Off the Beaten Path
College is what you make of it. I’ve heard this, and I believe it’s true. There are many hidden, exciting, and often odd experiences that can be had off the beaten path. This is true in college and in life. I think the key is to stay curious and to never lose your sense of wonder. Once you’ve lost that: when the world is all wrapped up nicely, taking detours seems pointless. Personally, I can’t resist a detour. Blocked roads and “Do Not Enter” signs are even more irresistible. If you look at my resume or college transcripts, things look normal. That’s because many of my more memorable experiences were had outside of the classroom. I lived in Los Angeles for a year, learned Chinese while living in China, and studied wild plants during my senior year.
Many people who find out I have an English degree assume that I intended to be a teacher. This consistently catches me off guard, because I don’t automatically associate the two. My college degree meant more to me than just studying literature. I did what was necessary to keep up my grades and get the degree, but outside of class I was pursuing my own education.
Shortly after high school, I was ready to see new things and venture out of my small town in Ohio. I applied to a university in Southern California and was soon packing my bags for Los Angeles. I had hardly left Ohio up to that point in my life, so living in L.A. for a year was completely new. It was a growing experience to learn who I was outside of the context of my family and hometown. People who have known you your whole life can be a part of your identity. I found being a blank slate in a new place to be overwhelming.
I had my second culture shock upon returning to Ohio. Living in a new place, and being changed by it, has a unique effect on a person. California was not my home, but Ohio no longer felt fully like home, either. My hometown was not just a physical location, but also an irretrievable time in the past.
I moved to North Carolina with my family in 2009. I enrolled in a state university to finish my degree studying English literature and Mandarin Chinese. I was required to take a language and knew that Mandarin had the reputation for being applicable to business. That was my rational reason. Honestly, I was just curious and looking for a challenge. It was another one of those detours that I couldn’t resist.
I couldn’t have graduated on time without going to China, so in a way I considered it mandatory for my degree. Mandatory or not, it was an invaluable experience. Ohio, California, and North Carolina were now just around the block from each other compared to how foreign and far away China felt. My classmates and I suddenly had a lot in common with Lithuanians, Laotians, and Europeans: we all spoke English and were familiar with American television. Let’s face it. It can be difficult to relate to someone who hasn’t watched Friends. AiQingGongYu just isn’t the same.
Most of these experiences are not useful talking points on my resume while interviewing for jobs in finance. They are valuable, though. These experiences have created a lens that I view the world through, affecting my priorities and decisions. If nothing else, I have some interesting stories. Consider trying something new; even if it does not fit into your resume. You may be surprised how seemingly unrelated experiences can be useful.