When I graduated high school, I knew that I had to do something with the rest of my life, but I was at a loss for what that something should be and how I was going to make it happen. I knew that I loved school. I knew that college would be the most efficient way for me to get started with my adult life. I had been planning to go to college my whole life, but then an opportunity arose that I just couldn’t ignore. Three years in Europe were calling, and I ditched the plan that I had cultivated for my entire childhood in pursuit of a more unconventional education.
Criticism ran pretty high when people found out what I was going to do; namely, move across the ocean, reject the scholarships that would have given me nearly a free ride from schools I had dreamed of going to, and instead opt for self-paced, self-paid college over the Internet, all because I wanted to see the world or find myself or whatever other clichéd terms my critics framed my life in. Some people were genuinely concerned for me, and I actually really appreciated it. I asked tons of friends and family what they thought about my decision; I’ve never been one to make a move lightly. I researched and polled and worried until decision time came, and I realized the only person who could make the decision was me. Others, however, offered unsolicited opinions on the matter, often without having the full story. One woman even asked my mom if she thought I could handle the strain of online classes, and she sarcastically berated her to, “make sure she doesn’t drop out."
The truth was, I didn’t need anyone else’s opinion. I knew that going to Europe was the right move. I also anticipated that it was going to be one the hardest adjustments I would ever have to make and that yes, I would have to be able to handle my classes. (As it turns out, that was no problem at all for me. Self-motivation is not an issue for a person who has to plan out their whole day, every day regardless of work load.) There was so much that traveling had to offer me, and I couldn’t guarantee that an opportunity like this one was ever going to come my way again.
Living, adventuring and growing up here has been the best thing for me in more ways than I can count. I am more confident and surer of who I am and what I can do than I have ever been before. There is no better way to establish your place in the world than to see yourself through the eyes of other cultures. Living abroad pushes you out of a comfort zone that you didn’t even know existed. I have learned more about art and history and science and people from my time in Europe than all of my years in school. At the same time, I have stayed committed to balancing my actual classes with the demands of my traveling schedule. I can decently communicate in another language. I can navigate just about any foreign city you place me in, regardless if I’ve ever been there before or not. I can recognize paintings and inventions, and I know their context in time because our present is the culmination of everything that has come before us, and the best way to learn that is walking around an ancient city. I’ve grown personally here in ways that I didn’t expect. I’m more empathetic and more optimistic towards other people. In so many ways, we are all one. It doesn’t matter where you come from or who you are, the basic things that define us are the same. On the other hand, I know now more than ever that our differences are important and that valuing experiences separate from my own is key to living an open and loving life.
I have no doubt that a traditional college experience would have been beneficial for me, and I’m definitely not saying that everyone should abandon their plans and move to Europe. What I am saying, is that this was the right decision for me and if something similar is the right decision for you, don't be afraid to go for it. I wouldn’t take my time here back for anything and even though I’m probably going to have to do some time playing catch-up once I get back to the States, it will have been worth it.