It started as a way to make up for a lost opportunity to write. I gave up a writing job and was looking for a project to fill up the time left vacant. I still wanted to write or do anything creative since my second semester load was relatively light. After brainstorming with my British friend, Daniel, we came up with an idea to film foreign teachers in China. The concept harked back to an old one I dreamed of with a fellow Filipina co-worker in Tianjin to produce a reality TV show about two foreigners starting a business in China. It was a video targeting English learners but it would also allow us eager and desperate neophytes entry in to the business sector.
Then I had lunch with a Spanish teacher, Aihnoa at the foreign language university where I taught and she encouraged me to do a PhD so I toyed around with that in my head because it would be a good avenue to express my general frustration with the Chinese education system and finally make sense of and finish half-read books amassed in my kindle about alternative forms of education.
One day, I had a fight with my husband over something and I woke up the next day with a light bulb epiphany to sell our house and use the funds to drive around the world with our two children for a year. My husband and I had less and less in common after marriage but this harebrained idea seemed to unite everything we stood for as a couple – nature, outdoors and travel. It is the legacy we both want to leave our children.
I chucked the PhD concept out the window for this more worthwhile idea that was greatly in tune with what I wanted my life to be about. I made a power point fleshing out the plan, tinkered with routes and simplified complicated diagrams. The first route I made would probably take much, much more than three years so I kept paring it down to lines instead of loops.
One day, I invited Steve, a visiting professor from Australia to dinner. I told him about the dream to drive around the world and he caught the excitement in my voice. When I told him that I had abandoned the thought of pursuing a PhD for this more compelling notion, Steve then proceeded to turn my brain upside down and suggested what seemed unthinkable then – to combine the drive around the world with the PhD. He told me about his friend from Canada who did a doctorate dissertation on consumer behavior while circumnavigating the globe in a Volkswagen van. The combination wasn’t as far fetched as it sounded.
So I expanded my power point to include the PhD component overlaying the route over the schools and centers I wanted to visit. Since then then the one page concept paper grew into a 22-page proposal that I’ve been emailing to potential professors, its title, “Walden meets Ken and Gray: Journey as a Search for Knowledge in Nature, Creativity and Play.” So far, I have not gotten any positive response and am thinking of doing this DIY so that even if I get university support or not, I’d still continue.
Some days I doubt whether I should be doing a PhD out of this adventure at all. Doesn’t it make an already complicated exercise more complicated than it should be? Should I not just enjoy the trip and unburden it with an academically rigorous exercise in abstruse language that I could accomplish in another easier way – say for example simply by writing a blog or a book?
On days like that, I contact my Yoda, the friend who gives me the courage to carry on. This project perfectly fits the bill of what I had wanted – to keep writing and the genius is that I’m not writing for anyone but myself, no bosses and editors to contend with. I do have a hidden fear of getting an adviser who proceeds to topple over what I built and make me totally re-do the thesis framework but I’ll cross that bridge when I have to or take another bridge.