Remember that quote about how you’ll forget your nights out in college, but you won’t forget who you spent them with? I think the same thing also applies to your classes: I might not remember the key terms in social psychology or the exact format of a press release, but I do remember the professors who made me think a little harder.
Kurt Nordstrom was–and I imagine still is– a polarizing figure in the Chico State Journalism Department. Students in his writing, gender studies and multicultural studies classes either loved him or hated him. But no matter how you felt about his class structure or views, you had to respect one thing: the man doesn’t mince words. He tells it like it is, often in pithy, quotable statements (also often outrageously frank and unrepeatable here). I’ve found myself repeating many of his trademark quotes since I’ve been traveling, and have found they’re wise advice for any citizen of the world.
I joyfully accept the choices other people make. The only person I’m responsible for is me. I can’t change how people think about me or my lifestyle or where I come from. I can’t make other people want to travel or get their passport or quit their job. I can’t answer for Americans who treat local people rudely, or who drink too much, or who spend their whole vacation whining about how things aren’t how they are at home. And there’s no point stressing out over trying to change people: it’s much easier–and healthier–to accept the things we can’t change and simply try to live our own lives the best we can.
Stop putting age limits on things. The odds of you meeting the love of your life the year you turn 27, simply because you want to date someone for two years before you get engaged and you want to be engaged for at least a year, and you want to be married before you turn 30: that’s just not how life works. Throw out the fairytales and the irrelevant requirements, and live life. Be open to opportunities, and see where life takes you: if you do things right, rarely will it be where you thought it would go. In travel: be flexible. Be open-minded. Be willing to change your plans. The road will reward you.
I’m not saying it’s right, I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m just saying it is. When you’re in a different country, it’s easy to dismiss cultural differences as being wrong or worse than “our” way of doing things. But I often come back to this statement when I start to judge another country or another person. Recently, I was trying to sort out why there was so much trash everywhere in Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali that is super devoted to eco-friendly causes. Then I was chatting with someone, and they mentioned how the Balinese people used to eat everything on banana leaves and toss the banana leaves into the river (brilliant simplicity)–so it’s probably just a lack of education in knowing that tossing your plastic bottle into the river isn’t quite as biodegradable. And honestly, it’s probably more of the West’s fault for introducing our cheap, environmentally-unfriendly packaging. It was an excellent reminder to look at all sides of the issue, not just the most obvious.
Collect experiences, not possessions. Possessions possess you. One of the downsides of being an expat versus being a traveler is a tendency to accumulate. When I’m living out of three bags, I’m very conscious of how much I own. But once I move into an apartment, I suddenly have the luxury of space–for a new dress, for sparkly eyeshadow, for every cleaning product under the sun. And then I feel guilty when I leave because of all the stuff I own–do I sell it? Give it away? Leave it behind? And honestly, I’m much more satisfied with the money I spent on all sorts of extreme sports or crossing the Nullarbor: those memories won’t fade, but my trendy new bag will probably go out of style.
Embrace this moment because it’s probably the last time in your life you have no idea where you’ll be next year. As my senior year of college drew to a close, I stopped into Nordstrom’s office hours to chat. I was stressing that the five-week solo backpacking trip I’d been planning as a post-graduation treat would seriously hurt my chances in a recession-stricken job hunt. He told me to stop freaking out and embrace the unknown. At the time, it struck me as being scarily true: I would soon be a “grown-up” with a real job, serious boyfriend and an apartment of my own. If all went according to the American dream, I’d soon be promoted, married and have a house in the suburbs with 2.5 kids. The rest of my life felt completely mapped out for me. When I decided to move to France, his words popped back into my head. Now one of my favorite things about my life is that I have absolutely no idea where I’ll be in a year’s time–life is much more fun when it’s unpredictable.
Many thanks to Kurt Nordstrom for not only being a source of wisdom, but for also being super supportive whenever I needed it–and thanks to Katelyn Davis for quoting Nordstrom and Elizabeth Gilbert with me whenever necessary.