It feels strange, putting a pen to paper like this. I don’t often put down my thoughts with ink.

I know by the time you read this the text will be digitized. These words will be broken down to 1’s and 0’s and transmitted and reassembled into something meaningful on your screen. But I think it’s important that you know that the content of this post came into the world as blue ball-point ink scribbled across the empty back pages of an old notebook from my days in EMT school.

It’s also important that you know that the text is in print.

I’m writing in print, not because I want this to look to look neat. In fact my handwriting is rather sloppy. The reason it’s in print is because I never learned cursive. Or perhaps it is more appropriate to say that I never chose to learn cursive.

You see, cursive was an optional lesson back in third grade.  8 year-old me was eager to run around outside, play video games, and participate in general mischief. I decided that the extra work wasn’t worth it, that I was happy to keep on doing what I was doing, and here I am at 21, still writing in print. About to travel the world, writing in print. And despite the fact that it’s never really been an impediment to me. I mean I’m great at typing, but now I’m dependent on computers to write efficiently, and something about that dependency makes me feel deficient. The worst part is that my inability to write in cursive is a deficiency that I brought upon myself.  It’s funny how decisions like that follow us.

I’d like to think that I’ve changed since then. Although my friends might tell you that aspects of my 8 year-old self are still unabashedly present. Regardless, one thing I know for certain is that the part of me passed up on cursive, and more importantly on an opportunity to learn something new,  over 13 years ago is gone.

I don’t know exactly when he left. It was probably a gradual departure. But I do recall one major factor in the change.  It was a movie I saw back in 8th grade, a romantic comedy with a whopping 46% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, starring Jim Carrey called Yes Man. The main character lives a boring unfulfilled life until he begins to say yes to every, and I mean every, opportunity that comes his way. The the plot points become gratuitous at times and you could argue that he takes it too far, but I think it was the premise of the movie that really got me. “Yes” as a default. And my impressionable 13 year old self  ran with it.  I guess that’s also funny, those little influences early on that have a profound impact on the course of your life. Thanks Jim.

That premise, that attitude, that I adopted as I grew is the reason that I’m sitting here writing this at all.  It’s the reason behind this blog, and it’s the reason  that I’ll be leaving the United States in August. It’s the reason I’ll cross two oceans and visit sixteen different countries while I’m gone. And I am hopeful that it will be the reason I return with stories and an understanding of the world that are unimaginable to me now.

My feelings over the last few months have been mixed. There was the catharsis of submitting my application, and the disbelief of receiving an interview. The most nervous I have ever been was in the fifteen minutes before I stepped into that conference room as I paced anxious laps around Angell Hall. Then there was impatience as I awaited the announcement date and the surprise and excitement of receiving the award. Special thanks to Ben Malamet for taking me to bdubs for a celebratory beer at 11:30 AM, and also convincing the Biology/Neuroscience program advisor who spotted us at the bar while enjoying his lunch that we are not, in fact, alcoholics.

And now, as I write this, in that blue ball-point ink, it is summer. I am an alumnus, a graduate, and what that means on paper is that college is behind me and in some ways still with me. Now my planning can truly begin. Its calm. I’m still in Ann Arbor, but the city feels slower. I am sure, in part, because it is summer, but also because many of my friends have moved on.  I am still here though, living at home, bouncing between ambulance shifts in Detroit and spending hours in the fishbowl meticulously planning for a trip that is supposed to be as spontaneous as possible.

I don’t want to forget this time, and that’s why I’m writing now as opposed to my first day of the trip. Because I think it’s important to remember my perspective now before I find myself in the middle of the journey that is to come, hindsight is skewed and well informed, but no matter what part of my life I’m in, I want to be able to look back and see this for what it was.

And right now, I feel like there is a mountain in front of me. It’s made of visa and credit card applications, equipment purchases, meetings, phone calls, and shots. But I feel comfortable with it, and I cannot wait to see the view from the summit.  I don’t want to look back on this experience 13 years from now and realize that I missed out on the opportunity to remember what that felt like.

More thoughts to come.


Stephen Dowker