I love travelling (who doesn’t!) – not just because it means you get time away from your desk, and the tragic modern reality of being hyper connected to your workplace, but also because it’s one of those activities from which you can learn so much, not only about other people and the world, but also about yourself. Travel, particularly international, opens up a world of possibilities, where you can try new foods (all sorts of weird and wonderful delicacies!), see amazing sights and scenes (it’s amazing what you can cram into a couple of days if your time is limited), meet people from all walks of life (making the best of friends), and generally engage in activities and adventures you wouldn’t usually have as part of your everyday routine. I’ve also found that my own experiences travelling have helped to better prepare and benefit me as part of my work within student affairs.
1. You become adept at expecting the unexpected. Whether it’s a sudden downpour, a power outage, or a broken down bus, you soon learn that things don’t always go according to plan. However, with every new unexpected situation, you also learn to ‘go with the flow,’ and when it comes to students, events and activities, that’s always a good skill to possess.
2. You learn to take advantage of every opportunity. On almost every trip I can recall, there’s been a moment where I’ve had the chance to do something unusual or that came up on the spur of the moment. It might have been the opportunity to try some kind of crazy local delicacy (deep fried tarantula anyone?), an unplanned excursion off the beaten path, or a chance encounter or conversation with a local or a tourist with a great tip or recommendation (the best yet being the ‘secret’ entrance to bypass the queues to see the Mona Lisa). In the same way, in the student affairs space, that opportunity might be an invite to an event, a chance to meet someone you admire or respect, or a professional development opportunity that you didn’t see coming. The key is to take the leap – say yes to the invite, take up the offer to form that new connection, and relish the chance to learn something new – you just never know where it might lead.
3. You form lasting relationships with people in new social circles. Put simply, it would almost be impossible not to meet new people when travelling. It might be the folks you meet in your local hostel or hotel, other times it’s the ones you buddy up with as part of your tour group, and sometimes, it’s just the ‘randoms’ you bump into along the way. Some of these you might only meet once and never see again, but there are those you’ll run into time and time again, and others whom you will meet and stay friends with for life. The best bit, some of the people I’ve met along my travels have turned out to be key connections as part of my professional development within student affairs and higher education – they’ve pointed out exciting new opportunities, kept me in the loop with interesting articles and research, and even acted as mentors or confidants, offering fresh and unbiased perspective when I’ve needed impartial advice.
4. You learn to operate independently and as a team. Many a time I’ve travelled with friends or family and loved the experience. It’s great to have someone you know, and who knows you, to spend time with, share stories, adventures and experiences. At the same time, on plenty of other occasions, I’ve also travelled solo, and relished the freedom and motivation it provides to meet new people and make new friends. Either way, both avenues provide plenty of learning opportunities relevant in a professional or personal setting.
5. You appreciate the small things. It might be a home-cooked meal after a long trip abroad, or a hot shower after an overnight flight or train ride – whatever it might be, travelling helps you value the seemingly minor positives of everyday life. That appreciation is just easily applicable in the world of student affairs, where instead it might be the feeling you get when a student expresses how your advice helped them to receive a better grade on their most recent paper, or how the event idea you suggested ended up being a great success and students turned up in droves or that you simply finished the day with less than 10 emails still to follow up in your inbox. The simple things in life 100% count for something!
6. You develop skills you didn’t know you could. Initiative, communication, teamwork, problem-solving – all skills that are helpful, and at times, critical, when travelling. It might be using your initiative to hang up your laundry using your shoe laces as a makeshift clothes line, or employing sign or body language to try and find out the closest train station or working out how you can get from point A to point B using your last fifty dollars. Often it also takes a bit of grit, a smile and a sense of humour – and all of those skills I’ve personally found invaluable when it comes to working in student affairs.
7. You make the best of tough situations, and it’s those tough times which become the memorable laugh out loud stories of tomorrow. It’s the power going out (tick!), no hot water when you’re desperate for a shower (tick!), getting stuck in an airport for 2 days straight (tick!) or it raining the entire time you’re on holiday (tick!)… the list goes on. In the moment, it’s a crisis of mass proportions (many of the first world problem kind), but reflecting back, they are the stories you tell your parents or your friends at the next dinner party. The same concept works in student affairs – those crazy weeks where you worked non-stop in training and then Orientation Week activities with your student leaders, or hosted a marathon of events as part of orientation, or somehow managed to juggle and solve multiple student issues at once – they are the stories we share with our colleagues, laugh about with our friends (who still don’t quite understand what it is we actually do) or use to market ourselves as part of our next job interview.
Are you an avid traveller? In what ways has travel helped your professional development or role within student affairs?
> BONUS <
Podcast With Paul Pyrz on Leadership Programs