Thursday, November 15, 2012

Epiphanies, Reflections and the International Conundrum

Another trip is coming to a conclusion. My previous blog explains why I fell off the map for a bit. The Coles Notes include SLP Leadership Development Program, where I met some really cool people, going to the Polish Presidential Palace, visiting the Polish Senate and Parliament, traveling to 11 destinations I have never visited before in Europe, seeing some family, meeting friends from the adventure-seeking and self-improvement focused Gzowski Club, and overall having an amazing time.

I have been fortunate enough to do a fair bit of travel in the last year. In the later part of this trip, especially after my birthday, I did some reflecting and taking it all in. This are some thoughts and revelations that I have had floating around and I thought that I would share:
--> The first epiphany has to do with how much I learned from travel. Traveling forces you to think on your feet and be flexible and this isn't something you can get from books or videos. If you don't adapt, you will either be missing out on opportunity or sleeping on the street somewhere. Sometimes the lessons learned come after travel when reflecting.
--> Do not underestimate the power of your network, especially internationally. Network and network more. You never know who you will meet, where and what it will lead to. One small-scale example is my hostel roommate from Budapest, Stu. He was one of the many people that joined my birthday celebrations, but after leaving early the next morning, I did not connect with him in time and thought I would not see him again. Little did I know that three destinations later in Prague, we would run into each other at hostel reception. It also turns out that we share a friend in Western Canada that I made in college. Incredibly small world!

-->International experiences are ridiculously fun and create life-long friends. Some of my best friends are now scattered around the world. With the power of tools such as Skype and Facebook video chat, everyone is closer and there is no excuse for not keeping in touch and having an international network.
--> Looking to network? There are so many cool ways to do it now. The obvious travel networking can be done at hostelsCouchSurfingAirBnB, conferences, etc. But what about networking with people on the plane, at the bus station, in coffee shops, or even using CouchSurfing further with searching profiles for couches and coffee requests, general posts to specific cities, e.g. Birthday in Budapest and see who comes out. You can learn a lot from these strangers, make them your friends and feel like a local when exploring!
-->Food & drink. This doesn't just mean the superior spirits, beers and night life. The Europeans appear to take hearty, filling meals more seriously. Everywhere I went, I vowed to try at least one traditional meal. In my humble opinion, Hungary had by far the best for food. A nice Hungarian Gulyás with fresh rye bread and chili paste, washed down with a glass of affordable, yet high quality Hungarian wine. McDonald's also played a big role here. Having quick and readily available free access to WIFI, coupled with consistency in food worldwide made this a popular travel stop. (Seriously).

-->Languages. There are so many in Europe (23 official languages) and so many people speak 1, 2 3 or more languages fluently. This opens up a world of opportunity and was a real eye-opener and motivator to get back into the French (at least). Who else is in?
-->I was pretty sick between Poland and Sweden with what I understood as some form of Bronchitis. Despite having full traveler's insurance and attempting to see several public doctors, I ended up paying out of my own pocket to see a private doctor. In short, despite the occasionally long wait times and other minor kinks, I strongly believe that we Canadians should be grateful for our medical system.
-->Clothes. For those of you who are unaware, I am not exactly average sized. Getting clothes and shoes has become a real issue for me, let alone something that looks semi-presentable. Europe had more stylish and readily available clothes for the taller gentlemen. I (literally) bought a birthday suit here. Also, shout out to Maciek the Rocket Scientist for sharing these useful links: Big Clothes, Big Shoes. #TallPeopleProblems #TallPeopleSolutions (Those 2 are freebies for you to tweet!)

--> Taking a complete 180 from the clothes, less is definitely more. Traveling with less material goods and only out of a backpack has forced me to be more resourceful with what I have.
--> European girls...Wow! You will not regretting going and checking them out for yourself!
--> Although this is going to be a generalization, I have seen this firsthand in the countries I've visited across Europe. Europeans appear to care more about culture, self-image, style and put in effort to take care of themselves. This is especially the case in Central and Eastern Europe. These people are also unbelievably hospitable!
--> Many people talk a lot, say they will do the next big thing, yet a lack of action stops them there. Recently, I heard someone say that something executed at 80% completion is better than waiting on a plan to be 100% perfect and never comes to fruition. Lesson: results are important and can only be achieved with actions. JFDI!

THE INTERNATIONAL CONUNDRUM is another trade-off and a term I recently coined about my current situation. With traveling, graduation and everything happening so fast, it's time to make some big decisions. Many people have offered varying and contradictory insights along the way. I have narrowed it down and it comes down to two options or scenarios:

Scenario 1: Travel, volunteer, or attempt to find work overseas.
(+): Get to experience different cultures and how they practice business, challenge myself in various settings, travel and sight-see, life experience, and it's so much cooler.
(-): Potential language barriers, culture shock, opportunity cost of work experience in Canada and Canadian wages, potentially lagging skills if you return years later, these jobs are tough to find for new grads, costly flights or relocation, passports/VISA/paperwork and time to get these papers.

Scenario 2: Find a business-related job somewhere in southwestern Ontario.

(+): The easiest choice, most people do this, Canadian wages, gain experience, kickstarting my career and climb the corporate ladder, likely to lead to an earlier promotion than Scenario 1, be around family and the people you know, fall into a routine.
(-): Youth unemployment in Canada is high, opportunity cost of life experience, missing out on various adventures and travel,most companies want you to grow with the company for years before sending you on international assignments. The problem I see here is that years into the future when I work my way up and grow with the company, I will want to start a family, will want to stay domestically and spend time with them and may live with the regret of not knowing the world travel.

These are my recent reflections as I seek the start to my career. I hope that my food for thought encourages you to share your thoughts. Eat it up or spit it out!

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