By Kelly Martin, Toppel Peer Advisor

Four years ago as a senior in high school going through the college application process I heard the same question over and over- where are you going to school next year? Now as a second semester senior in college, I hear a similar question repeated constantly- where are you working after graduation? When I was applying to colleges, at least I could give a list of the schools I had applied to or the schools I was deciding between. But now that the real world is just around the corner in May, I don’t really have a bunch of options I can list off to satisfy people’s questions. While some of my friends are lucky enough to know where they’ll be going post graduation, it seems a large majority of us don’t, and it’s a constant source of stress among us because of course after you graduate, you have to immediately figure out your life and get a job… right?

While studying abroad in Sydney, Australia, I met countless Europeans around my age, who were travelling for a year after graduating from college, or “uni” as they call it. And what struck me about this was that this was apparently completely normal, and they also said that there were always Australian students travelling all over Europe for the year after their graduation. Americans are somewhat notorious for not venturing outside of our borders- only 30% of our population have passports, compared to Canada’s 60% and the UK’s 75%- and that stems from a lot of different things. But this experience abroad really opened my eyes to how different our view of the way we “should” live our life is compared to many other places in the world.

While it’s common, and realistically somewhat encouraged, to travel for a gap year either before or after university in other countries, in the United States it’s often looked down upon. One of my best friends in high school took a gap year before starting college, and she received a lot of skeptical questions and comments about it, but ultimately it was one of the best things she’s ever done. In a world that is unbelievably interconnected and only becoming increasingly so, you’d think we would encourage young people to travel more. Arguably just in my 4.5 months living abroad, I learned more things about myself and life in general than I did in the previous 4 semesters of college. Travelling abroad you learn so many life skills- meeting new people, facing unexpected challenges, adapting to new environments and cultures- all of which are realistically incredibly important life skills, even for the workplace.

So I’m not saying we should all just drop everything and go travel (though I wish I could). But maybe soon to be graduates like myself shouldn’t be putting so much pressure on ourselves to figure everything out before that looming graduation date in May. The rest of the world seems to have figured out that a little bit of exploring can ultimately help you become a more well rounded person, more focused, and ready for a job, so maybe we should follow their example.