The Benefits of the Untraditional Path

An internship at an NGO in India is certainly a unique way to spend the summer. While most of my peers in Wharton seemed to be doing some sort of corporate internship at a known company in the States (usually finance), I admit that many times during my time in India and as well as when I returned to Penn, I fretted over my decision of how I chose to spend my summer – not just because of the nature of the internship, but also simply because what I did seemed so different.

After many weeks of reflection and conversations though, I have resolved that I am grateful for going down an untraditional path. Experiencing a new culture, working in a unique environment, and exposing myself to so many different challenges has broadened my understanding of myself and of this world. This perspective is one that I would have never gained if I had stayed in my comfort zone and not broken out of the larger “Penn bubble” of people and experiences.

For one, it influenced my thoughts on my future career. It is so easy to follow the step-by-step map that our peers and society tells us to take; however, along that path, it’s hard to get the guts to swim away from the current, because all other possibilities seem so uncertain and so precarious. “Do something you’re passionate about,” has become a tried cliche that few follow, very much for the aforementioned reason. Heck, it is so difficult to even find what you are actually passionate about, when society tells you to try only a, b, and c instead. However, spending time in India and thinking about my future has helped me to recognize for myself that I rather go down an untraditional, seemingly risky path of uncertainty, in pursuit of a life that I find meaningful, then blindly follow the traditional path, with its own, often discounted, risks of dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

Importantly, this untraditional path has exposed me to more of the world — a different culture, different people, different experiences, paths, and perspectives. The “Penn bubble” is not just about spending all your time on campus or being surrounded by Penn students. It encompasses, as well, being exposed almost solely to how people at Penn think and what people at Penn do. With all the chaos in the news this summer that is still ongoing (Ukraine-Russia and the crisis with ISIS is just two of many, many issues), all that I, as a typical student, usually worry and obsess suddenly becomes ridiculous and steeped in privilege. Does getting a internship instead of b internship or this grade instead of that really matter in the grand scheme of things? I don’t mean to simply trivialize what happens at Penn and what we students think about and do. There is always chaos in the world, and there are always “greater” things to be concerned about. Our lives, and the real personal challenges and joys we have, are important too. I’m not saying it’s wrong to worry about what we worry about and do what we do. However, I maintain that it is important to take a step back and maintain a healthy perspective that is grounded in the greater realities of the world. Taking a trip down an untraditional path has helped ground me by exposing me and reminding me of life outside of Penn. It has added nuance to the way I think and what I do.

It is impossible to pinpoint the innumerable ways an experience can influence you, for better or worse, in subtle or dramatic ways, but these are two of many interrelated thoughts that particularly stand out during these weeks of reflection.

For anyone who may be reading this who is debating whether to try something “untraditional” consider this: whether the experience turns out to be “good” or “bad,” there are important benefits and always something to learn from trying things outside of your comfort zone. I know, for me, I am grateful for how this experience has changed my perspective and my appreciation of the untraditional path.

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About sarahkho

- Class of 2016, concentrating in Finance or OPIM in Wharton and minoring in Computer Science - Interests in healthcare, international development, and technology - Summer 2014 intern at DICCI in Pune, Maharashtra