Journey through college isn’t a straight read

By John Buysse

A little over a year ago, I came across a quote from Saint Augustine that said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” 

At the time, I was mulling whether to spend the fall semester abroad. At first glance, the quote reinforced what many people had already told me: Traveling is amazing and doing so for an entire semester is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

After thinking about it a while longer, though, I realized that it made leaving Champaign more urgent than traveling. I needed a break and the ability to study abroad was my chance to do so. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love Champaign and this University more than can be conveyed in a newspaper column. That said, after three years of heavy involvement in a variety of activities on campus, I began to feel much like I do when reading for a class. 

If the world is a book, I was reading the same page over and over without actually processing what I was reading. 

So, instead of attempting to read the page I was stuck on (Champaign) over and over, I did what I would do with a class reading: I decided to skip the page and come back to it later. 

Since that time, I spent the summer working at my dream internship in Austin, Texas, studied in Belgium for the fall semester (while traveling Europe on weekends) and just spent the last two weeks at an intensive ad agency workshop in Richmond, Va. 

By Saint Augustine’s count, I have read more than 10 pages of the world’s book since that time. These pages were filled with many new characters, stressful travel situations, good food and some life-changing experiences. 

Texas taught me that strangers are, most likely, extremely friendly. Belgium taught me to never fear the unknown. Paris taught me that cliches are cliches for a reason. 

Berlin taught me that Europe is, in many ways, still feeling the effects of the last century. London taught me that a weekend alone in a new place can be magical. Amsterdam taught me that there’s much more to Amsterdam (and most places) than Americans often acknowledge. 

Stockholm taught me that a lack of sunlight during the day can be disorienting. Barcelona taught me that I genuinely regret ending my Spanish-language education after high school. Rome and Florence taught me that Italy is, well, just as great as people say it is. 

Richmond, Va., taught me that I am pursuing the career I am meant to pursue. 

The last eight months of my life were, without a doubt, the best of my life. More importantly, they were spent almost exclusively out of my comfort zone — and out of the country. 

Whether it was my solo drive to Austin, Texas, constantly navigating unknown cities with the help of old school paper maps or seeing a comedic play on my solo trip to London, I was in a constant state of discomfort — and I’ve never felt more alive. 

Today, all of that changes. Today is the day I return to the page I was stuck on one year ago: Champaign, Ill. 

However, just like when reading for class and skipping one page to read the pages that follow, I will now have a better understanding of this one as I return. 

While at Tate Modern in London, I came across a quote by the Japanese photographer Miyako Ishiuchi that said, “I am interested in the way that time records itself into things and people.” 

Upon reading this quote, I realized that it hit the root of my need to explore. As I looked down the barrel of my senior year on campus, it looked as though this year would be filled with the same things and people that had filled my junior year — essentially marking a stoppage in time by Ishiuchi’s standards. 

This scared me because I wanted to meet more people, do new things and not feel stagnant. 

As I drove back to campus earlier this week, I thought about the unfamiliar people, places and experiences that pushed me so far outside of my comfort zone. I then realized that those things were all very familiar to me now. 

More importantly, I realized that Champaign — the epitome of a comfort zone only eight months ago — was now unfamiliar in many ways. 

Many of my friends have graduated, my roles in activities have lessened and Green Street is looking quite different.

These changes mean new challenges. 

Fortunately, eight months of the unknown and three years of a truly great educational experience at the University have prepared me for anything.

John is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JohnBuysse.