Traveling to adulthood

Image by: Merrin Gillies
Gillies’ time abroad was full of adventure and fond memories.

After five months of backpacking abroad, experiencing fascinating communities and conversations, living with locals and other curious travellers, coming back to school definitely took some adjusting.  

The question “what are your plans for after graduation?” can be met with many different responses across fourth-year students at Queen’s.

For me, leaving comfort and saving up to travel was motivated by a need for independence and an inextinguishable curiosity of different cultures. It stemmed from a prolonged feeling of indecisiveness, lack of motivation and absolutely no idea of what I wanted to do with my life post-grad.

While some students respond to the question with their hopes of admission to established law or medical schools. But many others develop a response of apprehension and uncomfortable laughter, while that very question is a constant thought appearing during Stauffer procrastinations. 

Although job experience is important and often essential for some employers, life experience also plays a significant role. This reality encourages and gives an excuse to travel, to experience new cultures and develop skills of independence and creativity in problem solving. 

The travel bug is infectious, in the most spirit lifting way. This sense of wanderlust is rooted in travel blogs, Facebook profiles of a recent return from exchange and sometimes even results in a tattoo — an easy shot for criticism as a “white girl travelling mantra”.

In a way, this criticism isn’t wrong, especially when we realize how, as university students in Canada, we’re extremely privileged. But we can’t neglect the value that travelling bears as a way to understand new cultures.

Engaging with new cultures through curious travel isn’t a modern concept, however. It’s the privilege of our generation to have cost and time efficient modes of transportation and living expenses than any before.

So, you set out to travel, you see amazing things, you meet interesting people and make beautiful memories. 

Moreover, you’re excited to return and see all of your friends and family, have the comforts of home and stop wondering if those hostel sheets were really truly washed. 

These are all great, exciting things until you realize that the awesome couple at the vineyard you worked at has been replaced by a cranky boss or a hard-to-please professor, and those sensational $2 Turkish shawarmas are replaced by Mr. Donair (still a great choice). 

You come back to a final year at Queen’s, where the snow starts a lot earlier than desirable, and your days consist of hours upon hours at Douglas Library. 

For some, returning and bouncing back into their old schedule is easy and comforting, but for many it’s a struggle to adjust.  

Some find solace in helping international students by getting involved with groups like the Exchange & Transfer Committee, which organized events to help students studying abroad connect and enjoy their school experience. 

One group of students began an entrepreneurial startup company, helping exchange students all around the world — Housing Anywhere, a platform that helps outbound students rent their places to incoming students. 

Instead of sulking and complaining that life wasn’t fun after exchange, these students used their experience abroad to generate opportunity, to give international students the possibility to live and interact with regional students and allow students departing to optimize on rent money.

Everyone has interests and desires, and for some the question of a post-grad plan is daunting. The most important aspect of this decision is to trust your gut and do what makes you happy — be that travelling to India and working on an elephant sanctuary or putting in the work to become your long-awaited goal of being a doctor. 

Not to get too white girl on everyone, but as Drake sees his “woes” as “working on excellence”, let’s all strive for that in our final year. 


Travel, travel diaries

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