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The UnCollege Blog

Vita Benes: Taking the Road Less Traveled

Vita is from a small village outside Prague. He was a straight-A student who lists writing, running, reading, and drawing among his interests. He graduated top of his class from a prestigious high school. But the story you've heard so many times over about great students stops here.Vita_Edited.png

Vita is an UnCollege fellow form cohort 8 who took his education by storm when he decided to stray off the traditional path to college, and shape his own learning experiences around the world through a gap year. From the moment he found UnCollege, Vita has been making the most of learning outside the classroom and in the real world in powerful ways. 

“I realized what I was learning didn’t make sense,” Vita explains about his high school experience. “I was wasting a lot of my time, taking three years of chemistry when I had no interest in chemistry whatsoever.” Though an excellent student, Vita’s grades began dropping, except in the subjects he enjoyed most: Math, english, and physics. “I started learning more on my own,” he says, remarking that he had numerous negative experiences with teachers and how the system was set up. Through reading, he taught himself to speak English, and taught himself to code--something he worked on often while sitting in academic classes. “The teachers didn’t like it,” he laughs. But working on his own ideas even within the system paid off, and set the stage for the next chapter of Vita’s life and learning. 

Throughout his last year of high school, Vita knew that if he decided to attend a university, he would want to go abroad, but as time went on, he became disillusioned with the idea of traditional higher education: “I lost faith in the whole educational system, and decided to go to England and work there as a web developer.” However, before he could make it to England, Vita stumbled upon the UnCollege website while working as a freelance web developer at home in the Czech Republic. “Education as portrayed by the resources on UnCollege.org looked much different from what I was used to, and looked cool. UnCollege is situated in San Francisco, which is cool especially for someone interested in technology.”

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After clinching his acceptance to the program and deciding on his Voyage destination--Mexico, chosen in part to save money on international flights--Vita once again put his thirst for new experiences and learning hands-on into practice. He discovered two Spanish courses online, and taught himself the basics of Spanish over the course of five months before hopping on his first flight ever to Germany, then onto Mexico, with a 20-hour layover in between. “I framed it as an adventure,” he says.

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Vita quickly formed a routine: He would teach English at a local Catholic school, have lunch with the other volunteers, sleep in the afternoons, and spend his evenings reading and writing in a local cafe. “During Voyage, I was restless because I didn’t feel like I was as productive as I wanted to be. I had to do something, and that something turned out to be journaling,” Vita says. 

Vita kept up with his blogging and journaling throughout the UnCollege Launch phase, which he devoted to “figuring out what I wanted to do, and formulating that into goals, going out there and meeting people, and carving out time just for myself to work on abilities like coding, writing, or researching.” His first idea was to create an organization akin to UnCollege in the Czech Republic, and began thinking about and researching what could be improved within the education sector. That included leading a workshop toward the end of the program titled “Dealing With Information Overload.” 

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One of the most fascinating aspects of the UnCollege Gap Year is its focus on developing, honing and putting networking skills into practice – something Vita did in a life-changing way. Among the recurring goals for the Fellows is to attend an event once a week, with the objective simply being to go somewhere new and and meet people. When he went to a data science Meetup during week 8 of the 10-week phase, Vita didn’t know kismet and effort would combine to make one connection especially significant.

He began talking to the person sitting next to him. “It turned out he was also from the Czech Republic, and moreover, had read the book [UnCollege Founder] Dale J Stephens wrote about hacking your education. This guy that I met totally by accident or fate, had some connections to people in the Czech Republic alternative education scene,” Vita explains.

When he returned home from the U.S., he met with several of those people--one turned out to be the co-founder of his edtech company focused on teaching financial literacy. “We worked on a project that was also in the area of ed tech, and that project failed. But we kept in touch.” Vita’s co-founder mentioned exploring the idea of financial literacy, something Vita loved because it involved “tech, education, and creativity.” He began coding the project, and now has a prototype of the app. All of  it all began with one conversation with a stranger during Launch. 

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“Through this one guy I meet in San Francisco, I got to this project, and I met a friend who got me into the Czech Republic TEDx scene, so I helped organize a TEDx youth conference,” Vita says, noting that “meeting people was definitely one of the areas in which I improved. I learned to make new connections, follow up with people, take people for coffee, and build a greater network.” 

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Of course, the crash-courses in networking and having meaningful conversations happened in UnCollege workshops, too. Vita recalls the “Rejection Therapy” workshop, where Fellows took to the San Fran streets to “ask people for random stuff: “Can I have a sip of your coffee? Can I borrow your glasses and take a photo? Can we cross the street holding hands?”

During one especially invigorating round, Vita asked a guy for a chest bump, who responded that the request was making him uncomfortable. Overhearing the conversation, a businessman lept out of his car, ran up to Vita, and said “I’ve got you, brother!”

It is one example among many of Vita getting out of his comfort zone as an international fellow and connecting with other people. “The change of environment both with Mexico and the U.S. was awesome. I left my past behind and was able to, in some ways, reinvent myself, and try new stuff without any sort of judgment,” Vita says. He was also able to speak English during his entire stay, getting to use the language to communicate and connect with people after spending years learning it on his own.

Vita notes that among the life-changing professional experiences, he also benefited from the “emotional moments you don’t get outside the program as much.” “With the guidance of a coach, even though we barely knew each other, our cohort was able to go really deep and confess or share things we haven’t shared before,” Vita says of his relationships with the other fellows. “In these activities, we had specific questions and space to dive a bit into our pasts and who we are and share the experiences that shaped us, that were powerful. We saw that though we were really different people with different stories, we could stick together and do awesome stuff together.” 

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Thinking back over his UnCollege experience, Vita notices the contrast between “growing up in a tiny village where I had a lot of solitary time” and Launch phase, where “we were constantly playing the offense, not defense. We were going out, doing stuff, and seeing the result.” As he continues to blaze his own trail with talent, tenacity, and an open mind, Vita has words of inspiration for anyone considering a gap year: “Go out there and do stuff.”

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