Home is Grad School, Abroad is Kindergarten


I’ve spent the last 2 months or so traveling around the United States, and I enjoyed every moment of it (yes, even the stressful, no-sleep-for-days-and-living-on-caffeine moments).

I learned an amazing amount about the US and the people living in it.

I’ve now been to almost all of the states in the union (still looking at a double-handful that I need to check out in the near-future) and met a ridiculous number of the readers, other bloggers and random awesome people that are scattered all over the country. I feel privileged to have been able to make their acquaintance and check out their hood (thanks everybody!).

Though I learn a lot traveling around in the States – my home – I always learn a whole lot more much faster when traveling in a new country.

I think of it as the difference between being a Master’s student and a Kindergartner.

When you’re in your own country, you have a lot of background in the subject of the history, geography, sociology and psychology of the area, whether you think you do or not. Just by existing that long in one place you take in a lot of information, and if you’ve been doing this for a number of years you’re bound to have a huge depth of knowledge, even if it feels like you are simply going about your every day existence.

When you learn something new, it’s generally some advanced-level stuff.

When you’re in another country, on the other hand, almost everything is new and shiny and unfamiliar. Look at that! And that! And that! They have cars like that here? What’s that thing they’re eating? How do I use the toilet? Etc.

A short jaunt to the corner convenience store can be a massive education. A stroll to the library an even bigger one. And trying to negotiate pricing and benefits when finding a place to live? Don’t even get me started.

This is a big part of why I love traveling to places I’ve never been. The ratio of effort and time to what I learn is incredibly favorable.

I still enjoy taking on some advanced level American education from time to time, but it’s nice to have millions of little easy victories to perk myself up with when I’m thinking about how many years it took me to find out that there are two distinct types of barbecue in North Carolina (Eastern Style and Lexington Style) and that in Santa Fe residents are legally obligated to build their houses in that wild adobe style (yay tourism!).

I needed 25 years of background knowledge about the US to get to the point where I thought to ask.

On the other hand, I landed in Bangkok yesterday and I figured out how to use the train today (and successfully identified all the currency). Whip out the coloring books and Legos, because I’m back to basics.

I’m thrilled to be back in Kindergarten. I’ll be sure to tell you what I learn…and how I do on my report card.


  1. Colin, you seriously put things into perspective in such a comprehensible way. You’re absolutely dead on with this post! Love the comparison with kindergarten – it’s the age when peoples’ minds are like sponges, and with interest levels and unintentionally high levels of “focus,” people absorb more quickly – out of a natural necessity I feel like! As opposed to grad school, where you’re learning because you specifically WANT to.

    Awesome that you’re in Bangkok – a city that’s been on my dreamy list of places to visit. Did you know Bangkok’s got the longest official city name of any in the world? Wikipedia’s got the translation of it too – check it out if you haven’t already! Lots of awesomely rich history and culture. Excited to read more of your posts!


  2. Haha! Agreed 100% , but it is great isn’t it? It certainly improves your resourcefulness and resiliency (as Ross would say)!

    Hope you enjoy the hell out of Bangkok man, and make it down south soon for a visit to Koh Phangan… or Samui when Carlos is here. ;)

  3. It IS great, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m constantly blown away that I’m able to live the lifestyle that I do which allows me to be a permanent kindergartner.

    I’ll definitely be seeing you sometime in the near-future! Are you coming up for the TEDx event in a few days? I’m going with a few people and it would be great to meet up if you’ll be around!

  4. Yes, I will be learning my (indecipherable squiggly) (indecipherable squiggly) (indecipherable squiggly)’s.

    Soon they won’t be so indecipherable :) After all, A, B and C were once the same.

  5. Feel the same way at the moment. Just arrived in Berlin and even though we had visited for weekend trips years ago, this is our home for the next couple of months and everything feels new and different and fun. I know absolutely no German and our apartment is in a Turkish area and I’m surrounded by different smells, sounds, visuals and so many new things to learn. It’s really exciting.

    Contrast this with Prague, where we just came from yesterday. We lived there for five years so while it may not be grad school like the United States it’s like undergrad. There is just a lot that’s familiar and known, so it’s a higher bar to get us into that learning mode.

    Great way of looking at this. Enjoy Bangkok!

  6. Ooo, I hear great things about Berlin! What brings you there?

    Also: ever since you guys told me about Prague, I’ve been looking for excuses to go through there. Might have to do a tour via train around Europe after Thailand….

  7. What a great way of looking at it. And you’re so right that both are the kindergarten / abroad learning and the grad school / home learning are valuable and essential. I can still remember that feeling of awe at all the new things every single day in kindergarten, and it’s a rush to get that feeling of wonder and sometimes, vulnerability again when I’m travelling.

  8. We’ve only been in Berlin two days, but definitely like the feel and energy of this place! Think you’d like it.

    We had to return to Prague this summer to renew visas (a bi-annual thing) and wanted to find a place to be still and work for a few months. Berlin seemed like the perfect match of affordable apartments, good energy, and a fun community.

    Regarding Prague, I definitely recommend a visit and a train tour through Europe could be a lot of fun. Just let me know when you’re thinking of going through and I’d be happy to help with contacts and suggestions.

  9. Yay! Go Colin! Go Bangkok! Hope you have a great time there. We’ll be reading. I loved your use of allegory ‘kindergarten and grad student’. Great writing as always.

  10. I love your outlook on travel. Kindergarten was fairly easy, and from what I can remember, mostly fun and games.

    And the most important question…how’s the food? Is your stomach doing somersaults?

    Sidenote: I was looking for the voting post. Viva España!

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  12. I’m based in Manila right now but I’m leaving to visit family in Cebu and then flying off to Palawan to walk 280 km of tropical beach and jungle. So in short… I’m island hopping Philippines. The adventure goes on. :)

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