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  • The Bald Guy

Forget About A Degree. My Passport "Taught" Me More Than University Ever Did

There's no need to rub your eyes in disbelief. You're reading it right.

"My passport taught me way more than university education ever did".

Growing up as a Singaporean kid in the 80s, I was always fed the story that a good education (basically a degree) was a passport to a better life.

Having a degree was supposed to mean you were a smart guy. A degree was supposed to guarantee you a head start in life. And most of all, a degree was supposed to mean an entitlement to a successful career; a ticket to a great future.

Fast forward 10 years, degrees are now pretty much the equivalent of a packet of condoms.

Like condoms, university degrees are "sold" everywhere, (private schools offer overpriced degrees to whoever can afford one) might be useful to have in certain situations (it might get you called down for job interviews), but if you don't happen to have one, the "deed" (building a career) somehow has to carry on anyway.

Don't get me wrong, my degree did open doors for me. It got me started on my first "real job" (whatever that means). But from that moment on, it was my "results" (In my job) rather than my "Mass Communications" degree that propelled me to wherever I am in my career today.

But i'm digressing. Singaporean don't enjoy reading words. We enjoy HUGE captions, and pictures. With that, let's take a look at how my passport turned out to be a better educator than university did.

(1.1) My Degree Brought Me A Tonne Of Debt

I was never an "A student". No local university for me. Based on my grades, it was more like SIM, PSB, or Kaplan. (yeah, don't kid yourself guys, you didn't make the cut for NUS, neither did I) These "private schools" are expensive; really expensive. Instead of a ticket to this supposed "head start in life", I was looking at debt; in the form of an education loan.

A "private school degree" costs a minimum of $30,000. Factor in a education loan interest of 4.5%, and you're looking at servicing years of compounded debt, wiping away whatever head start you thought you had.

(1.2) My Passport Bought Me A Wealth Of Memories

My passport allows me to see and experience as much of the world I want; at a cost i'm comfortable with. My goal is to spend as little as possible, while experiencing as much as I can.

When I look at my passport, memories of my past travels flood my mind. I recall the fear I felt when I was trapped at 15,000 ft in the Himalayas. A smile spreads across my face as I remember the satisfaction I felt on my first solo trip to Africa.

Dollar for dollar, i'd have to say my passport has been the more rewarding of the two thus far.

(2.1) My Degree Taught Me Schooling Was The "Best" Education

When I was in Primary 1, I clearly remember one of my teachers (whom I shall not name) feeding the class with lies (or maybe she was ignorant). She said, "Singapore is the cleanest country in the entire world" (yeah right). Even as a kid, I tried to tell her she was wrong. But at the age of 7, who was I to challenge her? After all, she was my teacher, an educator, my guide to a bright future.

With all due respect to educators (my mum's a teacher, so certainly no offense intended here), what I truly learned from school is "perceived position leads one astray". Not all knowledge is found in classrooms, and not all people in "position or power" necessarily know what they're talking about.

(2.2) My Passport Showed Me Traveling Was The Real Education

A Girl & A Bald Traveller in Vanuatu, Bangladesh, and Nepal

My passport teaches me that Singaporeans don't litter NOT because of a moral obligation to keep the country clean, but rather, because of the "fear of hefty fines". In comparison, the Japanese carry trash-bags on them to clear their own litter, no "fines" required to "keep their country clean". Singapore the cleanest country in the world? It's time to get out of your house you ignorant one.

My passport also teaches me that the natives of Vanuatu prefer barter trade over money (no materialistic money faced people there). They have mastered of the art of smiling, never fail to greet strangers along the street, and most importantly they consistently rank among the worlds happiest people.

From them, I learnt how to be happy. From the poverty struck villages in Nepal and Bangladesh, I learnt how to be appreciative, to be content.

My university degree didn't teach me these; my passport did.

(3.1) My Degree Taught Me About The Pursuit Of Success

"You studied so hard. Make sure you don't waste your years of education. You must succeed!"

I have many "self made" friends in banking and real estate, many who haven't got a degree to their name but are the epitome of the word success. A degree is one means of laying the foundation for a successful career, but it is by no means the best (or only) way to build a career.

Because of my "Mass Communications" degree, I managed to get called down to an interview for a "bank job". That's about all the good years of exams did for me. A degree made me appear "educated" and it opened the door wide enough for me to shove my foot in. But I (not my degree) aced the interview, I ground out the results, eventually making enough to afford the odd "luxury item or experience" here and there.

So here's a tip for aspiring "degree seekers". Unless you're "scholar material" or planing to be a doctor/lawyer/architect/etc , you might as well go for the cheapest shortest degree course. I'll bet my last dollar "most" of you won't end up in same field you studied in. You could have studied Nursing and still end up in Banking.

(Obviously, i'm not referring to "specialized fields" like Law, or Medicine. For most roles, any general degree or diploma should suffice)

(3.2) My Passport Showed Me There's More To Living Than Success

Sleeping quarters for locals on board a steamer in Bangladesh. Living conditions for locals in Lesotho, Africa.

School taught me the difference between nations; first world countries, and 3rd world countries. In university, fundraisers and charity dinners highlighted that the needy people of the world needed our donations. What they didn't say, was just a pittance of charity/donation proceeds went to the needy. Where did the money go? Well, that's anyone's guess.

What my passport did, was bring the "situation" of these needy people to life. I ate the stuff they ate, slept where they slept; I didn't want to read about them in a book. And when ever I flip each page of my passport, I see the stamps, and remember what I learnt, what memories I had. When was the last time you flipped the pages of you transcript? Me? let's just say I haven't bothered to.

(4.1) My Degree Put Me At My Employers Feet

Like most graduates, I hoped to score a decent job with my degree (which I did) The longer I worked, the higher my salary became, and the harder it was for me to quit. I had become a slave to my industry (not organization). Who else would pay me the same pay? What would I do if I lost my job? What would I work as? Property? Insurance? But I have a degree!

Flipping through the pages of my secondary school yearbook, I realized, the most successful among us weren't those with degrees. We degree holders were doing okay, but it was those without degrees, without anything to lose, that went on to insurance, to property, to become entrepreneurs. Nothing was holding them back; our degrees were holding us back.

(4.2) My Passport Put The World At My Feet

Enjoying the magnificent view in Georgia.

While the weight of a university degree holds many of us back from living the life we truly yearn for, a passport teaches us how to embrace our life. It says, go. Go wherever you want, see what you need to; it's a huge world out there.

A frog reading a book in the well, is still a frog in well. I look around me, and see plenty of frogs (or sheep as I prefer to call Singaporeans). Some frogs have degrees and think they're smart. Some other frogs hopped high enough to see daylight (visited Paris, Rome and Tokyo) and think they've seen it all. And some frogs are content to wallow in the depths of the well, simply because they aren't drowning. But frogs will be frogs; and until they hop onto the bucket drawing water out of the well and go out and up with it, they'll always be frogs in the well.

How many pages of your passport are filled? The world is at your feet, and your passport, the ticket to living a life. Because of my passport, I am no longer a slave to my job. I am a student of the world.

(5.1) My Degree Made Me Just Another Face In The World

Graduates are strange kind of people. They think they are entitled to success and well paying jobs. And for all their education, they don't realize everyone else is like them. They are common.

Almost everyone graduates from the same place. If it's not the 3 local universities, it's probably SIM, or RMIT, or LSE. The country is filled with graduates, most of whom will spend the rest of their lives bitching about how life isn't fair to them, how being a graduate never brought them to the "promised land".

It's time for a sanity check graduates, a degree just brings you one step closer to being a sheep, living and ending life just like all the other sheep; from grazing the fields to ending up as a plate of lamp chops (retrenchment). Welcome to the real world.

(5.2) My Passport Made Me Independent Of This World

I'm the first Singaporean he's met! Meeting the natives in Swaziland, Africa

Armed with my passport, I was determined not to be a sheep. I decided not to "wait for all my friends and see who could make it" and just move off on my own.

My passport taught me I could be independent, that I didn't have to be a sheep, bleating and moving in the same direction as everyone else. My first solo trip was to Lithuania. It wasn't so bad. Learning to be independent felt great! It felt better than scoring As for my exams! In fact, 6 months from my first solo trip, I found myself on a plane to Africa, alone; this time, to Lesotho and Swaziland.

Traveling solo, I learnt to deal with loneliness, learnt how to entertain myself, and learnt how to open up, take the initiative and be sociable.

In Conclusion

I'm not saying a university degree is worthless (since I have one myself) or that graduates don't deserve respect for "giving up their fun to study". But if I were held at gunpoint and asked to choose which i'd learnt more from, a university degree or my passport, i'm pretty damn sure i'd choose my passport every single time.

My degree taught me education equals success, and with success comes happiness (which is a lie).

My passport opened up a world I never knew. A non materialistic world. A world without Rolex watches, or cars, or peer comparisons. It taught me to look at the world with compassion, to be a more open minded person. It taught me life is more than just climbing corporate ladders, more than just a building a career.

A Girl & A Bald Traveller in Kotor, Montenegro

With it, I've been able to enjoy countless European vacations, road trips in America, and experience safari game drives in Africa. It's given me the "high" of trekking the Himalayas, feeling the "heat" of Sahara, right down to exploring the trash filled waterways of Bangladesh.

For most (Singaporeans), education ceased upon graduation. But because of my passport, i'm living a life of constant education.

My passport taught me that life is an adventure. And a degree in how to live life to the fullest (without being a lobo/hobo) is the probably the only educational experience worth studying for.

Found your passport?

Time to go get it stamped!

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