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Michael Yarbrough Headshot

Self-Actualization and the College Student

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The "college experience" has often been depicted in popular culture in a myriad of ways. Movies and television shows portray these four (or six) years as a nerd haven, raunchy sex party and everything in between. What's the more accurate portrayal is up for debate, but what is most commonly regarded as true is the role of the college experience in the life-long process of self actualization, otherwise known as "finding one's self". Possibly an even more ambiguous term than "college experience", finding out exactly who we are is often viewed as an essential process involved in the development of well-adjusted adults. Since being a well-adjusted human being just so happens to be an aspiration of mine, I've spent the last few years trying to "find myself".

After a bit of consideration, I decided that the best way to undertake this process was to find my "lowest common denominator", something that is common and true throughout my personality and way of life. Fortunately, for me, this didn't take particularly long. Ever since I was a child, I've held a strong disdain for the familiar, for the conventional. As a kid, I dreamt of applying to NASA and becoming an astronaut for the thrill releasing myself from the monotonous tow of gravity or sinking my feet into truly foreign soil. As a bored teen living in a small town, I would often take my car out and drive to get myself lost, solely for the excitement of finding my way home again. Later, I moved to New York City for an education, but also for a novel experience and a new way of life. My future career will be taking me to the savannahs of Africa and other parts unknown. All things considered, it's safe to say that I am an aspiring adventurer.

Finding this common denominator is only the first step of the process, though. If adventure is an integral part of my persona, then - according to my theory - adventure will be just the thing to help me discover more about myself and my role on this planet. When thinking about it, using adventure in this way makes perfect sense. The nature of adventure implies some amount of inherent stress, some exposure to the unknown. It is in these circumstances that we are forced to make choices, decisions that, the consequences of which, reflect upon our inner psyche and motives. Now, I am not suggesting that I, or anyone, strand myself on a deserted island in order to achieve this elusive "actualization" I am speaking of. However, I don't think I'll be "finding myself" sipping Mai Thais on a white-sand beach in Jamaica. So, I was tasked with finding a happy medium: something that would test my mental and physical limits with a manageable risk of death. Luckily, I found such an adventure waiting for me. Or, should I say, adventures.

In the summer of 2011, I will be embarking on a couple of quests. The first holds academic implications, the second, entirely social. Both, however, are adventures that will surely help me begin to understand who I am as a person and the path I want to make for myself in this world. For four weeks in May and June 2011, I will be living at a remote biological field outpost in the Costa Rican rainforest, tracking and studying primate behavior in order to gather observations and data for the development of my senior thesis... which just so happens to focus on primate behavior. Now, I have camped before, but while living in Costa Rica I will be without just about every creature comfort I have come to cherish in the United States: hot water, washing machines, even Facebook. Replacing those will be cold showers, wash buckets and poisonous snakes. I've always wanted to live on the "edge", though, and it appears that I am going to be afforded that opportunity... in spades.

A week or so after returning from Costa Rica, I will be boarding a plane to Europe to spend two months backpacking through two dozen cities in over a dozen different countries, fulfilling a life-long dream of mine. Though a bit tamer than my Costa Rican excursion, this journey will take me as high as the Jungfraujoch, as low as the Catacombes de Paris and everywhere in between. All the while, I will be "couch surfing", staying with locals and learning the various cities' cultures from their own point of view instead of relying solely on guidebooks. This nearly nine-week excursion is as much a social experiment and commentary as it is a sightseeing trip.

Why write about it, though? Especially on a public forum such as The Huffington Post? Well, I enjoy writing and part of me simply wants to share these experiences with others. However, there exists a positive, latent effect of this endeavor. Growing up, I fantasized about college, but I also dreamt about taking time off and backpacking. In fact, it used to be somewhat of a tradition for graduating students to trounce around the world for a while, whether that happened to be foreign or otherwise. Lately, though, it seems as if this tradition has taken the backseat to career advancement. In times like these it can be a difficult, and potentially unwise, decision to abandon the job search for a few weeks and have an experience like this. However, not everyone needs to undertake such an extreme endeavor as I am. College is the time where we really begin to define who we are going to be for the rest of our lives, yet the eight-days-a-week rat race isn't affording us the time to properly do so. I want to record these adventures, not necessarily to encourage people to abandon civilization for the rainforest or to jet off to Europe. Rather, I hope that these records may encourage students like myself to take some time, whether it is five minutes or three months, and consider themselves. Consider who they want to be, where they want to go and what they want to accomplish. Adventure may not be your common denominator, but something else surely is and I encourage you to search -- nay -- hunt for it. I couldn't imagine spending a lifetime stuck inside of my own body and not having any idea who is home.

Young, old or somewhere in between, I hope you continue to read this blog. Share in my adventure as I write from Central America and Europe, en route. Most importantly, though, begin -- or rekindle -- your own search for who you are and your relationship with this world in whatever capacity you are afforded. After all, you can never know too much about yourself.

Until next time,

Mike