* Michelle Thoughts

The 6 Best Decisions I Made in College

I wrote this a few years ago, thinking about all the high school graduates out there who are moving on to college. These are a few words of advice from my own experience in college.

Jedd and I graduated from our (separate) Universities in 2005. Looking back, six things stand out in terms of the decisions I would make again in a heartbeat. Everyone’s experience in college is unique, to be sure, but hopefully these thoughts will connect with a few people and help them find their own way in this pivotal time of life.

1) Studying Abroad

My junior year, I did a summer school program in Florence, Italy and then a Fall semester in Paris, France to complete my French major. Having the opportunity to live and learn in those cities cannot be beat, in my book.
Although my best friend started her own study abroad program as soon as I returned from Paris, and we essentially didn’t see each other for all of Junior year, we both agree it was totally worth it.

Being a college student affords you some rare benefits for living abroad. One, scholarships and student loans can sometimes be applied toward a study abroad program, just like any other semester. Even if not, tuition in other countries is often lower anyway, so you end up saving money on the academic side that you can apply to weekend travel costs while you’re abroad. You effectively come out even compared to the cost of a normal semester- a lot of people don’t realize this. Also, many countries require visas for a foreigner to stay long-term, and you will often have easier access to get in with a student visa than if you were to try to get in down the road as a long-term “tourist.”
The point is, I 100% recommend taking advantage of study abroad opportunities while you’re in college. Jedd did not and says it is his #1 regret (although at that point in his life, just going to college away from Hawaii was a culture shock in itself). You don’t have to be a language major, either. Plan your classes out so you’ll be able to take a bunch of electives or work towards a minor during your semester abroad.

2) Taking Electives

As an undergrad, my electives ranged from Group Fitness, rock climbing, choir, and black and white photography, to calculus (yes, it was voluntary), Philosophy of C.S. Lewis, and Italian. I didn’t have to take any of these classes. But they were all things I was interested in, and it didn’t cost any extra to tack on one or two more credits per semester.

In my opinion, the value of college these days lies less in gaining concrete skills for a job and more in self-discovery and becoming a well-rounded human. Most technical skills you learn on the job anyway – they don’t even teach half those things in class. As long as you come out with a degree in your pocket, critical thinking skills, and some practical background knowledge, that’s about as far as college is going to get you for job-seeking purposes. Might as well pursue some things you’re interested in, too, while you have the chance.

3) Minoring in something interesting

Similarly to the electives point, I think you might as well get the most out of your tuition dollars by adding some minors. In my case, the core curriculum for all students required us to take four Philosophy courses, which got us more than half-way to completing a Philosophy minor. I believe we were also required to take two social sciences, which counted toward my Psychology minor. For me, nearly all of the additional credits I had to take were about topics that fascinated me anyway and could apply broadly to just about any field of work.

Note that I’m not recommending over-loading your schedule. I think it’s really important to keep a manageable workload and leave enough time in your week for socializing and spontaneity. Otherwise, you’ll burn out and lose energy to keep up with your studies. However, if you do have wiggle room in your schedule and it doesn’t take that much more effort to minor, then go for it.

4) Getting involved and work experience

College is about so much more than academics. And I’m not talking about parties. I landed some really cool on-campus jobs planning large scale student events or writing e-mails in French for my professor. I helped out with freshman orientation, led students retreats, sang for the non-denomination worship band, volunteered on the Relay for Life planning team, coached Special Olympics, read stories to second graders, etc.

I had so many different, amazing experiences on campus outside of the classroom. (But I wouldn’t have had access to them had I not been a student.) These types of structured activities allow you to test out your passions and interests, gain more skills (and confidence), and create awesome memories. Again, I’m not endorsing that you max out your free time with back-to-back activities but don’t waste your time sitting in your room staring at a screen all day, either.

5) Being myself

In my experience, peer pressure and cliques were a lot more prevalent in high school than in college. Although college students still gravitate toward other people who are like them, the boundaries between groups are more blurred and easier to cross. For example, it was no big deal for a jock to talk to a nerdy Star Wars fanatic and maybe study for a class they have together.

This is good news coming out of high school because you can let your guard down a little and be yourself. In fact, college is really a fresh start for you to be who you want to be. You get to choose the friends who are going to influence you over the next four years. You get to start new habits and project the person you want to be among your new community. Be intentional about it and be true to yourself.

6) Mission Trip

drThe final “best decision” I made in college was to go on a mission trip with my church senior year. I knew I loved to travel but I wasn’t so sure if going to developing countries was my thing. There was a Spring Break trip to the Dominican Republic coming up, and I decided to give it a try.

That experience changed my life. I ended up interning with the organization in the D.R. for the following two summers (a total of six months), learned Spanish in the process, and discovered a sweet spot where my passions and skills could meet real needs in the world. Not only that, but it changed my whole view of the world and my place in it. I never saw things the same after that, and it put me on a trajectory toward other passions like global citizenship, advocacy, and international development.


WayfindingA special note: College isn’t for everyone, and that’s ok. I loved my college experience, although not necessarily for the conventional reasons of landing a career. If you’re not sure if paying big bucks for college is the right step for you, check out this new alternative school in Portland called Wayfinding Academy. It’s designed to help you find your own path and prepare for real life without the massive debt and cookie-cutter curriculum.

* Michelle Thoughts, Intentional Living

Reflective Journal Prompts for Intentional Living

I’ve kept a personal journal fairly regularly since grade school. Being a practical person, most of my journal entries have simply been records of what happened.

In high school, I tried a different approach. I bought a big, textbook-sized journal and began processing concepts, trying to grasp new ideas by wrestling them onto a page in my own words. It was something I referred back to often and enjoyed immensely.

Recently, I’ve kept up a personal journal to record significant happenings and check in with my own well-being. I average making an entry once or twice a week, but I try not to worry about the timing. I’ve also used a combination of real notebooks and Evernote on my laptop to take notes on the various things I’m learning from books, workshops, etc.

Then, once a year, Jedd and I take time to do some intentional reflection during our Annual Review. This takes place every December. We look back on the previous year to analyze what went well, what we could do better. From there, we plot out our goals for the year to come.

The Annual Review has become such a useful and impactful practice. I realized I was craving more of that deep reflection throughout the year. 

Even though I continue to journal fairly regularly, I haven’t actually been using the journal for deeper reflection. It’s been more of a quick record-keeping practice. As an introvert who processes thoughts internally, journaling is an under-utilized tool for better self-awareness and personal growth.

So I decided to be more intentional about journaling. I thought I’d share my new plan, in case it’s helpful to anyone else. Continue reading “Reflective Journal Prompts for Intentional Living”

* Michelle Thoughts, Intentional Living

All is calm. All is bright: Advent 2018

“All is calm, all is bright.” It’s a delightful sentiment, though not typically how I’m experiencing the world these days.

That’s why I’m making it my motto for Advent.

Advent, the time leading up to Christmas, tends to hold a lot more anticipation and magic in childhood. These days, I struggle to find ways to make it special.

To me, Christmas has a “true meaning” indeed. It has nothing to do with Santa, giving or receiving presents, and it’s definitely not about shopping.

Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ. A real live baby boy who changed the world. God walking on Earth. The man who was persecuted, whose body couldn’t be found in his tomb three days later, and who appeared to hundreds of people – people who became martyrs in dedication to his kingship.

It’s world-shattering stuff.

Worthy of pause. Reflection. Introspection. Action.

Every year I struggle with how to do this.

I don’t particularly enjoy tradition and ceremony for its own sake. It’s too easy to go through the motions.

I want to be intentional about Advent. But how?

I heard of the idea of Continue reading “All is calm. All is bright: Advent 2018”

* Michelle Thoughts

Michelle’s 35 Things Update

It’s been an eventful year so far – we both turned 35 and celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary with an extra dose of travel. With roughly 2 months left in my 35th year, I wanted to take another look at my “35 things to do in my 35th year” bucket list.

I was able to complete most of the things on my list without a problem. But I found that there were a couple things I resisted. One thing I’ve recently learned about myself, thanks to Gretchen Rubin’s 4 Tendencies, is that I am a Questioner. That means I only meet expectations that I have rationalized to myself are important. So I expect that the reason I resisted the 35 thank you letters task is because 1) I’ve never really appreciated the tradition of thank you cards in the first place, and 2) it was a popular birthday activity for others that I felt like I should do even though I wasn’t excited about it, and 3) it was overwhelming to choose 35 people and write 35 letters.

So I may end up replacing that one if I can’t find a way to align it better to my own style and personality. There are a few others I might need to adjust as well. Here is my current progress Continue reading “Michelle’s 35 Things Update”

* Michelle Thoughts, challenges, Intentional Living

Turning 35: Michelle’s Birthday Bucket List

I promised myself that I wouldn’t actually be old until age 75. But turning 35 means I’ve left my “early thirties” behind, which makes me feel that I no longer fit in the “young adult” category. I’m doing my best to accept this shift in identity without dragging my feet.

I confess that one of my biggest fears about aging is that life will somehow go downhill. I realize that the physical obstacles will increase – I’ve had chronic pain and headaches since my mid-twenties, so I don’t have much hope of anything getting better in that regard. But my real concern doesn’t involve bodily functions.

I remember as a Continue reading “Turning 35: Michelle’s Birthday Bucket List”

* Michelle Thoughts, Intentional Living

When You’re Not Saving Money at That Sale

Sale prices. Who doesn’t like to save money and get big shopping discounts? You walk into your favorite store and see a bright sign above some nice T-shirts: “45% off today only!” You may think to yourself: “That sounds like a good deal; I don’t want to miss out.” But I wouldn’t be so sure.

Unfortunately, sometimes those sale prices aren’t actually saving us money.

Intentional Spending

Being aware of how we spend our money is a big part of intentional living. Continue reading “When You’re Not Saving Money at That Sale”

* Life Updates, Other Travels

Life Updates from J + M | Intentional Travelers

As you may or may not have noticed, we’ve been posting a bit less on this blog lately. We’re shifting our focus toward our travel blog (now travel business). We do plan to keep posting “simply intentional” reflections here but most of our travels and adventure updates will come from IntentionalTravelers.com, like our life update below:


 New Transformational Travel Business

As we’ve mentioned briefly over the past month or two, we are in the works of launching a business around transformational travel. We are passionate about seeing our culture grow in understanding and appreciation for the world we live in, and be inspired by its beauty and diversity to become more generous, responsible, passionate global citizens.

The primary aim of our business is Continue reading “Life Updates from J + M | Intentional Travelers”

* Life Updates

The Latest From J + M

In case you didn’t see the latest update on our travel blog, we have a few pieces of recent news to share:

  • A Worthy Peace Corps Partnership ProjectPhoto credit: Dreamspace CollectiveOur friend, Jordan, a Peace Corps Volunteer who is now serving in our same host community in Jamaica, is raising funds for a project at the community center where Jedd used to work. They plan to create a community garden and demonstration plot that will serve low-income neighborhoods. Learn more and donate here to support this sustainability project!
  • Where To NextOahu
    We’ll be traveling again soon! Our next adventures include Oahu, Vietnam, and Japan – our first time West of Hawaii – and we’re getting all our flights by travel hacking. The main reason for this extended trip (2-3 months) is to help Jedd’s parents make a big move from Hawaii to Japan! As many of you know, we take our freelance work with us on our laptops wherever we go and we’ve got a number of projects going on, so we expect to have our days pretty full this Spring.
  • A New Business VentureScreen Shot 2015-01-23 at 8.03.46 AM
    We’re in the process of forming a travel coordination/consultant business for meaningful, transformational travel. We’re operating under the umbrella of our generous mentor’s travel agency, Travel Team Brokers. Hopefully we’ll have something more solid to share soon, but in the meantime, we’re testing the waters of helping people book travel and starting a network of other travel professionals who are involved in intentional, transformational trips. If you need help booking a vacation of any kind, let us know. You can also help us get connected to people you know in the travel industry who might align with our mission.

Photo Credit (pictures 1 and 3): Ben and Connie of Dreamspace Collective

* Life Updates, Other Travels, Videos

2014: Year In Review Video

2014 was another eventful year, and we are so thankful for all the people and places we encountered! As usual, we’ve put together a short video of clips from our adventures. You’ll see footage from Peace Corps Jamaica, some road trips and National Parks, France and Switzerland, and more. We hope you enjoy!