11 July 2011

5 Reasons I Need to Escape My Current Life and Travel

We've all been there.  That one moment where this realization pops in your head and very clearly states "I am unhappy with my life.  Something needs to change."

Well, that realization has definitely hit me.  

I am unhappy with my current life situation, and I know that I'm not going to feel fulfilled unless I fulfill the calling that I've had to travel.  I've had "the bug" since I was 6 years old and I went on an airplane for the very first time to go to Disneyland with my mum.  The furthest I've gone in Canada was to Ottawa -- for three days.  I've only been to 3 of the U.S. states.  I've never been to Europe.  The furthest I've been was a week-long, all-inclusive trip to Cuba.

I need to see more.  The fact that my month-long trip to Nicaragua has been threatened by lack of finances has really woken me up.  I need to make this happen.  I can't (read: won't) wait two more years before I get a chance to travel, and there will be no opportunities to go after August ends due to grad school: in the summers after this I will be taking jobs as a sessional instructor (should the position be offered) in order to gain more practical experience as a teacher, so chances for personal travel is pretty much a moot point.  My only opportunities will be when I present my research at scholarly conferences, and even then I will likely be stuck between a hotel room and a university conference room.


Now that my rant is over, here are five reasons why I need to escape my current life to travel for the rest of it:

(1) The cultural experience

I am in love with culture.  Everything from ceremonies and rituals to the way morning markets are conducted to the types of symbols that people tend to admire and/or worship.  Not to completely demean my little piece of Canada, but I grew up in an area where 90% of the population came from Anglo-Saxon descent (including my family).  I know the ins and outs of Canadian culture, and while I'm a sucker for a good plate of poutine, I want something different.  I miss Mexican street food.  I miss exploring every little nook and cranny of a region I know nothing about.  I love the whole experience of getting to know a city and introducing yourself to it.  It's what I've been yearning for from the moment I stepped back on Canadian soil.

(2) Languages (!!?!!?)

Given my area of study in school (linguistics), it should come as no surprise that languages are my thing.  However, English is the primary language in Western Canada, and as ironic as it sounds, it is very difficult to find someone who is willing to do conversation partner exchanges in another language.  In my experience, it usually ends up being conducted all in English, with the native speaker (me) explaining common expressions to the enthusiastic learner.  

I miss speaking French.  I miss speaking Spanish.  I miss studying Chinese.  I'd love to master them, and then some!  I've never had a chance to speak French outside of Canada, and even then it was restricted to 6 weeks at a horse ranch when I was 15, and asking for directions to Jacques Cartier park while in Ottawa.  For once, I'D like to be the learner, immersed in a culture where English isn't the norm!  It was one of the things I thrived on while I was in Mexico... I was constantly learning new things to say, from asking for more hot water (not agua calor, but caliente agua) to thanking someone for their kindness after a very tense moment trying to locate a rental car (also for a later post).

Becoming competent in many language is on my bucket list, as a matter of fact... but that's for a later post.

(3) I don't want to spend the rest of my life in an office.

For some people it works.  For me, it doesn't.  I'm always my happiest when I'm outside, especially if I'm around some source of water.  With my education heading in the direction it's going, that is exactly what I'm pushing myself toward, and I'm resenting every second of it.  

This is not to say that I can't function in an office; in fact, I can manage well in one.  All I'm saying is that after a period of time I tend to start feeling incredibly confined.

(4) My education is pushing me into a corner.

I read a couple of weeks ago from someone I follow on Twitter that she had been accepted to a Masters program in Humanitarian Action.  As ashamed as I am to admit this, I got so green in the face that I swear my entire line of sight shifted to some shade of the same colour.  I was envious.  I was pissed off at her -- how come she got to live her dreams and I can't!?  You know... the irrational jealousy that seeps in when you see people getting what you want and can't [currently] have.

It was at that point that I realized how deeply unhappy I was, and that I knew something had to be done.  At this point, the only thing holding me back from skipping graduate school and spending the rest of my life living out of a backpack is the mountain of student debt that I have to pay off before I can make my dreams start happening.

(5) Traveling gives just as valuable an education as a classroom does.

In my opinion, my travel experiences have given me more world knowledge than a classroom ever has, but that's a matter of opinion: some people think that classrooms are the epitome of education as we know it.  Everything from eating local food to couch surfing because you can't afford to spend your last few dollars on a hostel really changes you as a person.  You learn to make decisions on the fly.  You learn how to adapt to ever-changing situations.  You learn how to compartmentalize stress and take care of things that need doing, knowing that when it's all over you can blow off the steam and find a new local beer to splurge on after you're done decompressing.

Did I mention that thanks to the GlobeTrotterGirls, I am seriously excited for Nicaraguan beer!?

When did you have your moment of clarity? What triggered it, and how did you react? Please feel free to share, and thanks for reading!

Note: To the girl on Twitter who posted about going to Dublin for her Master's - Congratulations on your accomplishment.  I am very happy for you, and wish you all the success you can possibly achieve.  I owe you eternal thanks -- you've opened up my eyes to see endless possibilities.  Thank you.

02 July 2011

To Spend and Travel, or to Save and be Prudent...?

A lot of things have been happening as of late that have affected my ability to think clearly and logically.  To sound less cryptic, what I'm looking at is a huge division between my head and my heart in terms of the wisest (read: smartest) course of action to take in the next 30 days.

Going back a few days...

In early May, I was accepted to graduate school at Columbia University, which is of course a very prestigious offer that I eagerly accepted.  However, as a low-income student, I am pretty much relying on a full scholarship in order to have the means to attend this university, or I will have spent $500 in application fees and enrollment confirmation fees (not to mention all the paperwork!!) for nothing.  If I do get this full scholarship, though... this will be a dream come true.  Travel-related consequences of this minor miracle include having no money - ergo, no means for traveling.  In fact, in all likelihood I will end up as a poster child for the "starving student" stereotype, as being an international student entitles me to no luxuries that U.S. citizens have up to and including social insurance, federal loans, nearly all scholarships, and employment opportunities.

Concurrently, I was also offered a place in graduate studies at the University of Victoria -- the uni that I just graduated from/currently work for.  If I attend this institution I am most likely going to receive funding for the year and into next year, provided that I keep my grades up (not a hard task).  Also, I will (hopefully/most likely) have job opportunities abound including research assistantship, teaching assistantship, sessional instruction in the summer, and research opportunities of my own.  I will be eligible for research grants and the like.

However, as I'm sure 99% of you realize, Columbia University is Ivy-league, and therefore way more prestigious by reputation.  Furthermore, it has more educational resources in my field than my current uni does in some ways.  That being said, though, staying local means saving more money, which means I still have a shot at traveling.


So what do I do?

I've been ready to book my month-long trip to Nicaragua for months, but I really can't until I know what is happening with Columbia regarding funding.  Until I know that, booking my flight is a big waste of money.  Though, on the flip side, it might be wiser to save my money until I'm done graduate school, and afterward proceed to take a very long trip rather than a couple of short ones.  After my Master's program is done I have a tentative plan to go to Thailand for a month.  

Should I follow my brain, simply save the money I do have until my program is done, use the money I have left for travel and backpack for a little while, and then return to whatever it is I have in mind to do?  

Or should I follow my heart, visit Nicaragua for the 36 days I'd originally planned, and use the time as an extended vacation before graduate school?

I honestly have no idea, but I have to figure it out soon.


Have you ever been in a situation where you had to decide between your head and your heart?  How did you come to a conclusion on your dilemma?