Experience, travel: these are as education in themselves

May 28, 2011 in Philosophy,Travel

It’s graduation season in America: many of my friends are donning a cap and gown again to receive their masters degrees or teaching credentials. While I may not be putting a few more letters after my name, I feel like my last two years of international work and travel have been an incredibly valuable education.

Don't just believe, think in front of cathedral in Melbourne, Australia

College in America is an amazing coming-of-age experience, one that is just as much about keg parties and living on your own as it is about classes.  I wouldn’t trade my four years for anything—but I sometimes wonder if I would have learned just as much if I had taken my tuition and applied it to a round-the-world ticket.

Language: If you want to learn another language, immersion is absolutely the best way to do it. I’ve studied French on and off for years, yet my greatest leaps have always come when I lived there. Sitting in a language class, you never think to ask about the words for key or locksmith, but when you find yourself locked out of your apartment, you suddenly pick up a whole new vocabulary.

Christine Amorose in the Cafe des 2 moulins in Amelie in Paris, France

When I dropped my French major my sophomore year of college, it was because I realized that having a degree wouldn’t matter. As I reasoned to my doubtful mother, reading newspapers won’t make you a journalist—but simply being able to understand, speak and write French puts me on par with a French major.

Economics: Drops in the Dow, currency exchange rates and the strength of the American currency take on a whole new significance when traveling–the American dollar doesn’t go nearly as far as it used to. I find myself questioning supply and demand when I can’t find a favorite snack from home, and even more so when I realize my favorite American brand is marked up by more than 50 percent. Learning how to maximize experiences for minimum cost takes research, creativity and a little finesse.

Dachau concentration camp. Germany

History: History books rarely do a good job of bringing the past to life. But standing where Julius Caesar once addressed the crowd at the Forum, seeing the gas chambers disguised as showers at Dachau, sitting in a cathedral that was built before tape measures, engineering degrees or forklifts —that realization suddenly brings history to life. It can act as a catalyst to learn more about a specific event or time period.

Political Science: Travel brings you up close and personal to the international issues that are often played out in the back pages of the newspaper. The strikes over the retirement age in France last year certainly made the news, but you don’t realize how crippling French social pressure can be until your flight has been canceled because air traffic control is at the march or you can’t make it to work because none of the buses are running. Suddenly, “other people’s problems” become your problem—and you’re much more interested in finding a solution.

Typewriters in paris, france

Social psychology: Meeting people and making friends can be difficult, no matter where you are in the world. Add in cultural or language differences, and it’s exponentially more challenging. Yet you learn that the ties that bind are the same everywhere: proximity, common interests, alcohol. Everyone has the same basic needs and wants—we’re much more similar than we are different.

"think" street art in Collingwood, Melbourne, Australia

Philosophy and logic: Travel forces you to problem solve, be creative and adapt to the situation. Every day is a new challenge: you learn quickly that it is you who must change, not the other way around. It makes you ask questions: to question my own priorities and prejudices, to wonder how my surroundings and experiences have shaped me and my outlook.

The most valuable lesson in education is realizing that you don’t know it all. The smartest people are usually the ones who admit how much they don’t know, yet are constantly eager to learn more. Every time I go somewhere new, I realize more and more that my “right way” is simply my way–and perhaps that’s the greatest benefit derived from an education of travel instead of a traditional university.

Note: the title of this post is a quote from Greek playwright Euripides.

  • I often mention this to friends: having lived and work abroad speaks more on a resume than diplomas. A job, you can learn easily. But the way travel develops your personality, what you learn about yourself as a person cannot happen any other way. I believe that being a traveler makes you a stronger candidate than the other way around.

    And as you said, there are many academical subjects you learn by yourself on the road.  The school of my life, my mother often tells me, cannot be learned at school. :)

  • Wow, never thought about things quite this way. You make many great points, especially the one about political science. Thanks for getting me thinking this morning!

    And that picture of Dachau gave me chills. A visit there was on the itinerary for my trip this fall (which I’ve, sadly, had to postpone). :(

  • Love, Love, Love this. This is such a great idea for a post and agree with it all. I’ve recently been able to say and believe that travel is the greatest education. As I’ve traveling around the last 8 months, it’s really shown me how much I don’t really know about anything. It’s been a very humbling experience and this is something people can come to grips with through long or short-term travel. It’s why I rarely visit the same destination more than once.

  • Wow, incredible list! It makes me look extra forward to my move abroad. 

  • I totally agree. Living as an expat gives you new skills that I use in all areas of my professional and personal life! Great post.

  • Raquel

    I’ve never really thought about it but this totally makes sense. Great job!

    Ps the new blog layout looks awesome on the iPhone. It makes following you even easier!

  • Travel really is a global education, it one of the reasons why I love travel and why I wish many people would travel more. Being from Canada I learned more about the American Civil Rights Movement from an art exhibit last year in New York City than I did in school.

  • Anonymous

    That’s a great quote from your mom! There is so much that is learned outside the walls of a classroom–and those are often the most valuable lessons.

  • Anonymous

    When you get there, Dachau is definitely worth a visit. I originally didn’t want to go–thought it would be too depressing–but it’s such a powerful place.

  • Anonymous

    I wish I could only visit the same destination once! I fall in love with places and can’t stop thinking about them–I’m dying to get back to Nice, Stockholm and Paris!

  • Anonymous

    Such a worthwhile experience! Where are you moving?

  • Anonymous

    It really forces you to become more creative and flexible–such valuable skills in all walks of life!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks lovely! Glad you enjoyed it–and glad it works on the iPhone :)

  • Anonymous

    So true–I feel like I learn so much more about history when I’m actually IN a place versus reading a book.

  • hypnotiq_huny

    Great topic!
     I never thought of it like that but i totally agree!!!! 

  • Anonymous

    Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Anonymous

    Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Jenns

    You are a slut. I hope you die. Just kidding, i liked the topic. that last part was a joke i still hate you. JK. Loved the article cause it didnt help me at all. I love it when authors are creative enough to write horribly. Actually though it wasnt that bad, it was actually good.

Previous post:

Next post: