I’ve already written a bit about my reasons for travelling in my article on “voluntourism” and gap year travel, but here’s a rundown for those of you who aren’t sure. Please note that the fact that I gripe on about my problems a little in no way means that I’m not aware of just how insignificant they are in the grand scheme of things, and how lucky I am compared to most.
The past year has been a bit of a tough one for me. Last summer, I was in America when I found out that I’d narrowly missed my offer to my firm-choice university. Thankfully, I do love it at Exeter, so that’s no longer much of an issue, and as I’m returning next year for a new course rather than trying for a different university, I think that shows I’m happy there! I’ve always been fairly hard on myself but I recognise that Exeter is a very highly ranked, Russell Group university, which many people were thrilled to get entry to.
I got that bit of bad news finalised when I was alone in New York for a couple of days after camp had ended with my family three thousand miles away. Only about a week later, a few days into my road trip across the USA, I had to break it off with the guy I considered my boyfriend, although we had already pretty much fallen apart due to the distance caused by me going away, the news about university, and the general circumstances of our relationship. I was more angry and upset with myself for not being enough, than with him for turning to someone else whilst I was away, and though I’d suspected it, I’d hoped that it wouldn’t be the case. In the end, my record wasn’t spotless either, and though he never knew about it, I know I was as much at fault, if not more, than the guy I was dating.
That pretty much put a downer on the rest of my trip and despite the fact that I did enjoy the rest of my time in the USA, as I love travelling and I saw so many new things and met a lot of great people, it was overshadowed by the fact that I was withdrawn and barely coping with having lost two of the things I cared about most.
I hate to admit that those two things, and what I saw as my failure regarding them, became the focus of my life for the next few months. When I started university, I cut off my ex completely, but it didn’t stop me thinking about what had happened constantly. Also always on my mind, by the fact that I had gone to study at Exeter, was that I hadn’t been good enough for my top-choice university, and this was made worse by the fact that I was in frequent contact with close friends who are there. I cut off one of my best friends because I resented her; her grades had been lower than mine but due to variation in admissions, she’d been accepted with fewer points than me. I hurt people because I was dealing so badly with my own disappointment.
My first two terms at university weren’t as I’d hoped. Studying Law with German Law wasn’t as interesting as I’d imagined it to be, and I could see myself wasting three more years of my life trudging through a course I didn’t enjoy, even though I was achieving 2.1 grades. I was hardly studying unless I had an assignment due, and I wasn’t motivated to do more. My course was a small and highly employable one; only four students in my intake, and the pressure to complete the course was strong.
I still had a sense of failure and although I had gotten back in touch with my ex-boyfriend over the Christmas holiday, and we met up at the end of January – the closure I needed – having visited friends and seen him all in the same weekend, in the town where I would have been at university, was a bit too much. Although time had changed how I felt, seeing him had reopened old wounds, even though my primary feeling at seeing how I now felt had been relief.
When I got back to university after that weekend, things didn’t really improve, though my grades weren’t suffering. By not even the middle of the second term, I had pretty much given up on my extra-curricular activities, and actively shunned social invitations. I was terribly worried about my self-image, and on some days, it was all I could do to get out of bed. Although I never went to the doctor about it, I’m sure, and I was told by many people, that I had probably been suffering from depression and anxiety. I was getting worse and worse, and I knew I couldn’t carry on as I had been. Perhaps I have a tendency to mental illness, and although I recovered from my eating disorder a couple of years ago, it has perhaps made me more susceptible to feelings of self-doubt and a tendency to be too harsh on myself.
I was trying to force myself into a lawyer-shaped box I’d decided on when I was fourteen. After reading around, doing some research and talking to friends on different courses, I decided to arrange an interruption of studies, and return in September 2015 to study a BA in Theology and Religion, still with a year abroad in Germany. Once that was sorted, and I think at this point my family and friends were glad to see me just make a decision I was happy with, I knew I didn’t want to just sit around for the rest of the year, or get a job at home. I wanted to travel, but I also wanted to be more than just a tourist or a typical spoilt “gap-yah” kid, leaving for a year and spending mum and dad’s money!
So that brings us back to now. I am much happier now, and I don’t resent anyone for things that happened nearly a year ago. I went to Germany for a couple of weeks as something of a short-term au-pair, and now I’m volunteering in India before moving on to South East Asia next month. And I’ve been thinking about what I hope to achieve during these four months away.
Here, in no particular order, is a vague list…
- I’m very aware of my European/Western travel focus up until now; I wanted to rectify that! It’s one from the bucket list; another step towards the goal of visiting every continent!
- Start to learn a non-European language!
I speak fluent English and Czech, upper intermediate German and French, and basic Spanish. Very euro-centric, non? At the moment, I’m picking up bits and pieces of Hindi, and I really do think it’s important to know a language outside of our own continent, especially when these languages have so many speakers. It’s not enough to take the ignorant view of “oh, everyone speaks English anyway!”
- Not to let myself doubt the decision I’ve made to leave my course mid-way
This is something I’d struggle with if I had stayed at home. I’d start to question my motivation in changing my path, so it’s better for me to be busy and having new experiences rather than sitting in my small town.
- Avoid doing nothing for half a year!
- Volunteering experience
Despite the fact that I’ve always done a bit of volunteering here and there, be it at the local library, local charity shops, or primary schools, I’m aware that I could be doing a lot more. Hopefully, using the Workaway website will help me put my skills to use where they’re needed, and actually make a difference.
- Travel experience
Although I love travelling, and I’m quite an independent person, I know my solo-travel experience is limited. Understandable, as I’m young, but I want to see and do things which I wouldn’t at home, and get a taste for what life is like in so many other places than I’ve already experienced.
- Helpful contribution rather than just backpacking and tourism
- Broaden my outlook as a feminist
Very important for me; my understanding of and involvement with feminism has grown a lot in the last year, especially at university, but I know that I am often guilty of looking at things from solely a white, western perspective, and thus overlook issues facing women across the world which I myself might not be aware of. Volunteering with the Saheli Trust is really opening my eyes in this regard!
- Life priorities!
Slightly linked to the above. You might have noticed that I do complain a bit! Everyone does it; at the time we’re miserable and having difficulties in life, it’s the worst thing ever and our life may as well be over, or so we think. But once you think about, and see first-hand, the suffering of people in other places, your own issues tend to fade into the background a bit! It’s all about perspective, and we’d do well to remember that!
- Dispelling the “finding yourself” myth!
That last one is a big one for me, and something I’ve come across a lot reading about travel, or hearing “inspirational” travel quotes.
I already know full well who I am. I’m not lost. I know myself, my strengths and weaknesses, how I react and adapt to different situations. Though my outlook is constantly changing, and I find out new things about myself all the time, I don’t need to “find myself”. I think my problem is, in fact, the opposite one.
All my life, I’ve clung to an idea of who I’m supposed to be; a variety of goals I always worked towards either didn’t work out, or have become significantly less important over time. I suppose I want to lose myself, then. Lose the rigid view of who I have to be. Lose my resentments and disappointments and everything which stops me from moving forward. I get a bit more lost every time I go somewhere new, every time I step out of my comfort zone, every time I make a decision to which I can’t predict the consequences. But I know I can deal with that.
Losing yourself a little isn’t always a bad thing. Everyone has it in them to change their lives, but I can attest that sometimes it requires a step into the dark.
What are your aims and motivations for travelling?