“Sometimes people around you won’t understand your journey. They don’t need to, it’s not for them.”
Three major events in my life immediately come to mind when I read this quote. The first one is taking a year off of school to live in and travel around Europe. Second, moving across the country, sight unseen, to play college volleyball at a small private university. And third, taking 9 years to graduate college with a bachelor’s degree. From the outside looking in it’s easy to judge and say that I have no direction in life. In the last 10 years since I graduated high school I have been the recipient of a whole myriad of slightly judgmental and passive aggressive statements. I’ve heard anything from, “most people who take time off of school never end up finishing, you’re probably giving up any chance you have to get a degree”, to “traveling is so frivolous, why would you spend your time and money that way?!”
I’ve also been the butt of many backhanded jokes about taking my time to finish school.
“Usually people who are in school as long as you end up with a doctorate degree at the end of it.”
“At this rate your kids are going to graduate college before you do.”
“Life is so good not having to worry about homework isn’t it? Oh wait, you wouldn’t know.”
I like to think that I’m not a complete stiff and can appreciate a good joke, even at my own expense, but to say it doesn’t get old would be a lie. I also support the first amendment without reservation and I believe that everyone is entitled to their opinions and the expression of such. However, I also believe that we have a right not to have opinions inflicted on us in a rude and disrespectful manner. I used to become easily bugged or even deeply upset whenever someone would inject their opinions into my life. Then one day I started listing all the things I’ve learned from my various traveling experiences and all the people I’ve met as I’ve lived and worked in many different places. As I composed the list I was filled with gratitude for everything and everyone on it.
Leaving school after only the first semester was extremely difficult. It was a decision that weighed heavily on me and I took it very seriously. I worried that people would think I’m just a quitter, and I know many did, but in reality I was removing myself from a bad situation. My first semester of college was at Montana State University – Northern. I went there on a volleyball scholarship and the list of reasons for attending that school ends there. I was completely isolated in my beliefs and standards as one of the only kids on campus who abstained from alcohol, drugs, and sexual activity. Being a Mormon in Montana I was used to not being surrounded by people who believe the same things I did. And honestly I liked it that way. But being in school at MSU-N was completely different. There was no reprieve from pressure applied by my fellow students and classmates. Some were respectful but most were adamant that I was a prude and found many opportunities to point it out. Leaving Havre, Montana to return home was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, at least for my own mental health. While at home during the spring semester I was able to begin a working relationship with my dad in his self-started business. That alone was worth it because of the opportunities it has brought about for me over the years. Being home also allowed me to meet and begin dating my first serious boyfriend. Although the relationship didn’t stand the test of time I learned so much from him about how to open up and be in a relationship. Finally, I was able to spend time job searching and found a job that took me to Vienna, Austria for a year! I worked there as a nanny for a wonderful family with 4 children. This experience was so eye-opening for me as it stretched my capacity to think, feel, adapt, and learn. Not only did I make life-long friends while in Vienna, I was able to travel around Europe and fulfill a dream I’d had since I was little to see some of the most beutiful places and cities in the world. I don’t know about you, but I tend to think that experience was every bit as valuable, if not more so, as sitting in a classroom for a year.
When I returned home from Austria I spent a couple of short months at home with my family and then left again to attend school in Virginia where I would attempt to finish my career as a collegiate athlete. My poor parents were so happy and relieved to finally have me back in the country and then I promptly moved to the other side of it. Though many thought I was insane (possibly including my parents) for attending a school 2000 miles away with less than 800 students, it has turned out to be extremely fruitful for me. I completed two more seasons of volleyball and built relationships with teammates and roommates that I still hold dear today. My second season at Southern Virginia University I was named to the All-American team for the USCAA as an honorable mention vote. Some of the connections I made there with professors and members of the athletic administration paid off over time and led to now being the full-time head volleyball coach working with fantastic students and coaches. My love of history also flourished here in Virginia as a student. Living just three hours south of D.C. allowed for many trips to the nations capital where I could be edified on our beautiful past as a country. I also lived in the heart of civil war history with Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee both buried just miles from my house. I love Montana and the west with all my heart, but Virginia was definitely worth the move.
Though I loved Southern Virginia University, and currently work there, I was not able to graduate from there. The cost of the private school eventually got the better of me and I returned to the west to finish school. However, finishing school turned into me returning home to work for my dad once more which then turned into me traveling to places like India and Peru (twice). Working was so much fun for me because I loved the business and loved earning money. Traveling was also great because learning about new cultures and places is exhilarating. So in order to continue doing both I decided to finish my degree online which was cheaper for me and much more flexible. I’ll be the first to admit that it took me way longer to graduate then it needed to. But I have no regrets about taking 9 years to get my degree because of all the experiences in between. I was able to work in an orphanage in Peru, serve the lepers in India, work a business with my dad, build a second life in Austria, and make some amazing friends.
My dad once lovingly told me that my younger sister would love to follow in my footsteps if only she could figure out where the heck they were going. Truth be told I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love having my footprints all over the map as evidence that I’ve experienced many things this great wide world has to offer. I know my life is unconventional but it is truly mine. Tailor made and custom built just for me. This is my journey and I love it.