What do you do in a typical day of your life? If you are anything like me, you might wake up (inevitably late), shower and run off to class. Later, you might do homework, go to another class, participate in an extracurricular activity or hang out with friends. Later still, perhaps you go to a party or on a date.
Sound familiar? The description is basic and somewhat vague, but I would wager it encompasses the usual daily activities of a vast majority of college students: we are in college, so this is what we do.
A similar description can easily be constructed for most students’ college careers. In the four to five years most people spend at Tech, the main experiences, like studying abroad or doing research, each person has tend to be rather similar, even if the specific details of them are not the same. It does not even matter whether the person is a Computer Science, Chemical Engineering or International Affairs major—in the end, their college life will consist of the same basic building blocks.
This predictability is not necessarily a bad thing. The relative uniformity of the Tech experience is part of what makes the Institute appealing to employers, who know they can trust the programs students participate in to provide real value. But this uniformity means that it takes more effort and more creativity to truly go beyond the norm and make yourself stand out.
We all know some people who are maximizing their college experiences in these different ways. While reading the blogs of several of my friends and acquaintances, I realized how lucky I am to know quite a few amazing people, ones who are both inspiring enough to motivate me to aim higher and down to earth enough to be willing to share their experiences.
One of my acquaintances has spent the past seven months in Qatar, working on a team to start up the local chapter of an international student organization in the country for the first time, and will be helping run the U.K. chapter, one of the largest in the world, next year. Another friend just went off to Kenya (yes, despite the conflicts) to run an entrepreneurship program to teach small business owners in the country key skills. Both of them have taken on vastly greater challenges than anything provided by the typical “go on a two-month long vacation to see Europe” study abroad experience, and will doubtless be better for it.
Unfortunately, we don’t always see how it is possible for us to take the same challenges on ourselves. Most of us are too focused on completing our LEGO degrees, moving on to above -average jobs (in the Lake Wobegon, “where all the children are above average” sense), and proceeding to join the rat race of keeping up with the Joneses.
And yet the failure to take on these challenges speaks to a certain hypocrisy within us: oftentimes we say we are internationally minded, or have a strong understanding of cross-cultural teams, etc., but then will shy away from the very experiences that allow us to prove it.
This hypocrisy has been a source of inner struggle for me: there are a lot of things and traits I identify with, but the extent to which I live those traits has, here to date, been somewhat lacking. As I went along, inspired by the people I knew who were living their dreams and facing their fears, I increasingly realized that I had to step up my own experience.
By the time you read this column, I will have put my money where my mouth is: I’ll be off to Kazakhstan (yes, Kazakhstan like in Borat Kazakhstan) for a six-month internship at an advertising firm. I hope that you will take the opportunity to break out of the ordinary and get more than a LEGO degree as well.