“Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God.”- Kurt Vonnegut
Why am I talking about travel? Wasn’t this article supposed to be about University? Where AM I going with this?
Here’s a story. I have a younger brother. For the sake of this story we’ll call him Francisco. Fran is the type of guy that wakes up and then spends the next five hours actually waking up. His favorite thing to eat is potatoes and cheese and we once found a half-eaten banana in his backpack from the previous semester. I love him like crazy.
But when Francisco told me he wanted to study abroad for a year in Germany I was pretty concerned.
To be honest, I thought he was going to die.
Was my brother the type of person I pictured studying abroad for a full year?
Short answer? No. Long answer? Nooooooo.
But Fran turned out to be the man. He’s travelled all around Europe (transportation is super cheap) and learned about his field (Political Science) from a completely different perspective. He’s made friends with people from all around the world and ate some amazing food. And he’s also cooked a metric tonne of potato’s and cheese; it’s good to know some things really don’t change.
So here’s where I’m going with this:
Commitments that take up a lot of time (like starting are a family) are going to make it tough to get out and see the world when you’re older. So when I say University is the best time to do something CRAZY… it really is!
Let’s get specific:
1. STUDY ABROAD EXCHANGE PROGRAMS
There are many different ways you can see the world. Like my brother, you could choose to study abroad for a semester. Many universities here in the Mekong have agreements with institutions all around the world; you won’t have to pay crazy tuition fees and your university might even have an advisor to help you handle all the details.
Credits that you earn abroad can often be applied right to your degree. Often times, like in Fran’s case, there’s a large community of other students studying abroad to hang out with. The shared experience of living and studying (and uh, partying) somewhere new brings people together like nothing else.
Here are some links!
- International Studies Abroad
- New Zealand
- The Netherlands
- United Kingdom
2. INTERNATIONAL INTERNSHIP OPPORTUNITIES
You could intern abroad. Hey! That’s what I’m doing. Starting your professional career somewhere new means every day is an adventure while feeling like you’re working towards something. It means that you can see the world and come home with some skills in hand. When I was in my last semester of school, I started applying for various different internships and eventually was lucky enough to be selected by an organization called Youth Challenge International that works in the field of international development. In a future article I’ll go over what helped me along the journey of applying for that internship.
I’ve included a list below of organizations all around the world that offer international internships. It varies from organization to organization, but many will give you a living stipend and other forms of support throughout your internship. The length varies as well, for example I’m here for 6 months.
For the most part, you’re going to be better off finding paid internships on your own rather than through a provider. There are some programs and providers that will find you summer internships that pay some kind of wage or stipend -- but given that most of those providers will charge you a fee and it will probably only even out for you in the end.
3. TAKING A GAP YEAR
This means taking a year completely off school to explore our world.
Yup. It’s a thing. And here’s why it might be a good idea for you.
If you’re the type of person that has a lot of interests, or maybe you’re still looking for what really interests you, travel or work might be exactly what you need to plan out the path in front of you. When you travel, you’re free to be whoever you want. You’re not attached to your grades, you’re not attached to your past, and for a time, and you’re not attached to the expectations of family and friends. It’s easy to think big and think clear.
When you work you’re able to get a sense of your strengths and weaknesses. If you have the good fortune of working in the field that you hope to major in, this is a great opportunity to see if this is really what interests you. Many young people these days (including Malia Obama!) have walked down this path. And although along the way you might have to answer some strange questions or deal with the initial disapproval of those around you, if you can develop a solid plan that puts you ahead rather than behind, then this is a worthy idea worth considering.
While the gap year is most popular amongst students who have just graduated from high school, there’s no reason why you can’t take one after you graduate university, or even while you’re still in it. If you’re still in school, double check to make sure taking a gap year won’t negatively affect the status of your degree. And if you leave, make a firm commitment to yourself that you will return after a year to finish what you started. I can’t stress how important that is.
Gapyear.com (lots of info on internships, studying abroad, and adventure here too!)
4. WORK AND TRAVEL
This is very similar to a gap year. But instead of travelling or working, you’re travelling and working.
The US State Department's Summer Work and Travel Program brings more than 100,000 foreign university students to the US each year. All of the students are between the ages of 18 and 28. All are proficient in the English language and all are able to commit to working for at least three months.
Candidates do not normally need to have qualification or experience as training will be given at the place of work as necessary. The types of jobs on offer include sales-people, cashiers, hosts and staff in hotels, restaurants or entertainment parks. I recently made friends with two girls who travelled New Zealand and worked on a sweet potato farm to fund their travels. I mean, when else are you ever going to be able to experience something so different?
Here are some links to get you started:
5. STARTING A BUSINESS
I’ve saved this for last because I have learned some hard lessons walking down this road. It’s not easy starting a business. Heck, if you do it right, nothing in your career should be easy. You should constantly be walking on the edge of your comfort zone because that really is where development happens. But starting a business is making a decision to put work before almost everything else. You’ll spend a lot of time out of your comfort zone. The time commitment is intense. The workload is intense. And it will only feel truly worthwhile if at the end of the day you find a way to fall asleep with a smile on your face.
There are lots of good business ideas. There are much less business ideas that are well thought out.
Chances are, if you’re reading this section thinking that this is the route you want to walk down, then you are already a self-motivated individual who has confidence in their idea. And that’s an incredibly rewarding feeling. If things work out, it could end up being incredibly financially rewarding. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Here are some of the lessons I have learned:
- Surround yourself with a knowledgeable team. Everyone on the team has to play a role. No cheerleaders allowed.
- One of the first things you need to develop is a realistic plan to make money. No money means no progress. No progress means your idea will fail. Passive income is your best friend here.
- Find resources. Find free resources. Anything that makes you more efficient and leads to a net profit is worth it.
- Don’t be afraid to spend. Too many entrepreneurs either spend too much or too little. Find a balance here. And do your research when it comes to big purchases. If you want to save money over the long run, eliminate needless expenses.
- You are your brand. Take care of yourself. Even in this crazy techy world, good customer service will begin and end with you. Never underestimate the power of a business review so treat every customer like they could be your last.
- Hustle. Also listen to Gary Vaynerchuck 24/7. Seriously.
Here’s a great checklist for any future entrepreneurs out there.
No matter where you go, or what you do as Marcel Proust said: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”