Some may say we are a species that craves comfort and pursues it in nearly all facets of life — in what we do, the people we associate ourselves with and the environment in which we settle down.
Because of comfort, some people will only live in the realms of what they know. Maybe they will stay in the same town or work in the same job for their entire life. Others, however, will grow to feel confined by living life within the limits of comfort, and break free from its mold.
Shippensburg University senior Shawn Wolfe grew up in Annville, a township in Central Pennsylvania, where miles of rolling farmlands are a familiar landscape for its nearly 5,000 residents.
After graduating high school in 2014, Wolfe embarked on his first journey out of the country, spending his summer before college in Germany. This experience abroad awakened him to the fruitful world that exists beyond the farm lands of his hometown.
“I think because I am from a small place, me going to a different country and seeing how drastically different they can be, put this idea in my head that there is so much out there I don’t know, and I don’t want to not see it or not understand it,” Wolfe said. “It’s almost like a feeling of potential regret.”
Shippensburg, though not much larger than Annville, has given Wolfe an outlet to learn more about cultural differences and the opportunities that exist across the globe, as an international studies major.
On the surface, Wolfe carries himself as calm and composed, but internally he said he struggles to stay in one place or do one thing for long without itching to try something new. Satisfying the itch, last January Wolfe decided to take a year off from school to go abroad and find work.
“I felt like I wasn’t growing as a person. I was growing stale and losing motivation,” Wolfe said. “I needed to do something to keep my mind active. I didn’t want to fall into this monotonous routine of just going through daily life and doing things again and again without purpose.”
Following extensive online research, Wolfe found a temporary job as an English as a second language (ESL) educator in Guangzhou, China, to be his ticket out.
When he arrived in China, Wolfe faced brief culture shock and feelings of isolation, primarily because it was Chinese New Year.
Since a majority of his coworkers went back to their hometowns for the holiday, he was forced to go out and explore on his own, which he thinks was beneficial to him.
After Chinese New Year concluded, Wolfe’s coworkers were resources for him and helped him more swiftly acclimate.
As Wolfe was teaching children a new language in the classroom, he was in the process of learning one himself. In addition to the atmosphere’s push for him to speak Chinese to communicate with people, he leaned into the language, taking an online class with Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) and receiving guidance from his newfound friends. He is now fluent in Chinese.
Wolfe returned to Shippensburg last month, just a few days before the semester began, and it has been a harsh adjustment for him — in more ways than just the winter weather.
A 13-hour time difference and the sudden ability to understand what everyone is clamoring about in public places like Wal-Mart, was difficult to readjust to, he said.
While Wolfe treasures the Chinese culture and language that he was exposed to during his year in China, he has returned home with more than memories. The choice, which temporarily set his education off track, has given him a clearer perspective of what he wants to do and where he wants to go.
“It’s cemented me down a path, that I know I’m going to work in other places of the world. I want to keep traveling and sort of make a living out of it. I saw how possible it is,” Wolfe said. “China is only one place in the world, and I feel as though it opened a lot of doors for me, or at least showed me where the doors are.”
After completing his final semester and graduating in May, Wolfe hopes to build his own brand of international schools to teach children language and culture. Many countries have training centers and schools specific to world culture and language, Wolfe said. He thinks they would also be beneficial in America, so that its people can be more aware of the remarkable worlds that exist beyond their borders and outside of their comfort zones.
“We have a lot of close-minded people here, who are good people, but they are just ignorant,” Wolfe said. “Nobody wants to be ignorant, but being ignorant is not entirely their fault. It’s the fault of their education, upbringing and exposure to different things.”