WILTSE: Take some time off before college

Jul 26, 2012


In other words, they are putting college off for a year or more and doing things that thrill them and will leave them with everlasting memories.

I think that is an excellent idea, especially for students who are not exactly sure of which career to pursue.

If one is in high school and knows what he or she will be doing for a living, and one knows what hard work and tribulations are in store (i.e., one wishes to become an orthodontist, an engineer or a physician and realizes that it is 5-9 years away; closer to the latter), then by all means enter college immediately — for time is a wasting.

However, most students aren’t so absolute in their convictions. Some think that they want to become an engineer, for example, but must take remedial courses in order to prepare for it, become frustrated, quit and end up doing something that they really dislike. Others are not sure what it is they are good at or want, and end up spending six years as an undergraduate wandering around, hoping they find the American dream.

It is my experience with students (and I have had a few) who have no ambitions or mistaken ambitions, or talent for the discipline they think they want, tend to be lazy and have no work ethic — and are probably doomed to mediocrity or even failure. For such students (there tends to be a lot of them), it might be better to take a year or two to "find" themselves. Go kayaking through the fjords (especially if you don’t know what a fjord is), or hike through the Alps (especially if you don’t know where the Alps are). Go bicycling from coast to coast or get a job helping out with African safaris.

Can’t afford to go to Norway, the Alps, Africa, Russia or Japan? Well, if you have guts, do it anyway. Or else you can always join the Peace Corps.

As a last resort, you can always join the military. The problem with that is, you can’t choose your destination and you might end up fighting a war that you want no part of. But that can be avoided by choosing your service carefully — making sure that unwanted duties are not likely to occur.

The important thing is to get away from mom and pop, find out how people of other locales live and think, what their customs are and what sort of things they celebrate. You will be surprised and amazed. You will get homesick, but resist the urge to come home.

When you finally do return home (you probably will), you will be ready to make the decisions you need to make. Moreover, you will be determined to do the things that are necessary to obtain your goals in life. It is then that you will be ready for college.

That sort of thing happened to me. Now, I don’t want to set myself up as a role model, for I haven’t been particularly successful, but I have been happy in my career and wouldn’t change anything in my life, and I’m happy in my retirement. But I think I would have been miserable without two years in the Army.

I was drafted. I griped about being in the Army all the time — but the minute I was discharged, I realized that it was the best thing that ever happened to me. My best buddy was from Rockford, Ill. Other buddies were from Doylestown, Pa.; Portland, Ore.; Boise, Idaho; and the Bronx, N.Y. The diversity of those friendships in themselves was worth a lot to me and taught me much.

In addition, I saw much of Europe — an experience I’ll never forget.

Upon graduating from high school, I had no intention of going to college. Somehow, it taught me to appreciate life and instilled in me a wish to do something better than running a machine in a General Motors factory.

In this era of poor job markets and high student loans, it might be better for students to take a sojourn of a year or two in order to find themselves and build their character. I personally think that there ought to be a mandatory service of some sort of patriotic service (not necessarily military) for all young people — if only to build character, patriotism and a sense of work ethic.

— By Ralph Wiltse, Tribune community columnist



When students come back from Norway or Europe I hear one question and some complaints with cynical remarks. It usually surrounds the 5 weeks off that is legislated by the European Union for workers. A person under 40 usually gets 5 weeks and a person over 40 can get 12 twelve weeks off. They see healthier family relationships less health problems and people are living longer over there. European workers don't work overtime. Usually 32 hours a week. The population seems to be overall happier than Americans.
Then they wonder why America's factory or service workers only offer 1 lousy week maybe 2 if your lucky for time off per year? A year off with a trip to Europe does give people a unique perspective on work ethics and character. American industry might not like this - they lose workers. Every young person I talked to - never went to work in factory or service sweat shop job after they came home. They got or worked out something similair so they can get the 5 weeks per year off.


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