Thursday, 13 June 2013

Wise Words from a World Wanderer, Part 3 - Travelling Is The Best Education

Looking back on the past 5 years of my life, starting with my move to Calgary, I have learned so much living on my own and having the freedom to pursue my dreams. Looking back on the past year alone, I have learned just as many life skills and invaluable lessons. Indeed, traveling is the best education.

Don't be offended University of Waterloo, this is not a jab against you and your world class engineering program. You provided me the skills to be successful in my career, and for that I am thankful. But no amount of theory in calculus or physics of structures can make me social, creative and altruistic. And no amount of late night studying and standard testing can teach me passion and optimism, or help me see all the beauty there is in this world.

No amount of school can provide me the tools to be truly successful in life. This job is for traveling. Traveling takes you outside of your comfort zone, then expands it like a balloon. It introduces new cultures, then nurtures acceptance of different people and ways of living. It inspires you with its natural beauty, then grounds you with the simple miracles of everyday life. Being somewhere new connects you in the most intimate way possible with the people and the surroundings, unlike any desktop wallpaper or travel documentary can.

I may have amassed an encyclopedia's worth of random and mostly useless facts about Europe, such as how many assassination attempts were made on Hitler, how many atom bombs the Chernobyl released, what Finnish university students wear when they party, how to say "thank you" and "cheers" in most languages, as well as Australasian lingo such as "jandals" and "bogans."

I have also learned many important life lessons from traveling. I hope to carry these with me forever, and to sprinkle a little bit of my wisdom on every blooming flower I encounter along my life path. You, my readers, are always blooming. So, here, let me sprinkle some of my most significant words of wisdom on you:

Life is beautiful. Beauty is everywhere, it's in the streets, in the people and the trees, or in the warm sun and the cool wind, or in a simple home cooked meal. However, often times we choose not to acknowledge these simple pleasures and instead focus on the negative things in our lives.

Everyone needs some time alone. Both solitude and 24/7 companions have been a staple in my travels. Through it all I discovered that there is a fine line between being alone and being around people. Chris McCandless in Into The Wild is the extreme case of a hermit who dreamt big but eventually went crazy, isolating himself from people and finding solace in the wilderness. In contrast to Chris are people who fear being alone and always need company. These people also lose the ability to think for themselves, because people's voices are constantly drowning out their own internal voice.

Anything is possible. We all have control of our own paths in life. Yet many people are steered by family or peer expectations. As soon as you start measuring yourself by others' standards, you fail yourself. So take time to be alone, and listen to your own thoughts. The more you do this, the more independent you become.

A little help goes a long way. When you're lost and alone in a vast scary country where everyone speaks a different language and just looks at you funny, you're forever grateful to receive help. After receiving lots of help from friendly foreigners, I am ready to do the same back in Canada. I've already picked up two hitchhikers, and had interesting conversations as a result.

Hospitality is friendship. This is the ultimate way to help someone. Couchsurfing has taught me that opening your home to people breaks down invisible walls between people, creating instant friendship. So why does this occur so infrequently in modern society? Maybe because our home has become an overprotected space of privacy filled with valuable possessions, making us mistrustful of strangers. We would rather meet people in more superficial places like coffeeshops or bars. No wonder why poorer countries generally have better hospitality. And why they have less coffeeshops.

Wisdom is gained through real life experiences. It's not gained through textbooks or television, newspapers or hearsay. It's gained through being, doing and trying it yourself.

So go out and do it! My last blog will give you some basic tips to get started backpacking through Europe, in the hopes that someday you will take the leap.

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