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My Life in a Backpack

I recently visited my old university campus and it took me all of 15 minutes to realize that I don't miss it. At all.

About halfway through my Asia trip I decided that I wouldn't be returning to school in the coming fall. Partly because I had no money left, but I had also come to the realization that I had learned more in 2 months of travel than I had in 3 years sitting in a classroom. And something in my brain just clicked.

I decided to study international development after returning from my trip to Kenya in 2010. After spending 3 weeks volunteering, I wanted to hold onto that good feeling, and decided that I wanted to make a career of "helping people". I realize now that 18 year old me was really quite ignorant and naive, and after 3 years in the Development Studies program at the University of Calgary, I have taken away 3 major points about international development:

1) You can't just throw money at the problem;

2) Collaboration and communication is important;

3) Long-term sustainable development is basically impossible without seriously fucking up the culture and the environment.

Apparently that information is worth $15,000, and I just gave it to you for free. You can thank me later.

Alright I needed to get that off my chest, but this post isn't meant to be a stab at the Development Studies program. What it's meant to be is a little bit of insight as to why I made the decision I did. Why post-secondary education isn't for me, and why I decided to leave it.

For 3 years I sat in classrooms and studied case study after case study on how development has failed, and how it has evolved over time to achieve the same result for years: basically nothing. There has been very little progress, and while we are starting to pull our heads out of our asses and work collaboratively with local governments (sorry, more ranting), there is still an obscenely long way to go. And finally, after 3 years of hearing the same thing over and over, and being told that my degree is basically useless from the same professor with the same stories about botched development, I had enough. I took a job in the international relations/development field and my feelings toward it were only confirmed. This wasn't going anywhere, and I no longer had the passion to pursue it.

For a long time I figured I should finish school because...well I just should. But I recently had a moment of clarity, and I now see absolutely no reason to go back. "But you only have 3 semesters left" is something I get a lot. Well the way I see it is that's $12,000 I could save for my next trip. I could spend that time and money on something I actually want. I no longer want to pursue a career in development, so why the hell would I want a degree in it? To have a degree? Yeah, no thanks.

I'm not saying that school isn't important. There is no doubt that education is the most powerful tool that we as humankind have, and I have nothing against those who do pursue a degree in higher education, all the power to you. However, who is to say there is only one way to learn? I've said it to I don't even know how many people: "It's not that I don't enjoy learning. What I do not enjoy or support is the narrow-minded way of thinking and learning that has become deeply rooted in the institution of our education system. The tens and thousands of dollars that we spend for a piece of paper and a little accreditation". And I think that's difficult for people to understand because that's just not right. You're supposed to go high school and university or, trade school, so that you can get a good paying job. Okay, sure. But what about the people who don't feel the need to pursue a career path? The people who are happiest adventuring, and who learn best by experience? The ones who's end goal isn't a huge paycheque, but a life full of experiences? Yes, we exist, and I can tell you that our path is much, much different than the American Dream stream.

Listening to lectures for hours a day never did it for me, but I've just recently summoned of the courage to do something about it. I have realized that as of right now, a career is not the most important thing for me, and neither are the stepping stones to get there. I refuse to go to school to obtain a degree in something, anything, just to say that I did it. It's overrated and dry. And you most certainly don't have to agree with me, I mean a lot of people don't. But I am reminded every day that you can learn a lot just by having an open mind. For me it doesn't need to be in the form of a class or a test or a paper. I no longer need to be acknowledged by a grade to know that I've learned something. Especially after I've experienced a love for the high that I get when I step out of my comfort zone. When I'm pushed to learn a new language or use new currency, or when I'm literally in the middle of nowhere and have to find my way back. Embarking on a 3 day hike up a volcano on a whim, or being left behind during a snorkelling trip. The excitement of the unknown. The constant lesson of travel.

As of right now I have no plans to return to school, but I'm also not completely writing it off. I'm only 23, and if I happen to develop a passion that requires a degree to fully immerse myself in, then you might find me back in a classroom. But you can bet that for right now, if my life is going to be in backpack, it's going to be packed full of gear to take me on my next adventure, not overpriced textbooks.

Caylie Smith

Not Your Average

"Whatever is good for your soul, do that"

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