Opinion: Before the Redhead Goes Rogue, Some Thoughts on Study Abroad


By Rebecca Montross, Guest Columnist

If you’ve ever worked at a summer camp, you’ve probably sat through counselor orientation – hours and hours of unpaid manual labor, paper work and PowerPoint slides. With any luck, the directors of the camp will try to relay the countless nuggets of information they need to in an entertaining way. The camp I’ve worked at the past two summers has done just that. They’ve brought wacky stories from World War II into it and referenced well-known pedagogical minds like Piaget and Erikson. Superheroes and their unfathomable successes are recalled, and they even put together a panel of parents so the customer can project their expectations onto the people who deliver the final product – us. The crash-course psychology-armed, “child-like not childish,” semi-mature almost college graduates who are also expected to be superheroes for the kids they take care of. Yeah – it’s not an easy job.

This summer, they showed us a graph of sorts, one that explains a super confusing concept but one that is said to hold “the secret of success” or “the key to growth.”


So, what this pie chart shows is that there is a limited number of things that we know. For instance, I know that I know I like to make insanely long yet incredibly calculated Spotify playlists (and if you ask me to make one, I’ll drop everything I’m doing and make it.) There are an unlimited number of things I know that I don’t know. For instance, I know that I don’t know how to ride a skateboard (here’s a secret: I wish I did.) In either case, I am in control of my thoughts – what I know, and what I know I don’t know. If you think that was a mind trip, get ready for this: the remainder of the pie chart represents the unlimited unknown unknowns we have. In plain English: there are an infinite number of things I don’t know that I don’t know. I can’t provide you with examples, because, well, I can’t predict the future. I don’t know the things that I don’t know that I don’t know.

Confused? Terrified? Questioning the meaning of life? All three? Me too, my friend. I guess at orientation I didn’t know that I didn’t know that my experience would be sizably different than last year, and all the rules I’d have to make, and the crazy things the kids have done so far to break them. No one could have predicted that, not even me. And there in lies the point: we cannot predict the future, but we should be thinking ahead. We should be planning for what could/would/should come next.

A string of complicated events in my life led me to be an expert at dissecting my unknown unknowns. Wondering about them has become a way of life. If not for preparing me for the worst, it’s given me a tremendous amount of hope. What if there are things I don’t know I don’t know yet, that are wonderful, beautiful, life-changing, miraculous – what if something or someone I never knew I needed shows up? How overwhelming is that to think about? Perhaps this is a perfect way to describe my feelings in this time of pre-departure. I will be in London soon, taking the “Black London and Bloody Liberation: Social Justice and the City” lecture with Professor McKinley Melton, who I was privileged enough to have as my English professor last semester. After a month of soaking in everything the city has to offer, I’ll be off to Lancaster University, to study Shakespeare and verse poetry.

Currently I consider myself the luckiest girl on the planet.  Picture it: an English major in England, spending plenty of time with her first love – literature. Can you hear me audibly swooning? My heart just skipped a beat in my chest. I am blessed beyond belief, because the number of American students who deserve this opportunity but cannot afford it is tragic. I am so lucky, for so many reasons.

I have come to realize that there are two parts to planning this trip – the physical planning – plane tickets, visas, picking out the perfect 3 in 1 rain jacket, soliciting restaurant recommendations from anyone and everyone whose every been to London, etc. – and then there’s the mental planning. Being away from my friends for a whole year, arriving in a foreign country completely alone without a soul to point you in the right direction, how going abroad may help or hinder mental health…my brain has run through every scenario, from not making friends to falling in love with every one I meet and not ever wanting to leave. Both kinds of planning are important and perhaps preparing your mind and heart for whatever may come your way, to remain open, to soak it all in, to have an attitude of optimism – perhaps that may be the most important thing I can do before I leave (other than getting my hands on some quality rain boots; there’s nothing I hate more than wet socks on my feet.)

Maybe the experience I’m about to have will change me in ways I can’t begin to imagine, maybe there are things I’m about to learn that I never knew I would or should. Going abroad presents itself with many unknown unknowns and not a lot of knowns, so I plan to explore my adventures further in my writing, poetry, and photography. It is my hope that my art will continue to help me make sense of the world around me as it always has. I hope my stories will broaden your view of the world and encourage you to try new things or make you think in a way you haven’t before. I have a feeling that’s what’s in store for me – and I want to share it all with you! So hold on tight – this redhead is about to go rogue!

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Author: Becky Montross

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