When I first began this study abroad course, I had no idea that it would have such a large impact on my life. I came across the option of a study abroad experience when I was organizing my electives to fulfill the criteria of my philosophy major. At this time I had only left the United States once in which I was twelve years old and traveled to Guatemala. By choosing to study abroad, I found myself a good excuse to have a bit more experience with traveling and to have the chance to see a different part of the world. Although I was clueless as to any aspects of international law or the specifics of the course, it was law, and it was philosophy, and so it was relevant. The first two weeks of the course were an interesting experience for me. It was not until later when I experienced some of the topics firsthand that I was actually able to comprehend the magnitude of what we were learning. The experiences that I was fortunate enough to have will forever be in my memory.
Now that I have been home for about a month, my life seems to be significantly different. One of the goals of this course was to gain a deeper understanding of myself. It was through accomplishing this goal in which I was able to receive one of my most beneficial take-aways of any of my life experiences thus far. My greatest take-away from this course would be my enlightenment of another world and a passion powered by knowledge. In order for me to explain how this experience was able to change my outlook on life, I must first expose a bit of personal history. I grew up in a very small town in Michigan which is only about a five minute drive from my current location. I am still living with my parents and have never really left this small area. Throughout my life I have always had a high level of determination to succeed. I had my life plan set out; I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and how I wanted to do it. Although I had always though that I was doing well with this, being exposed to this ‘new world’ as I have termed it, has made me realize that I was going about it all in the completely wrong way. I am going to school and using my best efforts to receive the best grades possible. However, somewhere along this path I forgot to do one of the most important things that a person should do throughout this, to learn. This was not my only misguided focus. I became more concerned with my social life and material goods than with school. It did not take me long to realize my ignorance. I realized that, although I had sat through numerous hours of classes and taken multiple exams, all I had to show for this was a decent grade point average. I thought that I was being successful because I was on a path in which I could get a job which would make me seem respectable and benefit me with large amounts of money. It is easy to memorize information and do well in classes. It is difficult to challenge yourself and actually learn the material. After I returned back to CMU, I attended a Speak Up, Speak Out event in which a discussion was facilitated about why we were each here at University. Professor Andrew Delbanco of Columbia wrote a book, ʺCollege: What it Was, Is, and Should Be,ʺ which provided insight on the topic. This discussion helped me to have a greater understanding of my view of education. Once I made this connection I remembered back to my first year of college and a paper I wrote for my English course. In this paper I detailed different types of students. One type in which I related myself to was termed a garbage disposal. This type of student just took all of the information in and then regurgitated it for assignments and exams.
One example of important information that I failed to actually learn was world history. I may have received an ‘A’ in all of my history classes but, until I recently did some research, I would not have been able to give any details of World War II. After being exposed to the concepts of the Peace Palace, International Criminal Court, and global justice, I am disappointed that I had previously assumed that this historical information was not relevant to my life and that I neglected to see it as important. When I say that my greatest take-away from this experience is an awakening to another world, I mean not only the world of education, but also the world outside of Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. There are more important things happening in the world which people need to worry about. One of the main themes of the peace movement is to educate others on the importance of global justice. I think that I have gained so much and can say from experience that exposure is a very beneficial route to obtaining knowledge of this importance. When I say that I have gained a passion powered by knowledge, I am referring to my newly found passion of educating others, who may have had a similar outlook, to this new world.
Although it seems that I have a rather negative outlook on myself, I do not see it as a bad thing. It is important for people to make such realizations in order to make necessary changes which inspire life improvements. The changes that I have made display my greatest take-away from this study abroad experience. It was through this course in which I realized that I needed to make a choice. I could continue the easy path that I was on in which I was materialistic and appeared to have knowledge, or I could change what I was doing and challenge myself to have true knowledge. One of our assigned readings, ʺDo the Work,ʺ was what helped to motivate me to choose the more difficult path.
This short read exposes the difficulties that a person faces in life when challenged with a task. Every person encounters this ‘resistance’ daily which impedes their completion of the task. I found the book incredibly motivating as I felt that it pointed out exactly what I was feeling. I have this difficult choice to make but it requires a significant amount of effort and it would be much more simple to choose a route in which life is easier. After reading the book three times now, I have referred to it as motivating as it reminds me that there are things in life which are not so important to focus on and that I must fight these distractions to obtain what is actually important. The author points out that when we are faced with these more difficult tasks which are further from our comfort zone, there is more resistance to be overcome. It was also through this reading in which I was encouraged to not remain as I am; that pursuing passions and accomplishing tasks is what makes for a more fulfilling life. Now, when I am in class or completing my daily activities, I commonly refer my thoughts to this book and the motivations that it has given me.
Now that I have returned home and am actually acting in accordance with these new perspectives, I have realized that it was the correct path and the way to a truly fulfilling life. I find so much more enjoyment through attending classes. I have been pursuing my interests by participating in events on campus, such as the Speak Up, Speak Out event, as well as through joining student organizations, something in which I had never done before. I have achieved a new sense of purpose which makes these new passions something in which I want to educate others about. Although I learned about numerous interesting aspects of the international world, my greatest take-away was my awakening of another world, and a passion driven by knowledge, in which I am able to begin a new and improved way of life.