Ever since I was a kid, I always had my life planned out. I loved education. Anything that I was taught, I soaked in like a sponge. There was never any doubt in mind that I would go to university and study for a degree. I knew how life worked. You studied hard in school to get into a good university. You graduated from university, to get a good job. With this job, you earned decent money which would buy you a big house in a nice area. Queue marriage, children, Mediterranean cruises and retirement. Life mission complete.
I fell for this, hook, line, and sinker.
I graduated with my upper second class honours degree in 2012. I remember sitting in a crowd of my fellow students, counting down the names until my own was read out. As I walked towards the stage, my only thought was, ’please don’t let me fall over in these heels’. And that was that. This was the moment everything in my life had been leading up to and all I could think about were my bloody shoes.
After leaving university, I became quickly aware that life isn’t as simple as I had been led to believe. There was no walking into the job of my dreams, no big house and no London wage. It could be argued that there were several reasons for this, my socio-economic status, my experience, the competition…the list goes on. Looking back, one major problem was that I never really knew what it was that I wanted to do. Naturally, I’d thought about it; it is impossible to go through the British education system without being regularly reminded that your current choices will affect the rest of your life. The thing is, having spent pretty much all of my time in education with just a few part-time jobs alongside, I had no real experience in anything, least of all life.
So what happened next?
When people ask me what the 3 best things I’ve done in my life are, I tell them:
- Going to University
- Moving to China for a year
- Going backpacking for the first time
This is my list so far, though these milestones are not necessarily valued in that order. For me personally, university was the place that I first started to discover who I am. It gave me not only a degree but the confidence to be myself. But what should I have got out of it? University was meant to be the first step towards the ultimate goals: financial stability and career prosperity. However, with tuition fees now at an all-time high and degrees being widely distributed, gone are the days where there was a clear path to success.
After finishing education, there was no way I could afford to live on my own. This meant I had no choice but to return to the nest that I thought I’d flocked for good. I took the first job I could get, working as part of a production line in a factory. As I worked, I applied for an endless stream of graduate jobs, none of which were successful. Whilst higher education developed my academic skills and helped me grow into a capable young woman, I ultimately disappeared into the ever-growing pool of graduates.
After a few months of factory work, I managed to secure a teaching position in Wuhan, China. (It is important to mention here that whilst at this time you didn’t need a degree to teach in China, the whole process was made a lot easier for me as I did have one.) This meant I was able to move into my own shared apartment abroad and start managing my own money. This experience forced me to acquire far more adult life skills than I would have ever gained living in my Mum’s house.
Living and working in China gave me the chance to try a career I would’ve never had the opportunity to sample at home (not without a lot of money and a PGCE at least) and the skills I developed in this work have proven to be invaluable. For anyone who struggles with public speaking, I would highly recommend you try your hand at a bit of teaching! Adapting to a new culture was also a massive learning curve for me. Dealing with a whole manner of culinary surprises (cough, horse tendon, cough) as well as the etiquette rules caused me to make lots of mistakes which whilst embarrassing at the time, taught me so much in the long run.
After my first taste of expat life, I couldn’t wait to get back out on the road again and have travelled at every available opportunity since. Obviously, not everyone wants to lead a nomadic lifestyle but any kind of travel is crucial in allowing us to broaden our minds and challenge our preconceptions.
So should we bin off uni for travel?
My personal opinion is no. Maybe a degree won’t guarantee you a well-paying job as it once did, but the university experience will enable you to grow and develop both personally and professionally. For me, it could be argued that working in China was the catalyst in sparking my travel passion. However, I think it is too simplistic to attribute this solely to my Chinese experience. Realistically, without university, I may never have developed the confidence that I needed to bite the bullet and step out into the unknown.
I can honestly say that the opportunities I have had through travel have been some of my most defining moments. Travel has taught me that education is all around us, it is in the people we meet, the things that we see and the experiences we have. It teaches us how to relate to others, develops our compassion and helps us find our calling. Whilst travelling isn’t always full of Instagram sunsets and postcard beaches, even the bad experiences will prove their worth. Through my travels, I have had the privilege of learning from the best teacher there is – the world.
Regardless of the path that you end up following, it is important to remember that you don’t necessarily need to choose between travel and university. These two things are not mutually exclusive. Ultimately, if you keep an open mind when it comes to all kinds of education, you are sure to get the best of both worlds.
What are your thoughts on education and travel? How have your travels affected your life?
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16 thoughts on “Is It Time To Ditch The Degree For Travel?”
And I love the idea that uni can include travel too, as part of your course. I do think uni is a good opportunity to start ‘finding yourself’. I’m torn by the whole process really, I think its a great experience but I’m not convinced it propells you into a career any easier than a college course or apprenticeship. Your experience in China does sound amazing though! #flyawayfriday
Definitely! I wish I could’ve done a study abroad year with my course. You get the best of both worlds that way 🙂
I feel like I still haven’t quite figured out what I really want to do either haha. Great story though about your experiences and that’s amazing you got to live in China and teach for a year. I have a couple friends go to Taiwan and Korea to do something similar! What did you study in uni?
It is definitely a hard decision to make and one that is different for everyone. My degree was in Criminology so it’s fair to say I didn’t think my life would be anything like it is now. No complaints here though 🙂
You touch so many deep realities in this post. It touches me because of my own experience and because I work at an organization that specializes in recruiting. I agree people should go to college if they have the opportunity. In my case, college opened my mind. I was used to live a life surrounded by people who shared more or less my values. That totally changed when I went to college. It was liked I entered the real world. For those who are young, travel and expat life will be options for a long time. Going to college gets more complicated as you get older. Plus, a lot of people are not sure what they want to do for a living (and to be honest, there is no reason to have only a given path). You may need to use a degree later (a lot of employers give a degree mayor weight). #FlyAwayFriday
It sounds like we have very similar feelings about the university experience. We are so lucky that we live in a time where both education and travel is accessible for so many!
Traveling is the best education. Sweet post. How cool you got to live in China. What a wonderful opportunity. #FlyAwayFriday
Thanks for reading! You never know what surprises life will throw at you, so it is important to grab every opportunity with both hands.
I think education is still important – and who’s to say you can’t go to uni and also travel? We don’t all have to travel the world as an 18 or 21 year old. Travel is there for life. But it is certainly harder to study later in life when you’ve been out of the study mindset for a while. Also, my journalism degree gave me a career which lead to the best trip of my life – covering the London Olympics. But everyone’s different and people need to find the path that suits them, and gives them the greatest opportunities in life.
This is true. I feel like if I had of taken a gap year I may have never wanted to go back to studying! It is definitely a very personal decision, I’ve been very lucky in being able to do both uni and travel 🙂
Sheree! I feel like we could be best friends. I’ve always agreed with your opinion pieces and agree with this too. I am a huge fan of education and it’s always been an advantage, never a disadvantage in life. Thanks for joining Fly Away Friday – hope to see you again this week! xo
Thanks Kana! I think the most important thing to remember is to never stop learning no matter where you get your education.
It can be difficult to get work without proving some sort of education. I have a journalism background and am happy I have it on the CV. It does help with travel writing though. hope to see you at Fly Away friday tomorrow!
My degree has definitely been important looking back at my career history so far, I’m not sure it promised all it was meant to though. Either way, I am very lucky that I have had the opportunity to not only go to uni but to travel as well.
Great post 🙂 I was kind of in a very similar situation and I’ve decided to stick to attending the university after all 🙂 Thing is, that if you plan your life right, you will still have plenty of opportunities to travel, but not exactly to finish university.
I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂 Luckily there are loads of opportunities out there now when it comes to travel!