Volunteering Abroad & Going To College

As a high school senior in the spring of 2014, I paid my enrollment and housing fee for Northern Arizona University. During that same semester months later, the thought of having to take out $10,000+ in loans still, despite the scholarships and grants I received, scared me enough to request a refund and un-enroll. Three years later, I couldn’t be more grateful for making that difficult decision. I ended up getting a scholarship for a free first year of community college which, looking back was my saving grace because even when college started, I still didn’t know what I wanted to major in. It switched from hospitality to psychology to business to teaching to global studies to educational studies and most recently to organizational leadership. I applied several times to transfer to NAU, to ASU, and to U of A, but never went through. When I went to China in fall of 2015, I took my first semester off of school- ever. I had the hopes that I’d figure out what I might want to do with my life and school while I was in Asia.. but I didn’t… not that time abroad at least.

Nevertheless, it was still the most amazing cultural and life-changing experience and after that semester I had decided that I didn’t want to go to school again just yet. I wanted to continue to see the world, go new places, and learn by traveling… not by sitting in a lecture or reading some fat textbook. When you travel, you’re forced out of your comfort zone, taught gratitude, see life through another perspective, improve your planning and time management skills, learn to go with the flow and so. much. more. I’d rather be educated in that than derivatives. Plus, I still didn’t even know what I wanted to study so why waste my time and money, right? School was going to sit on the back burner of life for a bit while I figured things out. I took a few classes here and there this past year, but when I participated in my Disney College Program internship I again did not go to school.

If you read my old blog posts, you’ll notice a reoccurring theme of mine that “school will always be there” and to “get these amazing life experiences in now”. However, now while I’m having an incredible cultural experience and living abroad again here in Mexico this semester, I’m finally in school again. And get this… I’m actually excited about it! Online classes are among the greatest inventions next to the lightbulb, the wheel, and Nutella. This semester, I’m taking sociology, philosophy and biology all online while I am still seeing a new country, living among the locals of another culture, and “learning by traveling” like I had previously wanted to. I applied to Arizona State University once again to transfer to and this summer I’ll begin ASU Online studying…. *drumroll*… sociology and anthropology! It’s taken me three years but my major has been chosen, so better late than never right?

This whole time since my semester in China, I thought I had to decide between volunteering or going to college. I contemplated the thought of doing school one semester, volunteering the next, and so forth. I never thought about doing school while I was abroad volunteering. With the International Language Programs, teachers only teach up to 20 hours a week. As a Head Teacher, I don’t teach at all but have in services, evaluations and other head teacher-like duties to fulfill weekly but whether you’re a teacher or head teacher, there’s always more than enough time during the day to squeeze in some online classwork and unfortunately it took me until this semester to realize that. There are some times when you have to make sacrifices- like spending your Sunday catching up on all the homework you procrastinated from the week or having to spend 5 straight hours doing assignments before you leave for a weekend vacation but it’s worth it. Additionally, volunteering abroad (with ILP) and taking online classes is a hell of a lot cheaper than studying abroad through a university.

Parents, as most parents do, have always stressed to me the importance of education and going to school. I understood and agreed but thought it could wait. It wasn’t until I started taking sociology and learning about society and our place in it, just how important education truly is. It made me feel better about my choice to return to school this semester, about my decision to start ASU online in summer and finally grow the huevos to take out my student loans, and better about my choice to get the ball rolling on this school thing again.

For this coming fall, I was originally planning to continue my degree with ASU Online while home in Tucson, AZ, but those who know me best know by now that my plans, when involving staying put, seldom stay intact. I’ll be going to college online still, but in yet another foreign country on the globe surrounded by an unfamiliar culture and different language… location TBA soon 😉

If you’ve thought about volunteering abroad or would like to travel, teach English to adorable foreign kids and explore a different country and culture but thought you couldn’t because of school, think again. That’s just an excuse, my dear friend. If you want something bad enough, you’ll make it work. And go to ILP.org to submit your application for the experience of a lifetime.

All in all, education is important. Traveling is important. Being exposed to different cultures, languages, customs and places is very important. Being content with your choices is most important. And with efficient planning and proper time management, it most definitely is possible to go to college and get scholastically educated while volunteering abroad and getting culturally educated.

*mic drop*



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