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