I hated my first university. I couldn’t pick a major, my all-consuming passion for tennis had waned, and my friends spread out across the state while I chose to commute from home. I spent my free time wishing I was elsewhere — the military, a different school, the middle of an apocalypse, etc. Between bouts of zombie-killing in Call of Duty, I scoured the Internet, Googling everything from minimalism to language learning.
This was how I caught the travelling bug. Blog after blog encouraged readers to leave their dull lives (and possessions) behind: experience a new language abroad; hitchhike across your home country; meet new people; learn more about yourself by leaving your comfort zone. My interest in WWII and the ex-Soviet Union zeroed me in on Russia. For the first time since I’d applied to colleges the previous year, I glimpsed hope: a stint abroad would give me new life experiences. I had an escape plan, a way to avoid my miserable school life.
My family, however, disagreed. They insisted I was too inexperienced to travel anywhere. I explained that I needed to broaden my worldview. How else would I solve my problems? How could my family not approve of this choice? I ignored them and continued my studies. When I found a local university offering Russian language courses, I transferred.
Something else happened when I changed schools, though. A couple somethings. I reconnected with high school buddies at my second university; I met new people and started seeing someone. I networked with and befriended my professors and chose a major. And as I did that, leaving lost its importance.
I no longer wanted to escape.
Our culture glorifies travel. Universities tout study abroad programs, travelers overload social media with photos, and TV commercials advertise cruises. But while vacations are relaxing, they don’t offer absolution — if I wasn’t happy in the U.S., what did I expect to find in a hotel room halfway across the world? My issues came from within. I needed to let go of my childish tennis aspirations. I needed to sort through feelings of inadequacy and my debilitating shyness. I needed to foster personal independence. Those problems wouldn’t disappear in Russia or anywhere else; they would follow me wherever I went. I couldn’t escape them.
Travelling wasn’t my answer.
Instead of waiting for things to get better, or waiting for permission from my family, friends, or anyone else, I took action: at my second university, I didn’t ignore my classmates; I connected with them. I made things better. I stopped victimizing myself and became proactive.
Instead of planning my escape, I cultivated an environment I wanted to be in.
Of course, travel may be the answer for some folks. Minimalism still speaks to me, even if going abroad doesn’t. The key to being happier is figuring out what works for you — sit down, shut up, and ask yourself how you need to deal with things. You might learn a thing or two.