When I first arrived in New Zealand I was set on what I was studying and I had a my life figured out. I wanted to graduate college and work for one or two years paying off my undergraduate debt, retaking classes I didn’t do well enough in, and studying for the MCAT. I would then apply to medical school and become a doctor. My motive for studying medicine was to help people have healthy and happy lives and to better The Human Condition we live in today.
I knew bettering The Human Condition would make me happy, however, there had always existed in my conscience a feeling that spoke to me causing me to think that perhaps this was not the right course for my life.
New Zealand, New Way of Life
I made the decision to study abroad early on during my sophomore year of college and before I knew it I was in New Zealand. Studying abroad was the best decision I made in college because something I did not expect happened: my aspirations changed. The enjoyment of experiencing a new country and culture on the other side of the earth as well as meeting people from the United States, New Zealand, and other parts of the world was much more than I had foreseen. Settling into my home university over the previous two years caused me to forget how new experiences and meeting new people can help you develop yourself, your ideas, and your perspectives.
To be happy you have to enjoy the journey to whatever you are aspiring to be.
The first two weeks at my host country were lonely. I had never been so far away from the people I was close to and communicated with daily. Over time, I made new friends and we created weekly traditions. On Wednesdays I would make dinner for my flatmates. On Fridays I would go to the local arcade hall and play laser tag for three hours. On Sundays, after my neighbors, friends, and I finished our assignments and studying we would watch a movie together at my flat. This was a radically different, more social lifestyle than what I had lived at my home university. At home I would study for many hours each day because my university was scheduled on a quarter system in which one class would run for ten weeks and finals were taken within a week. In New Zealand, classes lasted for fourteen weeks and finals were over the course of an entire month.
Meeting Morapedi Made Me Question Everything
Early on during my study abroad I went on an overnight hike with some of my new friends. We slept in a cave and hiked up and down a path called Devil’s Staircase. The weekend it took to complete the trip was one of my favorite experiences while in New Zealand. The sights and sounds of the nature we traveled through were so different and awesome, I felt as though we weren’t on the same planet anymore. The people I went on the hike with ended up becoming some of the closest friends I had while abroad.
All the while during these changes in my life, I would still catch myself wondering if I was really going to follow through with becoming a doctor. Fortunately, I can pinpoint the catalyst that caused me to confront and figure out the gnawing issue concerning my future. That catalyst was my friend and mentor, Morapedi, a Danish graduate student who was spending a semester abroad. He studies Physical Education, is a marathon runner, plays soccer for his city in Denmark, and is a board member for his soccer team’s club. I immediately admired how professional he was with his education and how well balanced his life was. He and I established a tradition of playing laser tag every Friday. While walking to and from the arcade hall we’d hold open, honest conversations about anything we thought of. Listening to his perspective on life, observing how happy he was day to day, and recognizing that he truly enjoyed life and what he was doing was very inspiring and helped me reflect further on my own life and what I was missing.
Finding my New Purpose
I realized that I wasn’t as happy as I could be with my day to day life. I wasn’t enthusiastic with what I was learning because I was learning it for the MCAT, not for any relatively foreseeable application where I may need it to make a difference in anyone’s life. My plan to become a doctor was appealing because I assumed I would be happy with my life when I started practicing, but the steps to becoming a doctor would be an unhappy, unenthusiastic journey. I learned something very important that I probably wouldn’t have if not for meeting Morapedi: to be happy you have to enjoy the journey to whatever you are aspiring to be. It may be hard, tiring, emotional, and otherwise self defining, but you have to truly enjoy each moment you live and appreciate what you get to do. I felt that it was a fool’s task to spend a significant proportion of my life being unhappy when I could find something that makes me happy now. Life is random, unpredictable, and too short to give up things that make us enjoy every day we have.
I’ve known that happiness is something that is worth a tremendous amount to me, and that when I’m happy I am a person other people like to be around and a person that I like being. I am majoring in Bioresource Research and I am optioning in Bioinformatics and Genomics. But I have now changed my focus from applying to medical school to applying to graduate school. What I am studying now and the effects of the research that I will conduct over my career could potentially help hundreds and thousands of people, more people than if I were to become a doctor. I am contributing to the progress of The Human Condition now, rather than in ten or more years, and I am waking up every day happy and motivated to learn. I can accredit a career path change, a change of personal perspectives and priorities, and a happier life because of my study abroad experience.
Sawyer Hicks is a Bioresource Research student Oregon State University and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand in 2015.