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Parents take heart: Just because your recent college grad refuses to dive into the work force doesn’t mean she’s on the path to Loserville. Take Colleen Kinder. She majored in English at Yale, studied in the Dominican Republic for a semester, volunteered at a local nursing home, and interned with a successful book-publishing company. But as her May 2003 graduation drew closer, the last thing Kinder wanted was a job.
“There was nothing really calling me,” remembers Kinder, who graduated from her Ivy League school with honors. “I sort of accepted the wisdom…that you will have decades to work in an office. It’s always going to be there when you want it, so why dive in if you don’t necessarily want to yet?”
Instead, Kinder pursued two dreams: landing a book contract and moving abroad. Her book idea—a guide to finding an adventure rather than a desk job after college—was first conceived during a summer 2002 internship with Colorado’s Blue Mountain Arts. And Kinder already knew where she wanted her adventure to take her: Cuba.
For a then-21-year-old “so curious about the world [who wanted] to see something different than what she knows, Cuba has so much to offer,” she recalls. “It’s such a mystery. It’s like the forbidden fruit.”
Leaving the Adams Morgan home she shared with her sister, Molly Kinder, in the fall of 2003, Colleen immersed herself in Cuban culture for nearly a year. Her trip was funded by a $10,000 grant from the Samuel Huntington Fund, which is awarded to college seniors who wish to embark on a one-year public-service project anywhere in the world immediately after graduation.
To fulfill the grant’s requirements, Kinder volunteered in nursing homes. On the side, she started a nonfiction book about traveling through Cuba and finished her final draft of Delaying the Real World: A Twentysomething’s Guide to Seeking Adventure—a collection of tips and resources for recent grads seeking unique, sometimes heart-racing opportunities—which Philadelphia’s Running Press put out early this year.
Though confident that she could write a convincing guide—especially because she was following the advice she’d later give her readers—Kinder was faced with limited Internet access in Cuba, a challenge for any author on deadline. She overcame this obstacle with help from her sisters, Molly, 25, and Katie Kinder, 27, who secured last-minute interviews with young adventurers, many of them D.C. residents. Molly’s post-graduate story, in fact, is featured in the book: She had moved to the District to intern with Oxfam’s trade-policy group, lobbying for fair-trade-coffee legislation.
Other Delaying the Real World’s subjects include Gabrielle Cardillo, 26, who put on Las Vegas–style dance shows on a cruise ship in the Caribbean; Clay Hastings, 28, who toured a piece of performance art throughout North America; and Pete Vanachtmel, 22, who embarked on a one-year photo project to document the Three Gorges Dam in China. Like herself, Kinder explains, many of the people she profiled have parlayed their adventures into successful careers. “They’re really ambitious folks,” she says.
In the immediate future, Kinder, who now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., will promote her book and the Delaying the Real World Fellowship—a $2,500 grant that Running Press will award to one new young adventure-seeker. She then hopes to finish her book on Cuba, for which she has not found a publisher.
“[Delaying the Real World] shows that it isn’t about blowing off a year of your life,” she says. “It’s about doing something you love and having it be a gateway into a really interesting and wonderful career.” —Heather Morgan Shott