January 12, 2024
It’s my own fault that I’m feeling so unsettled this week.
I am a big fan of adventures. And I love embarking on adventures where you are not quite sure what to expect. With all of the Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews we have access to now, that sense of the unknown and unexpected is harder to attain than ever. But I still seek them out. I believe that venturing into the unknown gets us out of our comfort zone, makes us more aware of our surroundings, and forces us to interact with people and environments unfamiliar to us. I have encouraged both of my sons to take such adventures. But this week I am remembering that my “expert” advice may make things difficult for parents!
Dawson is now on Day Five of his semester abroad. He has left his home in Malibu and his college home in Golden, Colorado, for a semester in Tokyo, Japan. How about that! It’s something I have encouraged not only for my own two sons (hence the ‘it’s my own fault’ intro), but for thousands of high school students heading off to college.
There’s no better deal for college students seeking an adventure. On top of the regular college costs (OK – that alone may make that “deal” comment invalid), an airline ticket allows a student to live overseas and learn about life and our world in a way that no classroom or professor could ever teach. It’s a no-brainer. Still, as Dawson was heading out on his own adventure, my excitement for what his semester will bring was weighed down by a very healthy dose of nervousness for him.
His mom and I tried to make sure all of the T’s and I’s were crossed and dotted, but once I dropped him off at LAX, he was on his own. I have full confidence in him, but I sleep a little better at night when I know I can help him if he needs it. I’m already a poor sleeper, so if I kept a sleep score, this week’s average would have been even more miserable than ever.
As I look back at my own experience, I can’t believe how laissez-faire my parents were when I headed off to Europe. I was talking with my Dad about it this week. It was a different time, and parents were not able to keep tabs on their children the way we can now. But it truly hit home when my Dad said he had confidence in me. He believed that I would figure it out. His attitude reminds me of Crush, the super chill turtle in Finding Nemo. When his son Squirt gets tossed out of the fast-moving East Australian Current (EAC), Marlin (Nemo’s Dad) panics and starts to chase him. Crush grabs Marlin and says, “Kill the motor, Dude. Let’s see how Squirt does flying solo.”
I was indeed flying solo in 1982, as I headed off to West Berlin, a western democratic city totally surrounded, in fact walled off, by communist East Germany:
- I had no cell phone
- I had no credit card
- I did have a rail pass and a youth hostel pass
- I had planned and had a blast on a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-bike-shorts-four-week-let’s-bike-Europe-before-our-junior-year adventure with four friends from college.
- My parents let me drop out of school and stay another 5 months. After I dropped out, I made ends meet by working from 7 PM to 2 AM every night as a street musician. I made enough money to survive, but I lost about 30 pounds. If I had been any good, maybe I would have gained 30 pounds instead.
- I communicated with my parents to let them know I was OK, but it was infrequent and nowhere near as often as I will try to communicate with Dawson. I don’t think he will communicate with me any better than I did with my Dad, but like my Dad, I will take the high road.
- To his credit, my Dad did come over and visit in the winter, took me out to some nice restaurants, brought me some peanut butter I had been missing, and made sure I was OK. I didn’t need him to come over, but it was really, really, really nice. I hope Jill and I can do the same for Dawson.
Through all of it, I thrived. It was a transformative period in my life. I learned that my dreams of being a rock star were shooting well above my ability. And, using the new time I had for contemplation about the future, I decided to give teaching a try before I jumped into law school. I met so many people, had remarkably interesting travel experiences, and learned so much by living on a bare minimum budget. It was a total adventure. If my parents had known what I was going to go through, I doubt they ever would have let me go. But actually, knowing my Dad, it may have made him even more encouraging.
My oldest son, Ryan, also took my advice and had his academic adventure in Argentina. Ryan and I are alike in many ways, and one way is an exaggerated sense of confidence that everything is going to turn out great. I recently asked him how he felt as he was starting his adventure, and he replied, “I was nowhere near as nervous as I should have been.” It had been three years since he had spoken any Spanish, and he had to get back up to speed quickly. There was no one there to solve problems for him, but he persevered through it, coming out with some wonderful stories. In the end, as he had predicted, it turned out great.
As Dawson starts his Tokyo adventure, he is the beneficiary of collaborative planning with his parents (at least we think so!). He has a credit card and a cell phone. We have communicated with the school and watched videos introducing the school and dorm life. All that being said, our snowplow/helicopter efforts can only go so far. Once he stepped into the airport, he was on his own.
Unlike Ryan and me, Dawson was a little nervous as he headed out this week. To me, that is a sign of considerable intelligence. You should be excited about a new adventure, but you should also have a healthy dose of realism about the magnitude of what you are facing.
After all of this contemplation, I still think my advice is good. Whatever the emotional toll on me as a parent, I still highly recommend a semester abroad for students. John Shedd wrote, “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” That speaks to my love of adventure for myself and our children. I have complete confidence in our children to find their own way far away from home. That being said, even with all of the advantages of modern communication that has made our world much smaller, I was anxious about Dawson’s upcoming semester. Anxious, but super excited. And, five days in, though I am not as chill as Crush the turtle, I can’t wait for the stories as Dawson flies solo on his Tokyo adventure.
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Post #99 on www.drmdmatthews.com
- To See the Crush and Marlin scenes from the EAC, click here.
- Photos by Dawson Matthews – the top photo from walking around Tokyo, and the other with a new group of friends already made within the first few days. Why do I even worry? Marlin and I have a few things in common.
- Also, as I prepare to publish this, Dawson is so far doing a far better than expected job of communicating. I have to give credit where it is due. Keep it up, Dawson! I love it.