The mounting pressure on recent graduates, whether fresh out of high school or university, to immediately secure a career path is growing. The stress of knowing your exact careercan often lead to the wrong choices. We succumb to pressure and end up making quick and regrettable decisions. Given that we live in a rushed society — from fast food and fast results to quick thrills and quick decisions — it’s not surprising that we apply these same speedy tactics when it comes to our career choices.
If you feel hurried and confused about your career path, you’re not alone. I too was confused about my future, and unsure about whether or not to continue my education with a master’s degree, or take a year off to travel. Besides a career to worry about, I still had many unrealized passions. I knew if I jumped straight into a career, I would live a life awash with regrets.
It’s easy to follow in the footsteps of others. Most of my friends were firm in their undertakings. They already knew that they wanted to continue with graduate school, law school or teachers college. Others were excited to enter the workforce and make money right away. And there were those who wanted to get married, buy a home and start a family. I was tempted to do the same. I even thought there must have been something terribly wrong with me for not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I thought uncertainty before university was typical for students, but not after.
As expected, I came very close to applying for a master’s program, to continue building on my undergraduate degree. I had even researched some schools and was about to get started on the application process, when I had episodes of reoccurring doubt.
Is this really what I wanted? Maybe I did, but not now. I needed a break and some time to think these matters through. At this point, I needed to reconnect and find my inner voice, which I felt was getting lost amidst all these different opinions from family and friends. My parents, for example, were encouraging me to continue with my studies, and my relatives were pressuring me to get married and start a family. Everyone had these unrealistic expectations for a 24 year old.
I wanted to meet my true self.
What better way to find yourself than to take off a year and travel? Travellinghad always been a passion of mine. A passion I knew I had to fulfill before settling down permanently. But before setting the foundation, I had to find the material first. I had to seek and rediscover myself. I also didn’t want to look back at this moment 30 or 40 years from now and silently say to myself: What if? What could have been? What did I miss? And besides, the timing seemed ideal because I was free of any major commitments and responsibilities that came with marriage and children.
The impetus to follow my dream was finally realized when I headed to Europe right after finishing university. But before I got there, I had to deal with the task of convincing my traditional parents that it was a good idea. I was only 24 years old when I first told my parents I wanted to single-handedly travel the world. Their immediate reaction was one of utter disbelief. “But you’re a woman,” they said. “Women don’t travel alone!” my mother and father said in unison. They said women should wait until they were married and then travel with their male companions. What ensued were a series of lectures with my mother as the guest speaker. In typical Afghan fashion she advised me to wait until I was married and then safely travel the world with my husband, who would protect me if I fell in harms way. I tried to remind her that we were in Canada and not in Saudi Arabia, where, by law, women can’t leave the house without a male chaperon. But she was more worried about what the rest of the Afghan community would whisper behind my back, were I to travel solo.
In stark contrast to my mother, my father was less of a traditionalist and more of a protector. He feared for my safety. He feared that I would become a victim of human trafficking and end up in a brothel somewhere in Eastern Europe or in Thailand. Conversing with my father was nothing short of fear mongering. He would present me with the most cliché of examples, namely that the world is a place to be feared, and that it’s not as safe for women travellersas it is for men.
It wasn’t “just a phase.”
Over the course of the next few days, my parents forgot about my zealous travel plans. To them it was a phase that would just as quickly subside as it had appeared. But to show them I was serious, I
visited the local bookstore and brought back a small stack of Lonely Planet books of all the countries and cities I intended on visiting. Now it was my turn to lecture them on the benefits of travelling. I wanted to submerge myself in European art, history and culture. I told them that I intended on visiting major cities, and that I planned on visiting art galleries, museums and the most important sites.
I remained firm in my quest. I didn’t budge and I was unwilling to compromise. I told them that I was an adult now and that I had to learn to take care of myself. I finally won my parents over. And what a sigh of relief that was, because their cloud of fear was slowly beginning to instill some doubt in me. Realizing that my travel wasn’t just a phase, they reluctantly agreed.
A month after graduating from university, I stepped onto a plane bound towards Europe. I got so caught up in my travel plans that I even missed out on my graduation ceremony.
wan·der·lust (wndr-lst) n. A very strong or irresistible impulse to travel.
My parents initially reckoned that my travellingwouldn’t extend past the summer. However, I returned home from my travels in Europe with a serious case of wanderlust. I now wanted to catch a glimpse of the east, and to explore parts of East Asia. But I faced a serious dilemma; I was running out of money. I had used up all my savings from working part-time during my university years, and found myself at an impasse.
In the meanwhile, my parents couldn’t comprehend as to why a summer of travelling wasn’t enough. They kept referencing my family and friends. “Look at your cousins,” they would say. “They’ve completed university and now they’re settling down and getting married.”
My mother would add that the longer I waited, the lower my chances were of getting married, because I was getting older – and no man would possibly want to marry a woman in her late twenties. My attempts to explain that late twenties and early thirties were acceptable ages to tie the knot seemed to calm her fears no less. Essentially, my parents believed in the following linear path of progress/evolution: university, job, marriage, children and more children (all possibly before you hit the age of 30). And if you deviated from this course you were doomed.
A journey of a thousand miles...
My father often said that I couldn’t possibly see the entire world. Despite my repeated attempts to clarify that my plan wasn’t to travel indefinitely, he still wouldn’t listen. I simply wanted a year or two to travel. I didn’t understand why it was completely alright to spend the same amount of time on a master’s program or double that on a PhD, but not on travelling.
Most people, my parents included, don’t see the value of travelling. They can’t comprehend that it’s a lesson in history and culture. I learned more about the Second World War, for example, visiting the Dachau concentration camp as well as the museums in Germany than I did in my high school history classes.
It was then that I decided to work abroad for a year and teach English in South Korea. Teaching would fund and provide me with an opportunity to explore other parts of the world during my breaks. My parents were skeptical at first, but slowly started supporting endeavours.
But even then it wasn’t easy. Since I didn’t return home with a pocket full of savings, some of my relatives considered travellinga complete waste of time and energy. To them the worth of something could only be measured in tangibles. Many of us live sheltered and insulated lives. We usually don’t venture out beyond our comfort zones or outside our spheres of work and school. Our only encounters with the rest of the world occur through the news and Internet and, every so often, by dining at ethnic restaurants.
“Physically venturing abroad opens you up to a wide array of cultures and endless possibilities.”
For me, travelling alone was one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences. From the humbling train conversations I had with strangers to the small talks in coffee shops, these short encounters helped shape me in much larger ways. There’s a reason musicians, artists and chefs travel for inspiration. From JimiHendrix spending time in Morocco, to Jamie Oliver touring the Italian countryside – you deserve no less. So jump on that plane and live your life as a global citizen.
If you're planning your own global soujourn, be sure to check out these 5 Travel Tips for Women.