High school, what college to go to, which major to choose, getting a grown up job…welcome to the world of making hard life decisions. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather think about taking a vacation in Indonesia or maybe exploring Lithuanian cafes instead. I mean, after high school you go to college and after college you do…what? Get a job? Awesome….But what about traveling the world? I didn’t so much want to follow that traditional pattern my friends were following because I was too hung up searching for flights and thinking about country hopping in Europe or wandering rice patties in Asia. I wanted a gap year where I could just travel before making so many big decisions. School could wait for a bit. Graduation will happen, just a little later..and I wasn’t too anxious to jump straight into an office job just to pay car payments and insurance and stuff. This world is INCREDIBLE and I wanted to see it for myself and I don’t regret it for a second.
And I don’t see traveling as putting my life on hold.
Sure, I could have taken summers to take more classes and get a job right after graduation but I’ve been able to finish school and get a job (that allows me to travel, ironically enough) and still make friends with the lady at my favorite noodle house, hang out at European cafes and knowing how to haggle the price down like a local. Traveling has given my life so much more...life!
I know it sounds like the plot to some Hallmark movie but I needed that time to travel and figure life out. I needed to figure out who I was; I love who I am when I travel. I love pushing myself by living in a different culture and being away from home and trying new foods week after week before I settle down and get a job and get married. I needed that chance to realize that I can do hard things. I needed to realize how to be happy no matter where I was or who I was with.
It’s fun visiting a country for a week or two but it’s a completely different experience actually living there. Being able to figure how you deal with stressful and hard situations all while living somewhere where you don’t speak the language and don’t really understand the culture is exhilarating but it’s hard! And I love that challenge. I’m addicted to that experience of living, actually living abroad, and not just visiting. I figured out some major life choices while sitting in front of world wonders, and learned more about myself than I ever could have by just staying at home in my comfort zone.
Even with these adventures, I was able to go to college the summer after I graduated high school, graduated college in 4 years and was able to find a job that allows me to live Singapore or spend a few months living in China or do ILP again (seriously!). I don’t think I sacrificed anything by flying back and forth, exploring new countries, new languages and new foods.
I can’t tell you how big of a difference living and volunteering abroad made in my life (cue cheesy Hallmark music) but I think everyone should live abroad at least once. You never know what doors it will open for you, how it looks on a resume, the lives you touch and how much you could fall in love with the cute kids you teach. You don’t know how much it will change you - you will love who you are abroad. That person is brave, adventurous, willing to talk to strangers and start dancing with the old Thai ladies in the park. Make it work for your schedule- get college credit by volunteering, or fit in a semester in Romania during your summer break , or take a break from school to travel because you never know how big of an impact it is until you actually go for yourself.
If you have even spent 2 minutes thinking about living in a foreign country, DO IT! There are a million ways to make that happen. I’ve planned my own trips, gone with friends, and even traveled by myself but I looooooooved my ILP semester abroad and think about it every single day. It was an amazing way to see so much of China and I’ve got my eye on visiting their other 8 countries. The experience for the price is just too good to pass up for someone who still has empty passport pages.
So, what are you waiting for? Find out for yourself what traveling and volunteering can do for you. Don't let things like selling an apartment contract or leaving behind a boyfriend stop you (Pst...you can read about how ILP can help you through things that keep you from traveling abroad with this free ebook below). Don't just take my word for it; it's a big decision to start traveling, but it will be incredible to see how much you learn, love and grow from that one life choice.