When I left for grad school in August 2008 I was searching for fulfillment. This program wasn’t like any other graduate program to get your business degree; you did it traveling to five countries and studying for one term in each place. And, you went into the program not knowing a soul. I had broken up with my boyfriend of 5.5 years that I was madly in love with, but knew it was for the best, 10 months prior. I’d quit my first real job about a year prior and my second job a few months before I started school. I felt like I needed direction in my life, but more than that I needed to feel fulfilled. I felt like there was this hole in my life that I couldn’t figure out how to fill. Most of my family couldn’t understand my desire to leave as we never travelled growing up, so it was still something new, even for me.
It’s funny how some things stick with you, but I think one of the most accurate statements I ever heard was at the beginning of my first term in Geneva, Switzerland. Ironically the person that said it was probably the instructor we liked the least: Bernadette van Houten. As her name suggests, she’s Dutch. If you haven’t know a lot of Dutch people in your life you may not understand why the stereotype of her nationality is enough to explain why we didn’t like her. The Dutch have a way of not sugar coating anything and being rather abrupt with you. They call it like they see it and their customer service lacks the friendliness and urgency that we typically associate with customer service.
In her first session with our class she looked straight at us and said, “I hope your purpose for being in this program is not to find fulfillment in your life. Contrary to popular belief, traveling the world does not make you more fulfilled, in fact it does the opposite: the more of the world you see the more unsettled you’ll become.” I scoffed at what she said and assumed she’d never been as young and carefree as us while traveling.
My first term in Geneva was incredible. I got to know my classmates well and would spend my evenings going to a French karaoke bar before leaving at bar time to go to a local boulangerie, where we made friends with the local baker that started pulling chocolate crescents out of the oven around the same time.
My second term was in Leiden, Netherlands and was when my homesickness set in. I was housed in an apartment building separate from all the other classmates except one. I was having doubt about the long distance relationship I was struggling to maintain with a guy I started dating shortly before I’d left. And, I started questioning what I was doing. I wanted to quit the program and go home, but my pride kept me there.
I had plans to go home over Christmas break, which was between my Leiden and London terms, and it couldn’t have come any sooner. I missed my boyfriend, my friends, and my family. My family has never been the affectionate type, but I was shocked at the overwhelming feeling of love and happiness I felt in being with them. Something about that combination shook me into a state of appreciation and I realized for a few day of my being home how settled and fulfilled I felt. It was like time was still and I was at finally at peace.
My second time experiencing fulfillment just happened last month. More about that tomorrow. 🙂