The write up for Part 2, Episode 2 of the Life in Another World Podcast episode. The audio and write up for the first part can be found here.
When you hear the words “year abroad,” what do you usually think? Education? Travel? A world tour or a year in a particular country?
In reality, it could be any or even all of those.
When I was younger and decided to see the world, I thought the only way to travel for a year was to do it through schooling. The prospect of “just traveling just to travel” seemed ludicrous and unattainable —
Until I figured out it was one of the cheapest ways to travel.
On the second part of this podcast episode (check out the write up for part one here), Anna and I move away from our conversation about dealing with death and into a discussion about going to school for a year and traveling for a year.
Studying Abroad vs. Traveling Abroad
Anna set out on an Australian adventure back in 2009. Through CSU International Programs, she studied at the University of Queensland in Brisbane.
Fortunately, since Anna was still a student at the time, most of her grants and scholarships covered her tuition. In the end, she only ended up paying $2,000 out of pocket, and as a prudent saver, that seemed completely attainable to her.
Even though Anna and I took different courses in our treks around the world, we each faced a similar trouble leading up to our journey:
Other people’s doubt.
Our friends and family, though they loved and supported us, didn’t necessarily think we were ready to do what we had planned. I distinctly remember my sister saying, “Don’t you think you should do a smaller backpacking trip before you try for a year long one?”
It isn’t as though we thought our loved ones didn’t support us, but at the same time, we could not be inhibited by their fears. We had enough of our own to overcome.
Choosing to Go
I decided to disappear from my “normal” life for a year because I was tired of it. The routine I’d fallen into didn’t suit me anymore, and I needed to challenge myself so I could grow. Any ideas of remaining stagnant became horrific nightmares throughout my daily life.
When it came to schooling, Anna felt the same way.
Paths in her current education at CSU Monterey Bay didn’t exactly meet the challenges she wanted. It wasn’t that the program was bad, but she yearned for a different taste of education. One that would challenge her in a way that made her realize there were many things on this earth besides her.
For Anna, choosing to study abroad for a year seemed like the only thing that made sense, and with the majority of her finances taken care of, it just worked.
I’d always desired a year abroad myself, but as I said, I never thought I could do it if it wasn’t school-related. I, however, would have had to pay the out–of–pocket international fee in its entirety if I’d gone to school. Since I was fortunate enough to have parents who both afforded and paid for my school, I did not receive any financial aid. Even though my parents could afford my schooling in our home state, one look at the cost for an international student wiped the idea away immediately.
Deciding How Long to Stay
In the early stages of my decision to travel, a year was never even an option. Frustrated with the way my life currently played out, I just wanted to get away for a couple of weeks. Going somewhere for a short period still sounded better than staying put, which was exactly what I needed.
For me, however, that two weeks turned into two months… which bled into three… which transformed into the year-long trip I’d always desired when I discovered New Zealand’s Working Holiday Visa.
That, and the fact that going for a year actually turned out to be cheaper than a quick visit.
Who would have thought?
The Impact of Either Decision
As a self-proclaimed nerd, Anna is proud to have traveled for schooling purposes. She loved the ability to study from inside a different culture, and sticking around in one spot for an extended period of time gave way to budding friendships that last a lifetime.
While she was gone, I spent my time watching her in envy. I yearned for the exact experience she had, but it shocked me to hear that she had the same jealousy toward me.
Although she had a great experience and got everything she asked form, Anna never necessarily had the ability to travel around and enjoy the country itself. All of her time was spent on work and school, and outside of a visit to the Great Barrier Reef (as a marine ecologist, she can’t miss that, now can she?), Anna was unable to see the rest of the country.
I, on the other hand, scoured every possible inch I could get my feet on in New Zealand. While I was there, however, I still made an effort to get into a school that was denied. The prospect of schooling in a different country still appealed to me, but in retrospect, I’m happy I didn’t get tethered to one spot.
Other Culture’s Influences on the Mindset
Whether you’re in school or have the ability to travel around, don’t just stick to what’s popular. The information sites only tell you so much, and each location will affect each individual that passes through it differently.
Though I did travel around a lot, I also stayed put in Wellington for a while. There, I was fortunate enough to work inside their Parliament, where I really learned the ins and outs of the country. Before I’d left California, I just clumped “New Zealand” as “New Zealand.” Once I was there, however, I learned each town, village, city, and path is different.
This realization of the depth of the country’s culture paved my way into a different thinking about life:
Every time I’m in someplace new, I’m in someplace new.
Regularly seeing new places opened my eyes to just how unique every place in this world is. At that, no matter where you go, you’ll always be a “foreigner” until you become a “local.” No matter where you go!
When Real Life Stalks You
To all prospective travelers and friends of those who travel, I have a public service announcement:
Just because you’re in a beautiful place that’s not your home doesn’t mean you won’t face any challenges that will challenge you.
For both myself and Anna, this was an obstacle we didn’t know we were going to face. The same people who supported our decision to make this journey expressed a certain sense of resentment once we’d embarked. They felt like they weren’t “as cool as us” or that what was happening in their life wasn’t interesting because they weren’t traveling.
At that, friends back home assume you’ll never be upset or have a “bad day” because they think everything for you is going smoothly.
All of this is wrong on so many levels.
Without expressing any negative feelings toward people who treated me like this, I’d kindly like to explain a few things:
- Your life, and everything that’s happening in it, still matters to your friends when they’re on the other side of the world. That’s the last sense of normalcy we have to cling on to. Never think you don’t matter.
- I can still feel like crap in a beautiful place. Life still exists during travels, and it’s not always easy for me, either.
- Americans don’t travel. Why is that necessary to share? Because of the fact we’re a rare breed, whenever anyone “finds one of us,” they essentially take their opportunity to “ask it every question you’ve ever wanted to know.” America controls the media, and the people around the world watch us with wide eyes and dropped mouths. And no, they’re not all as jealous as we think.
- “Look at where you are” isn’t a valid thing to say to a friend that’s hurting just because they’re traveling. What would you say to me if I was on your couch? You wouldn’t point out to our hometown and say the same thing.
- The reason you think everything is “perfect” is because we don’t post negative things on social media. We want people to believe that we’re having a great time. Would you rather your traveling friends go through all of their pain through their statuses? I wouldn’t.
Making the Final Decision
Perhaps you’re considering a year abroad for school. Maybe you’re about to embark on a world tour and will only spend a few days in hundreds of different locations. You might only be able to swing a week, but that’s perfectly okay, too.
No matter what, you can expect to walk around in a constant state of wonder. You can expect good days, bad days, support, resentment, and everything else that comes in between.
Because no matter what, as long as you’re traveling, you’re growing.
What you’re used to is not normal for everyone. Traveling helps you evolve, forces you to open up and accept other cultures, and teaches you how to commingle with people around the world. When you immerse yourself in other cultures and experience it for yourself, it’s impossible to avoid being humbled.
More importantly, traveling helps you own who you are. You’ll learn about yourself and the people around you, whether you try to or not. Gain all the inspiration you need by living vicariously through other people, but remember, they can’t live your life for you.
Now, go out there and learn how to experience and feel it for yourself.