Abroad and Beyond

Jake Schoneker

There are some feelings, some moments in life when the gears of time groan to a stop just long enough for all the shifting shapes around you, those tragic squares and cubes, to slide perfectly into place. You hear a muted click somewhere, and you find, all of a sudden, that the world is right there in front of you, smiling, as if she’d never seen you before.

I, like many of you, am in search of … something. I came to Villanova searching for answers that I may never find.

At first, it was direction I sought. I took the core requirements and sampled the waters of academia, looking for some idea that would make my life seem meaningful. But as I sat in the back of discrete math searching for significance in the painstaking process of splitting up a cake, I realized that maybe I was looking in the wrong place.

This is not to take away from the classes that we take each day – they are far too expensive to take for granted – but only to say that there is more to life (and more to learning) than a perfect attendance record. Over time, I realized that it was not knowledge but experience that I was truly after. The kind of experience that can’t be taught, only felt.

So when I found myself one fall afternoon, climbing the last few steps of a long ascent, finally doing something real, finally feeling personal triumph – I stopped a moment and turned. I looked down to the serpentine figure below me, to the fabled Great Wall of China and to the sweeping landscape beyond. I thought about how far I’d come, and what this all meant. I am a man! Alone with myself, the world stood still just for a moment, and I breathed it in.

As it turns out, it wasn’t a direction that I needed but a movement. I had to leave the warm comfort of all the things I knew about life and trust the world to teach me. They say that studying abroad is scary and shocking, but I don’t see how. I mean, sure, watching 100 clumsy Chinese clubbers getting down to Snoop Dogg may have been shocking. Eating scorpions definitely was. And trekking across the Gobi Desert with nothing more than 50 Chinese phrases and a guidebook was perhaps the scariest thing I’ve done in my entire life.

These are my experiences, and they are worth more to me than any knowledge money can buy.

This life can be confusing, and you may not know your way – I know I don’t. But I do know now that only good can come from getting outside of your comfort zone.

The semester I spent in China taught me independence. It taught me how to truly communicate with people (and that goes beyond the barriers of language), but most of all, it gave me stories that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Maybe soon I’ll share more of them with you and also tell you about the life I will be leading in Brazil this semester. But for now, I’ll leave you with this:

If you ever feel as I did, resigned to the idea that the same things happen, each and every day … and if you’re still seeking something real in this world to prove that you’re a part of it … know that there are moments to be had and adventures to be made on the other side of the horizon.

Take a chance, and take advantage. The world isn’t going to wait.