How my Degree in Geography DIDN’T Inspire Me to Travel.
“There IS more to Geography than colouring in.”
By Lizi Woolgar, University of Bristol
ge·og·ra·phy: “The study of the physical features of the earth and its atmosphere, and of human activity as it affects and is affected by these.”
Judging by this dictionary definition, I should have come away from 3 years of study sprouting river names and rock types like it was my native language. Judging by my actual course units, you would think that I studied an entirely different subject.
In our modern world of frivolous studies and fanciful philosophising, studying Geography BSc at the University of Bristol meant that it was apparently appropriate for my course to include a field trip to Magaluf (REALLY?!), a week of self-starvation through a raw food diet and for a lecturer to stomp across the entire lecture theatre’s desks to demonstrate ‘alternative use of space’. Ooh, so Bristol-edgy.
[N.B. For all yo’ haters out there, this proves there IS more to geography than colouring in.]
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that since the ‘cultural turn’ of the 90s, the majority of disciplines have begun to cross over into others and poach ideas, theories and academics. Why? Because they’ve run out of ACTUAL things to do with GEOGRAPHY to research. And what does this tell us? We are studying too freakin’ much and should put more effort into worthwhile things, like, for instance, travelling!
I feel like I must have an innate love for the geography of the world and desire to experience its beauty, as my Geography degree certainly did not draw out this enthusiasm. As far as I’m concerned, Geography should be taught exactly as my trusty A-Level teachers, Mr. B & Mr. T, taught me. This meant rocks being thrown at walls to demonstrate just how hard they were and a field trip to Iceland where we climbed – no doubt illegally – up a terribly treacherous volcano. This kind of real, hands-on experience inspired me to learn more about our surroundings, both by studying, but also by longing to SEE the amazing phenomena.
So, I went from toasting cheese sandwiches on hot volcanic ash in Iceland, to learning about Spearman’s coefficient in many-a dull library afternoon computer sessions at University. Hardly made me want to pull on those hiking boots. I’m a firm believer that, unless I have specifically begged that I be taught an unnecessary array of statistical equations at Uni because it will be ‘so beneficial to my future’, I just don’t wanna hear it. Universities seem to often forget that the majority of students have selected their degree purely to get a degree, not to become a weather satellite analyst. Or anything remotely similar. And get this; our field trip was to Mallorca, about 100m form the Magaluf strip. The trip was more of a tragic tourist holiday than an inspiring geographical adventure.
Having said that, my three years of study did make me more aware of my surroundings and the vitality of our own actions in environmental sustainability. It’s almost a bit of a two-way dichotomy with geography vs. travelling. Geographers, in my judgment, should travel to fully experience in person, what we are learning about on paper. However, so many of the geographical golden rules outline how aeroplane travel is one of largest contributions to excess carbon in the atmosphere, or how natural sites remain natural for a reason; because we have not yet ruined them. So perhaps Geographers should be held responsible for ensuring they remain peacefully untouched.
But after all this, why do I have such an itching, burning desire to travel? A lot of it is down to photography; there really is no better medium of inflicting jealousy than a photograph of paradise. Photos have the capability to tell an entire story, with no words. Similarly, the hearsay stories of others – the countless ‘gap yahs’ – that I was exposed to during university boosted this yearning to explore. As tiresome as the stories are (“you just MUST go to FULL MOON”), they really do make you #welljel.
Sure, I can now probably (half-heartedly) engage in a somewhat intellectual conversation about Deleuze, Foucault or Derrida. But if I had ever wanted to, I would have studied Philosophy. Yet, after (supposedly) studying Geography, I can’t be confident that I actually went to the correct lectures for 3 years. I still can’t tell you the majority of world capital cities, I couldn’t reel off the length, depth and turbulence of the world’s major rivers, and I most certainly still cannot read a map.