As a graduating senior, my best advice to my younger peers is simply this: get out. No, don’t drop out! Just get out. Let me explain. For all of the great things AU has to offer, it is nonetheless a small, Christian university in a place unknown to most people in the world and somewhat isolated from the 99.99% of humanity that has never heard the term “ring by spring” or been to a CAB event.
Yes, AU’s small size and tight knit community certainly play a part in what makes it exceptional, but many students here tend to enter college with the assumption that they already know the essential truth about the world and now they just need to learn some facts and find a spouse, so that infamous bubble forms.
Luckily, you can easily break out of that self-inflicted bubble—as long as you’re willing to dive headfirst into a terrifying world of overwhelming uncertainty and beautiful diversity far outside of your comfort zone.
Traveling is the most obvious way to expose yourself to new people, ideas and experiences, but only if you choose not to maintain an artificial bubble by going on predictable mission trips with people who already hold the same perspective as you. The purpose of going somewhere new should be to immerse yourself in a culture and environment that is different from your own, not the same.
Also, here’s some great news for my fellow students: I’ve found that the less money and effort I put into being comfortable, the more people I meet and the better stories I have. Of course Tri-S trips are an invaluable opportunity to see different parts of the world on a budget, but don’t hesitate to plan your own trips.
Sure, Tri-S trips are relatively cheap and a great way to meet other AU students, but you know what’s even cheaper and gives you the chance of meeting literally anyone else? Taking a road trip to a new city, staying in a crowded hostel for a couple nights and seizing every free opportunity you can find.
What’s that you say? Human connection and self-discovery don’t matter? That’s fine! On a practical level, once you meet people elsewhere, you can foster those relationships, thus winning friends and places to stay in a dozen new cities.
Keep in mind that after AU, when you get a job in a new area or get the urge to relocate, there won’t be a professor leading you by the hand or a school-sanctioned itinerary laid out for you. You’re truly and utterly on your own except for the knowledge you have and the people in your life to whom you can reach out. If all of those people are youth pastors in the same Midwestern town, your options might be limited.
You don’t even have to go far to leave the AU bubble. Take two steps to get to know the people in this town that often forgets it has a university. Really dig the place for what it is. Rolling your eyes at “townies” and going to the same restaurants on Scatterfield Road will get you nowhere, and you’re just limiting your understanding of the very place you go to school.
Meet people from other colleges and take internships in new places. Talk to people who you wouldn’t normally approach. If a certain chapel was the most challenging religious encounter you had, you’ll be in for a rude awakening once you’re thrust out into the real world where Church of God, Baptist, and Pentecostal aren’t the only religions that exist, C.S Lewis isn’t the only philosopher, and being comfortable with homosexuality doesn’t make you edgy; it makes you a regular person.
So get out, be open to new ideas, meet people, and learn to embrace uncomfortable uncertainty and change. Believe me, it’s worth it.