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My Most Valuable Year of College: Volunteering in the Marshall Islands

Updated on November 14, 2012

College - A Necessary Evil

In America, college is the new high school. It used to be after 12 years of education a person would be knowledgeable enough to do just about anything. More education was only needed for those going into highly scientific, detailed fields. It is not the case anymore. In fact, with the struggling job market, another couple years from now it may be required that one has a masters degree to be of any "value" to society.

Although I now, as of December 2011, have a college degree (and will likely continue schooling), I am not fully convinced that the classroom is the most beneficial method of learning. Why? Because a college degree requires a self-centered focus.

Doubting me? Let me ask this to anyone who is, or has been, in college. Why do you write papers and do assignments? To educate others? Hardly. Only you and the professor read the vast majority of your assignments. What obsesses your time? Studying - so that YOU can succeed. Or, if you have a break from studying, it's seeking out a "break" for yourself. Maybe you'll go to a movie, hang out with friends, or hit up the town - so that YOU can relax from focusing on YOU.

Yes, a college education is beneficial (and nearly necessary), but it is not the best way to learn about life. You are living off of other people's wealth (your parents or the governments) and you are unable to give much away because everything you don't spend on entertainment you need to pay back your student loans. College life is structured to created self-focused punks who care for nobody but themselves (I am referring to myself as much as anyone).

Although I've learned an expansive amount on a plethora of topics, one of the most beneficial years of my college experience was the year that I was not in college. It was the year that I took a break from focusing on myself and decided to volunteer my time to help others.

Would you take a year out of college to volunteer?

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My Year of Volunteer Work

After three years of college I took a year out to be a volunteer high school social studies teacher in the Marshall Islands - an incredible Island nation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Here, 2000 miles from Hawaii, on a 7 square mile island, I learned several lessons about life that college failed to educate me about.

1. It's Not All About Me

Real life isn't about how much you make, save, or take, it's about how much you give, benefit, and empower. When you go from student to teacher you quickly realize that no one sympathizes with you. While it's easy to complain about a teacher when you are the student, if you are the teacher and the students are out of control, it's your fault. The real world cared very little for my problems and expected me to be mature enough to figure them out on my own.

2. Life Requires Participation

The majority of a college education is daydreaming at a desk, doing what you're told, and scraping by with the bare minimum. This doesn't work in real life. Good jobs require you to do more than show up - you need to be actively involved. School prepares you to show up and daydream through boring tasks, successful people change the world around them rather than sit through it.

3. Westerners Have a Lot

In America we have unions, Congress, and Occupy Wall Street - groups of people who continually complain because they feel that they don't have enough. We have more than enough. If you eat three meals a day, own a computer, have a bed to sleep in, and drive a car, you're far better off than the majority of the world.

4. Integrity is EVERYTHING

It doesn't matter who you are or what you do, you will have the opportunity to slack. School encourages us to squeak by, but once you're working, if you don't do your best, it shows. People continually watch and evaluate us - if we focus on giving the most we can, rather than taking everything we can, we will not only change the world but be respected.

5. Life is What You Make It

Many people think that life will get better in the future. While it is a good idea to be optimistic through tough times, things rarely improve on their own - it requires your involvement. If you want something changed, you need to change it. Don't hope that it will magically change, don't think about changing it in the future, change it now! Who we become, our destiny, is a compilation of what we do one day at a time.

Conclusion - Try Something Different

Education can provide you with a great launching pad for life. However, college alone will not prepare you for life. The best way to experience the kind of life you want to live is by simply trying it. Don't plan on making a difference after college. Don't plan on changing the world after you retire. Live the life you want to live now and you will likely experience incredible results.

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    • Robert Erich profile image
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      Robert Erich 5 years ago from California

      Well thanks dad. All of my accomplishments are because of my parents who are both great role models. I appreciate your thoughts, actions, and prayers throughout my life. Thank you!

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      Kevin Erich 5 years ago

      Rob - An amazing and insightful article. Often we concentrate our efforts on the wrong things for the wrong reasons. It seems as if the individuals who left the biggest legacy were those who found a way to truly help and benefit others. I am proud of you for your willingness to think "out of the box." Keep it up. To a son whose wisdom far surpasses that of his age. Dad

    • Robert Erich profile image
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      Robert Erich 5 years ago from California

      @Mrs. Johnston: I'm glad you enjoyed the article and it was a pleasure to see you as well.

      @Dale Hetzer: Thank you so much for the compliment and the tips as well. I love Kiyosaki's books! But I completely missed the line you just shared. Thanks for sharing it and yes, online education is actually a great idea for a future venture.

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      Dale Hetzer 5 years ago

      Hey Robert,

      GREAT points, and mature ones. I went to school with your dad,(who's very proud of you!) and I see he raised you with smarts in your head. All 5 of your points are true.

      I will share a secret of wealth for you... actually two... one is you have 99 percent of what it takes to succeed and the other 1 percent is YOUR DETERMINATION. The second point has to do with monetary wealth... and Robert Kiyosaki said it: (paraphrased)"Position yourself in front of the demand, and it will arrive" Find your passion, Robert. And I applaud you for having the passion to help others! Now be good at something that is the next trillion dollar industry - education online.

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      Madeline Johnston 5 years ago

      Well written. And it was good to see you & chat with you the other night.

    • Robert Erich profile image
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      Robert Erich 5 years ago from California

      Global-Chica! I am so glad you enjoyed this article. And I am excited to meet a fellow traveler/volunteer. It's always awesome to run into more people who are passionate about seeing the world and helping people. I will have to stay posted for your future adventures.

    • Global-Chica profile image

      Anna 5 years ago from New York, NY

      Robert, awesome hub! I completely agree with you on all your points and realized a lot of them also through traveling and volunteering. Voted up, awesome and sharing your hub on my facebook (btw, first time I'm doing that).

    • Robert Erich profile image
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      Robert Erich 5 years ago from California

      Good move Vladi. It's definitely worth doing something that you enjoy - even if it does not make you as much money or give you as much of a "reputation" as another job could. After all, if you get payed to play, then it doesn't matter if it's less. I wish you the best as you continue in your career in art - I'm sure you'll do great things!

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      Vladi Dorfman 5 years ago

      Great read. I think point #5 is extremely important.

      I was doing a degree and finished nearly a half of it before I decided it was completely too boring to continue with. That's when I took up art :)

      It's a struggle, but it feels more like the real world than anything else - I develop the skills I'll use, and I choose the skills that I want to develop. Plus, this is one of the fields where the matter of existence of your degree is not important, what is important is what you can create and how good it is (also - networking, networking and networking).

      So self-indulgence that has a systematic order doesn't really appeal to me:)

    • Robert Erich profile image
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      Robert Erich 5 years ago from California

      Totally, jobs are a tough thing to find. That's why I believe now is the time to volunteer - especially if you're in college. Once you're out you need to find a job and that can be tough. As for those who are older, yeah, it's trickier. Wish I had answers for that.

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      geordmc 5 years ago from Beliot, Wisconsin

      You are young yet. In todays society, even in America, we have starving children and a staggering amount of poverty. At 54 I cannot find a job after losing two to NAFTA. I don't have a college degree nor do I want one. I have met many Phd.s who, like me, can't find a job in the field they got their degree in and are settling for any way to make ends meet. ALL have student loans to pay off. If, as you believe, life experience is a better teacher, keep on volunteering and you'll do fine. Maybe.