any other skill, you get better at it the more you do it.
You probably already know that constant learning is key to success. But what if you could learn just 50% faster? How much of an impact would that make on your life?
There are principles about learning that you pick up when learning each skill that can be applied to other topics in the future.
For instance, I learned to row by watching hundreds of Olympic races and internalizing the technique of world-class rowers. I learned to design by diving in and through trial and error, comparing what I had designed to websites I knew were good.
When I learned to DJ, I combined these techniques, spending plenty of time ‘figuring it out’ through trial and error, but also time imitating the sets and techniques that were successful before.
Knowledge compounds. If you’ve ever tried to learn a new language, you might find yourself saying, “oh, this is just like ____ in English!”. The more your branches of knowledge you have to build off of, the more frequently you make these sorts of connections.
You can see the Matrix.
This is the biggest reason that specialists should spend time branching out.
The greatest breakthroughs of the last century have primarily happened at the cross section of several fields, where knowledge and ideas from one field were used to make a breakthrough in another. Much of Apple’s success could be attributed to their focus on design. But had Jobs not become interested in calligraphy, he may have never push design as a core value of the company.
Ken Wilber took this to the extreme, taking wisdom from dozens of fields, from Taoism to Physics to Politics, to create his Theory of Everything.
Seeing the big pictures makes you aware of the changes and shifts. This is where the opportunities are.
By Connor Grooms
Connor Grooms writes about how to learn any skill in one month at his blog, One Month Master.
Read more about Connor here.
If you missed our free airfare offer last month, it’s not too late to save! Submit your initial program deposit for the Summer 2015 cohort by April 30 and save $1,000 off the program fee. Here’s what you need to do:
– Apply to the UnCollege Summer 2015 cohort here.
– Schedule an admissions interview by phone, Skype, or Google Hangouts.
– Submit an initial program deposit of $250 to hold your spot in the Summer 2015 cohort!
The Summer cohort begins July 10.
Don’t miss out on your chance to explore the world!
Applying to college comes with a lot of difficult choices. From choosing the right schools to deciding your course of study, the list of daunting decisions can be long. Once you get your final list of acceptance letters, the job doesn’t get any easier. So what should you do once you get accepted to college? Should you jump right in? If not, what should you do?
Stop, Think, Review
The last thing you want to do is rush your decision. Make sure you understand all of your options before choosing to act. Since there are so many facts and figures to understand, you have to ask yourself where you will be “happy, healthy, and able to grow.” Gather your list of schools, scholarships, and financial aid, and compare them against what you’re looking for.
Should I Defer?
If you feel that college isn’t quite right yet, that’s more than okay. Taking time off doesn’t have to be idle. Programs such as gap years might imply that “students are taking a gap in their education, when really the gap is to fill in what they haven’t learned in school.” Gap years offer the opportunity to travel, do community service, and generally understand your true interests in a way that high school and college might not be able. In fact, many people find that taking a gap year can help ease the financial burden that college presents, allowing you to work and save more money.
Though there are plenty of success stories about students choosing the right school for them, there are also a growing number of similar stories about students who took gap years. In a 2012 Time Magazine article, Amy Huynh decided to defer her admission to Colby College for a year so she could mentor and teach students in Los Angeles. For her, the decision was two-fold: on one hand, she wanted to better understand herself and her passions, while on the other, she wanted to work and save money for her subsequent expenses at Colby. She knew college was still an opportunity available to her, so taking a gap year would be a better experience.
Make a Choice
This might be the hardest step of all. Whether you choose to take a gap year or immediately enroll in college, making the choice can be tough. In some cases, students know right away which college is right for them. But for most, making the final choice about the next step after high school requires a lot of thinking, talking, and understanding. Financial aid might be a deciding factor, just as academics, social life, athletics, or location will play an important role in the decision.
Don’t Forget About High School
Though you’ve gotten to the final stretch of making your college decision, that doesn’t stand as an opportunity to forget about high school. This affliction, commonly known as “Senioritis”, infects many students after the college decision deadline passes. Your academics and extra-curriculars might not feel as important anymore, but colleges can rescind acceptances if you let things slip.
Once you do make your decision to defer or go to college, be proud of your accomplishments. It’s not an easy process to complete, and the next step is bound to be a great one. Get ready to grow and experience new things, regardless of which decision you make.
The economy is on the rebound, but at the end of the day, finding a job is still no cake walk for our generation. Where a good college degree once offered graduates an array of opportunities, many recent grads are now left picking at the dregs of an economy blighted by unemployment, job insecurity, and that dreaded phrase: “unpaid internships.” Getting into a great school is no longer the career boost it once was; you have to know how to stand out from the sea of qualified graduates, just like you. Here are my tried and true tricks for grabbing employers’ attention and getting those offers on the table.
Seriously. Be a nice, genuine person. You’ll be surprised how far it gets you. This doesn’t mean being unambitious in your goals, or a pushover in interviews. It just means being a person who isn’t hard to get along with, who makes others’ lives easier and workloads lighter. Find a job listing that sounds great, but isn’t right for your qualifications? Pass it onto a friend. Have a strong connection with your interviewer? Keep in touch, even if the job doesn’t come through. And when you finally do land a job, be the new employee who is known for being great to work with.
Work ridiculously hard on passion projects
Employers will never have a deficit of top-notch graduates to choose from. Never. To stand out, you need to be someone who has a distinct passion and who works distinctly hard to realize it. Sure, it’s great if your passion is saving the world’s oceans and you launch an NGO. But your passion can just as well be social media: the sad truth is, a humorous Twitter account that goes viral is far more likely to get you a high-paying job offer than any of the courses you took in college. Whether it’s through volunteer work, social media, musical practice, or any other number of myriad ways you can let your passion shine, pour yourself into the things that get you up in the morning and watch the job offers roll in.
Have a sense of humor
No one likes a bitter, sad grad! It can be hard to keep a good outlook with student loans and rent to pay, but remember: it won’t always be like this. Perseverance goes even further when you’re able to laugh at yourself and keep your chin up in the face of let downs.
Expand your search to different arenas
When I pursued my own job search, I made sure to expand my hunt not only to media companies but to publishing houses, tech start-ups, and thinktanks. Cast a wide, wide net. You’re young! You never know where you’ll be most in-demand; even if you think you have a strong idea about what you’d like to do, be open to the possibility of being surprised by an unexpected opportunity.
Strive to learn new skills:
Employers want to know that your ability to learn didn’t stop once you left the classroom. Starting new projects and using self-directed learning methods to pick up new skills will not only show potential employers that you are motivated, but curious and capable of working well on your own. (To find out the 10 essential skills you need that you might not learn in school, check out this post).
Don’t be afraid to put out a call
There’s nothing wrong about an earnest call for help. A quick post on Facebook (“Hey! I’m looking for a job in product design or marketing. Anyone know someone who’s hiring?”) can go a long way, and look: we’re all in the same boat! There’s no shame in leveraging your network to get a foot in the door. It’s how future CEOs have been getting hired for decades.
Make that resume shine
Imagine the life of an HR person: staring at boring Times New Roman over, and over, and over again. I’m not telling you to punch up your resume with Wingdings, but aiming for a sleeker design will help your piece of digital paper stand out in the tall digital stack of resumes. Keep it professional, but let your personality shine through a bit. Always highlight your most unconventional aspects first: did you volunteer in Nepal for six months? Put that right up top. Speak Finnish? Highlight that! Cum Laude won’t get you as far as an unusual experience project leading. For some great examples and templates, check out these from The Muse.
Cover letters matter, but your work matters more
Don’t slack on those cover letters. The older generations already think that we don’t know how to communicate or talk on the phone — don’t prove them right with a stilted, awkward, tone-deaf cover letter, or worse: a generic one! (Engineers: there’s no shame in paying an English major to polish yours up, seriously. Know your strengths.) But at the end of the day, your cover letter is only going to work if you can hyperlink it to a portfolio of your work. HR does their research these days, and if you talk a big talk but don’t walk a big walk, you’re not going to hear that phone ring. Future marketing guru? You need pithy writing samples. Designer? Get your portfolio online. Engineer? Here’s where those long hours finishing off university projects can finally pay off.
Don’t rest on your brand name college
Nobody likes the Harvard kid who never shuts up about how he went to Harvard. Same goes for Stanford, or Duke, or the University of Michigan. If you went to a school with clout, rest assured that that will be acknowledged by HR, and move on. You’ll go much farther with humility. Say it once, then let it go. Show that you’re working to establish yourself as much, much more than your university’s name, that you’re not someone who rests on her laurels. College should never be the best or the most impressive years of your life. Even if you went to Yale.
Know your stuff
Never, ever walk into an interview without having done the requisite research. Know the company. Know its strengths, sure, but far more importantly: know its weaknesses, and know exactly why you’re the person to bolster their vision where it needs bolstering. Be ready to cite recent press coverage of the company; watch interviews with the founders; get a sense for the culture before you walk through the door. The only way to be a “natural” fit is to be an informed fit. Consider it market research: how are you supposed to sell yourself as an employee if you don’t know your audience?
Believe me. I understand how eager you are to land a job, announce it on Facebook, and harvest those paychecks. But sometimes, holding out for the right offer is worth the wait. Re-frame your search as a mutual one: companies are looking for you, but you’re also looking for the right company. An extra month living at home or on a friend’s couch can be worth it if it means ending up in the right place at the end of your hunt. Think of the job search like dating. Patience is a virtue; it’s important to know your worth; and remember: no one likes desperation.
Why is is that so many people say they want to learn a new language, but never actually follow through? It’s a process that people abandon at an alarming rate, especially Americans who have little need to speak another language outside of a yearly 2-week vacation from the daily grind. But having an understanding of another language, even if you are not fluent, can help you become a better overall communicator and even make more money professionally.
If those reasons aren’t enough to get you to head to the bookstore and buy a new foreign dictionary, here are of a few more reasons you need to get serious about learning a new language.
When you’re learning a language, it tests your patience and grit. You learn to fail spectacularly. You embarrass yourself and learn to laugh it all off.In this sense, practicing a new language is similar to participating in an improv comedy group – you do whatever you can to communicate your point in the best way possible. As a result of these experiences, you escape your comfort zone, learn quickly and gain confidence.
Improved Decision-Making Skills
Advanced foreign language skills help people make better decisions. When operating in a second language, less of our emotions are involved in the conversation because our brain is working extra. This keeps us from making decisions out of emotional excitement.
Learning a Second Language Alters Your Grey Matter
Learning a language changes and builds your brain to make it stronger. This seems like common sense, but it is much deeper than that.The structure of your brain is physically changing, adapting, and becoming smarter while learning a new language.
Improves Your Job Prospects
There are many jobs in which foreign language fluency is a requirement. Examples of this are international commerce, government positions, journalism, telecommunications and many hospitality positions. Not only would these job options be open to you, but you will be set apart from the crowd in competition for other positions by your bilingualism. There are many benefits to knowing a second language in a business setting, including higher pay.
Stave off Dementia
At this point in your life, you’re probably not too worried about dementia, but it’s worth mentioning. While health checkups and saving for retirement prepare you for old age in a proactive way, you can prevent your mental decay now in a proactive way that also involves a lot of other benefits. Studies show that bilingual people have a slower onset of dementia.
Be a Better Community Member
In many places in the USA – especially big cities – there are whole families that speak languages other than English. These families make up communities within a larger community. For example, 24% of households in San Jose speak Spanish. That said, someone living in San Jose who doesn’t speak Spanish would be put at a disadvantage when trying to communicate with people in their community. And it’s not just limited to Spanish; in San Francisco, 11% of the population speaks Mandarin. In order to contribute to your local community, you have to be able to communicate with them members of that community.
So, what are you waiting for? In order to reap the rewards of speaking a second language, you have to put your efforts into learning it. The only way to get there is through habitual practice. There are plenty of hacks to language learning, and some of them work, but in the end it’s up to you to put in the effort.
Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Oracle mastermind Larry Ellison and record mogul David Geffen have at least three things in common: unfathomable wealth, world-renowned success, and no student loans. Although these gentlemen make up a very slim percentage of the population, more people in today’s business world, including a growing number of industry leaders, do not have college degrees. While a 4-year degree certainly has its advantages in the job pool, it’s not the only pathway to a successful, and lucrative, career.
Here are 7 of the highest paying jobs with no degree required. These jobs are often commission-based to get the big bucks, but even the base salaries will keep you living comfortably.
Real Estate Agent
A real estate agent does require a broker’s license, but applicants only need a high school diploma to apply. Real estate agents are usually on call and work nights, weekends, and holidays, but the commission for selling a million-dollar dream home is a nice one. And, real estate agents made our happiest jobs in America list! Depending on how hard you work at it, estimated annual incomes range from $20-73k.
Note: The housing market is not what it used to be, and although big home sales do still exist, competition to land these listings is becoming more difficult. Be prepared to have some long stretches in between sales, especially in certain parts of the country.
Executive assistants keep executive’s lives running smooth. They play a key role in carrying out the decision-making and policy setting of an executive through communication and procedures. Executive assistants also act as the temple dog; scheduling and monitoring where and with whom an executive spends their time. Although most executive assistants are at the beck and call of their boss, if you get in with the right executive, your job can be well rewarded; it’s been said that Oprah gives bonuses to her executive assistants in the form of new cars and Caribbean vacations. Typically, an executive assistant makes $40-56k a year.
Also known as legal assistants, paralegals do everything a lawyer does, except practice law; i.e. give legal advice to clients or act as counsel in the courtroom. Other than that, paralegals track down all case information and prepare documents for hearings, trials, depositions, etc. Most paralegals work in law firms and are trained in paralegal studies (some certification required). Depending on the law firm, or the case, paralegals have one of the highest ranging salaries; from $26-83k annually.
Although some sales managers are other managers transferred from internal departments, the majority are born of hardworking, high-quota salespeople who got promoted. Sales managers are responsible for managing the sales floor, setting quotas, developing sales strategies, and are held accountable for profits and losses in their department. Depending on the commission structure of the company, sales managers can do quite well if the team working under them sets, and meets, high quotas. Salaries are high ranging—from $30-86k typically, but sales managers at uber-companies can reach salaries into the millions.
All office workers know their company’s system administrator. When computers crash and all hope for the future seems lost, this is the person called upon to produce a miracle. And usually, they do. System administrators are responsible for maintaining a LAN (Local-Area Network), configuring workstations, performing system-wide updates, and fixing email glitches and other system bugs. A strong programming background is required, but a degree is not. Typical annual income: $54-71k.
Social Media Manager
A social media manager manages a company’s social media marketing (SMM)–this refers to boosting website traffic and online exposure through social media sites. Social media managers tend to be comprised of a younger demographic; as millennials are often plucked by companies for their social media skills. If you’re familiar with the workings of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Delicious & Digg, and have some marketing and SEO know-how, this career could be a great fit. Salaries range from $30-87k annually.
A copywriter’s job is a varied one, and can include everything from creating web page content, email campaigns, and blog and social media posts, to more traditional print work such as catalogues, billboards, brochures and magazines—even television scripts. Copywriters can be found at advertising agencies, publishing companies and in broadcast, but are also on the rise as independent contractors working for a variety of clients. Salaries range from $37-75k.
Landing a successful career without a college degree requires determination and hard work, but the opportunities are definitely out there. Start at the ground floor and work your way up. As with any job, perseverance and a solid work ethic will rise you to the top.
Reyna Ramli is a writer for CareerBliss, an online community dedicated to helping people find happiness in the workplace. Reyna loves writing on various topics, especially those related to careers, social media, and technology.
UnCollege is, above all else, a global community of experiential learners.
We’re open to new ideas.
Our blog strives to provide quality tips, techniques and advice for proactive learners. But the members of the UnCollege staff aren’t the only experts in experiential learning. Do you have tips? Do you have something that will benefit other experiential learners?
Right now, we are accepting contributions to the UnCollege blog from you, the readers and self-directed learners we serve. If you have something you would like to see on our blog that hasn’t been addressed or something you’ve been dying to contribute, now is the time to write it. Do you have methods or learning resources to share? Techniques? Opinions? News? Do you have something you want to share with the world and the global UnCollege community? Well, now is your chance.
Send me an email at chris(at)uncollege.org, with your ideas. When you email, please include a writing sample and a short description of why you want to contribute.
All contributors have a great opportunity to build a writing portfolio, use UnCollege’s network to chase interesting stories and gain exposure online.
For most of my teenage years, I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of the United States. The idea of traveling anywhere — especially throughout Europe — was big and exciting, and if someone asked I would have told them that I wanted to travel as much as possible as soon as possible. That in itself is still true; I’d like to travel as much as I possibly can while I’m still young. What I didn’t realize when I was preparing to head off on my voyage was what an enormous and immediate impact it would have on me. Sure, my parents or mentors could have told me this, but their words couldn’t prepare me for what I would experience.
My first experience abroad came during my Gap Year with UnCollege. Being five thousand miles from any semblance of familiarity, completely alone in a place where I couldn’t speak the language or read road signs, hit me hard and without any mercy. The first two days in Europe left me feeling like I had been completely flattened by the weight of the world and the realization that it was a bigger place than I ever could have imagined. It wasn’t necessarily the physical distance that bothered me; it was the distance I felt from any meaningful human contact, and the realization that I had been living a life in which I was far from understanding myself.
When I boarded my flight to Bucharest, I wasn’t nervous at all. I couldn’t wait to travel throughout eastern Europe, make friends, have fun, and experience life outside the one I had always known. Right before I left I remember a good friend of mine telling me that it doesn’t always feel good to be humbled by the world. I disregarded the statement, and told him I was excited to be humbled — that I couldn’t wait to be on my own in a completely different place. Looking back on it, that feels like a pretty ignorant thing to say. I don’t think anything or anyone could have prepared me for how small I would feel and how alone I would be. No matter how many people I met and friends I made, at the end of the day I was five thousand miles from home by myself, unsure what I was doing or where I was going.
Within the first week of arriving in Bucharest, where I began my Voyage volunteering at a hostel, I realized that I had been lying to myself about a lot of things: why I hadn’t gone to college, what I really wanted to do with the rest of my life, where I wanted to end up when my Gap Year was over. I started to understand that when it came to asking myself hard questions, I usually picked the answers that were easiest instead of the ones that would allow me to truly grow on a personal level. Anything I could do to avoid conflict in my own mind, I had done. Even in regard to more personal matters, anything I could do to avoid pain, I would do. I also began to understand the sense of entitlement that pervades my entire generation, including myself.
If you had asked me before I started my UnCollege Gap year if I was grateful for the life I was able to lead, I would have said yes. Ask me now, and I’ll tell you that I’ve been taking my privilege for granted since birth, just like so many other American teenagers. The large majority of us have had our education handed to us, and rather than being grateful for the fact that we have access to one and taking control of it, we let it pass us by without ever truly learning from it. Looking back on my adolescence, I recognize now that I’ve never really felt what it’s like to be grateful, and that realization was humbling in ways that I can hardly explain to myself. On the bright side, UnCollege has helped me to take control of my own education despite not taking advantage of that opportunity in high school, and I am more grateful for what I’ve learned during my Gap Year than I ever was for the education I received as a child.
I’m not a hundred percent sure why going to Europe is what it took for me to understand all of this. Maybe I just needed to learn what it feels like to be truly isolated in order to start being honest with myself. To say the least, my voyage wasn’t at all what I expected. But would I change it? Not even if I could. It was painful to open my eyes to the fact that I had been lying to myself for so long — to understand that the life I was living wasn’t one that I had ever intended for myself. But I wouldn’t go back to being blind to all of it even if I was given the chance. In a lot of ways, my time here really wasn’t that enjoyable. I spent a lot of time being introspective, which took its toll on me as a pretty extroverted person. But I am so grateful for the fact that coming here forced me to take that time. I’ve grown more in the last couple months than I ever could’ve imaged, and for what seems like the first time in a long time, I’m making decisions based on what’s right for me, and I actually feel really good about that. I’ve also been feeling a new kind of excitement for the future — for the internship that I’m going to take part in next month, my next travel experience, and my plans beyond UnCollege. I’m beyond excited to see what the next several months have in store, and I’m starting to become a lot more prepared for any adversity that may come my way.