About this time last year I graduated from the University of Idaho with a masters degree. Being mentally and emotionally drained from formal study, I was ready to leave the cloistered realm of academia and explore the greater world on my own terms. So excited was I to get a jump start on my informal education that I left exam week early and skipped my commencement ceremony in favor of a kayak trip on the Columbia River.
Now that it’s graduation season again, perhaps I should be granted another diploma. Conceivably it could be from the University of Wanderlust. It wasn’t an accredited university. It had no designated faculty, and there were no required courses or class assignments. Tuition was also pretty inexpensive (although room and board could be costly at times). Although there were tests along the way, the entire grading system was based on pass/fail.
Yes, now that I’ve officially ended my coursework of travels, I’d say it’s like I’m a freshly-minted grad once again. My degree from the University of Wanderlust ended up being a year-long program (or else I guess I just graduated early), and I was happy to build my own curriculum too. First I spent a semester in the American West, road-tripping on a survey course of National Parks and cultural highlights. Then, I spent my second semester in Australia, taking classes in fruit-picking and van culture. From this I’ve earned a diploma full of different life experiences at an expedited rate.
And what’s more, my diploma from the University of Wanderlust focused on personal change as much as it did about learning factual knowledge. Though I enjoyed learning a great deal about many of the spectacular places in the United States as well as learning about the way of life in a foreign land, what I had set out to gain through my latest degree was deeper—a more thorough understanding of my own personal growth and moral development. My masters degree at the University of Idaho, though it challenged my intellect, lacked much of the personal growth I yearn for in education. What I needed to compensate for this lack was a challenge to develop my character and to gain a different perspective on the world.
Unlike a typical college education, though, my self-designed degree focused more on the realm of the practical rather than the theoretical. Throughout my travels, challenges were applied and consequences were real. Every event was viewed with the mindset of an opportunity to learn. Daily life became my homework assignments and the people I met along the way were became my professors.
As a recent grad of the University of Wanderlust, I feel fresh and ready to pursue a career path. Admittedly, I still do feel a little bit of the aimlessness and uncertainty of recent grad Benjamin Braddock from Mike Nichols’s film The Graduate. But on the whole, my diploma of travel in the real world has provided the necessary transition from the culture of the academic world to the culture of the working world.
Many of my lessons learned from the University of Wanderlust still need formalizing into words. But how does one succinctly sum up a year of travels? Fortunately for me (or maybe not!) I never assigned myself a term paper.