Parnes ’10 takes year off to travel around the world

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Last fall, while his classmates were preparing for their sophomore year at Brown, Dan Parnes ’10 was on a plane to Bangkok, Thailand. Parnes had taken a year’s leave from school – and would spend eight months of it traveling in Southeast Asia and South America.

Taking time off had been at the back of Parnes’ mind even before his first year at Brown.

“I toyed with (deferring between high school and college), but I felt that I should go to school … and then when I graduated from college, I would take time off to travel,” Parnes said. “I came to school and I realized that as much as I loved it, I just wasn’t ready to be here and wasn’t ready to make the most of my time here.”

“I met a frightening amount of older people who had had that plan too, to take time off after college to travel, and they just never did,” he said. “The more people I talked to who said that, the more frightened I got that I would do the same thing.”

Parnes then resolved not to delay his travels until after graduation.

“My parents were really supportive and open to the idea. They believe that traveling opens your mind,” Parnes said, adding that his mother had spent time in Mexico and Europe, and his father in Africa, in their youth.

During the summer following his freshman year, Parnes worked constantly, waiting tables in a restaurant in his hometown of Sun Valley, Idaho. He was also employed for a two-week conference by an investment firm based in New York. With his earnings from the summer and money he had saved from previous employment, Parnes paid his way to and through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru.

Parnes cited several reasons for choosing these specific countries. He had already backpacked through Europe with a friend after graduating from high school, and “wanted to get out of that Western culture” and experience “something a little more different.”

Parnes’ trip began in Southeast Asia. He flew to Bangkok with only the first two days of his trip planned out, leaving the rest of his itinerary open. From Thailand he traveled to Laos, though he was originally considering a trip to Vietnam.

“So many people told me Laos was unbelievable, so I just went to Laos and skipped out on Vietnam,” Parnes said. “That was really good for me, that my time off wasn’t structured, which was what I needed – the freedom to do whatever I wanted.”

Parnes specifically recalled Angkor Wat, a Buddhist temple in Cambodia, stunned him with its physical beauty. But he added that each place was so amazing he couldn’t describe one as having a singularly special effect on him.

As Parnes trekked from country to country, hitchhiking and riding buses, he encountered a diverse group of travelers from countries such as Italy, Australia, Germany, the Czech Republic and Iran.

His fellow travelers represented a diverse array of interests as well. “I met a guy who was traveling around the world studying isolated Jewish communities around the world,” Parnes recalled. “He went to a place in Australia, a place in Africa, and I met him in Argentina.”

Another of Parnes’ acquaintances was studying the migration of apples throughout the world. Beginning at an orchard in Eastern Europe, he followed their progress as they were packaged and shipped.

During his travels, Parnes found numerous opportunities to volunteer, including teaching English in local schools and setting up playgrounds. “Every place I’d go, I’d meet some people and they’d ask for my help for a few days,” Parnes said.

Upon his return, the transition back into life at Brown to be an easy process. “It’s almost as if I left yesterday,” he said, commenting on how welcoming people were.

He expressed excitement about returning to Brown. “Since I have come back, I do feel like I appreciate it more. When I was here first, I just let everything drift by. Brown has so much going on here, all these great performances and people coming to speak – there’s interesting stuff going on all the time.”

Parnes found the administration to be helpful and supportive in the process of leave-taking. According to the Office of Institutional Research, 129 undergraduate students took time off for employment or personal reasons in the 2006-07 academic year.

Parnes said students considering taking a leave of absence should visit the Resource Center in Rhode Island Hall. Mariposa Garth-Pelly ’08, one of the leave-taking co-coordinators, said many students come to the Resource Center to get more information about leave-taking and for suggestions on what to do or where to go during their time off.

“I spoke to a student there,” Parnes said, in reference to his own decision-making process, “and he said he took time off and came back and was really all the better for it.”

Because Parnes took a personal leave of absence, he will not be receiving academic credit for that year. He matriculated as a member of the class of 2009 but will be graduating in 2010 instead.

Even though he’ll be a year older than most of his classmates at commencement in 2010, Parnes said he would make the same decision again.

“What it taught me was that you’ve got to step outside your comfort zone, and if you do that, you’ll be rewarded,” he said.

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