By Kaitlin Gili
Dear First Year Me,
Explore the world. Now. Don’t wait until you have a full-time job, until you have more time. Don’t wait until you’re older, until you find a travel buddy. Just go.
I know that you’re thinking that this is not your priority in college. All you want to do is learn, to gain knowledge, to gain experiences that help you in your understanding.
This is what I want you to know: your best learning experiences in college will be those outside of the classroom.
You will learn about World War II as you visit the Berlin Wall. You will learn about cultural differences by accidentally stepping inside of a Japanese kickboxing studio with your shoes on. You will learn how cold the desert can be at night by sleeping in the Sahara. You will learn about Darwin’s discoveries in the Galapagos Islands; about Incan culture at Machu Picchu; about Neo-Gothic architecture in Spain.
You will meet people who change your perspective, who will make you more compassionate and insightful. You will meet travelers that inspire you with their journeys and locals that inspire you with their everyday lives. You will work with people that teach you, that push you. You will sleep in tents with strangers, share food and drinks with new friends, and road trips with entire families. You will receive help when you need it from those that might surprise you. Even if you travel alone, you will never be alone.
You will eat outside of your comfort zone. You will order from menus that are not written in your native language - you will only sometimes have those to help you translate. You will fall in love with Thai noodles, Japanese Curry and Okonomiyaki, Cha Siu Bao and Pineapple Buns, Kimchi and Korean Barbeque, French Bread and Cheese, Swiss Chocolate, Italian Gelato, Peruvian Guinea Pig, and so much more.
You will learn more about our world, its land and oceans, its diversity and culture, and its natural and man-made beauty. Most importantly, you will learn what are the questions that we should be asking ourselves as human beings that make up this world. Questions like, ‘what can we do to help each other?” or “what major global challenges do we face?” You will learn what difference you want to make, whether its education, poverty alleviation, food and water scarcity, human rights, environmental conservation, or something else.
You will realize that what you’re learning inside of the classroom might be applied to a global issue. You will understand why the knowledge your gaining is important; how it might be impactful.
Make it a goal to study, do research, or travel abroad during your 4 years. Apply and look for scholarships and programs that will help you. Talk to your Study Abroad Director - take the first step by making an appointment. Email those that are excited to help you. And once you go on your journey, come back and share it. Encourage others to go abroad. Be open to helping others go abroad. Feel free to contact me, anytime.
Kaitlin during her freshman year in Ecuador (left) and senior year in Peru (right)
About the author: Kaitlin Gili is a Quantum Computing Summer Fellow at Los Alamos National Laboratory as well as the CEO of the nonprofit Encouraging Women Across All Borders. She received her B.S. in Physics from Stevens Institute of Technology and plans to pursue her PhD in Physics at Oxford University in early January. In the past, she has worked on four different research projects across three continents, including developing quantum algorithms for practical applications. She is passionate about providing mentorship for young women, creating new outreach tools for getting more young people interested in STEM, and helping others in their personal and professional development.