Our Book of the Month for August was Graduates in Wonderland: The International Misadventures of Two (Almost) Adults by Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale.
What made this book such a fun read to me was the format. As a busy twenty-something who lives on the opposite coast from 80 percent of my close friends and family, I use email, texting, and forms of social media to keep up with them. I don’t often have the chance to sit down and have a face-to-face conversation with the people who’ve known me the longest. So in that way, the back-and-forth email narrative really drew me in.
We often get so caught up in the little awkward moments of growing up that we fail to see the big picture. Watching Jessica and Rachel’s lives progress over the first few years post-grad illustrated a few big life lessons to me:
1. Growing up happens whether you think you’re ready for it or not. We are always going to be forced into situations where we have no clue what we are supposed to do. You learn a little more each time and eventually, these situations will hardly faze you.
2. We need to learn to trust our hearts and our instincts. Things might not work out, and that’s okay. But in the chance that they do work out, you don’t want to miss it. If something feels right – go with it.
3. We all need to remember that everyone struggles with these things. Everyone in their twenties (and maybe even beyond, I’m not quite sure yet) are going through the same types of situations. People want us to know things, but news flash – none of us do. We may be on our own journeys, but we really are in this thing together.
What did you think about the book? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section!
We got the chance to ask the authors, Jessica and Rachel a few questions about the book and their lives post-grad (and post-book). Check out our exclusive interview with them below:
G20: What sparked the idea of turning your emails into a book?
Jess: We both ended up in London (for very different reasons) and one day when we met up for coffee we were having one of those moments you can only have with people you’ve known for a really long time – remembering silly or dumb things we had done in our past and teasing each other about it – but we started arguing over certain details. We had forgotten the name of someone or the exact timing of something, so we started searching our emails to jar our memories (which all goes back to our pact to stay in touch after our college graduation when I moved to Beijing and Rachel moved to New York). That search brought up soooo many different emails from different times in our lives – crushes we could barely remember having or strange jobs I had for brief periods of time in Beijing, language mishaps Rachel had in Paris, etc.
Rachel: Since we had made the promise to write no-holds barred, honest emails to each other, we were taken right back to those really raw, new moments – like what I was feeling when I first arrived in Paris or how we immediately felt after a break-up. We changed so much in those first few years out of college and also moved to different countries and we thought that it would have been nice to read something that would have prepared us for the chaos of your early 20s.
We thought it could be a fun story to show our grandkids someday and then after we starting to see that our book was forming a real narrative with some strange twists, we decided to try and get it published because we hoped other women would find it entertaining or relatable. We named it Graduates in Wonderland because the book begins when we’re 22, but it’s not exclusively for recent grads at all – it’s more about the funny, strange things that happen to you when you feel like anything is possible and you are let loose in the world.
G20: I love how the book illustrates both the good times and the bad times of your post-college life. Are there any tough times you wish you hadn’t shared?
Jess: I could never write anything as embarrassing as this, so it was difficult to put it all out there, yes! There are some really raw emails about some of the relationships I had, but we chose not to censor them, because if we made things perfect it wouldn’t be true or relatable. We had to keep in the raw stuff. Although when I truly realized that there was no way to prevent my parents from reading it, I wanted to die. In fact, I can’t even think about that without cringing. Ahh…can’t….lalalalala.
Rachel: A lot of readers have told us that they really related with those moments the best. And the tough times are also some of the funniest times. are the times when we really let down our guard and are trying to make a big decision. And if it makes some people feel less embarrassed about their own lives, then that’s a great feeling.
G20: The two of you spent a lot of time abroad, do you have any tips for overcoming homesickness?
Jess: Remember that feeling of homesickness isn’t forever. If you’re feeling homesick, you’re also not fully experiencing the place you are currently in. For me, home is more about people, not place. Have you ever been alone and revisited an old haunt or a favorite restaurant that you used to go to with friends and family? That’s the loneliest feeling in the world, being reminded of memories you had with people who are no longer there. Homesickness is just loneliness at its heart.
The quickest way to cure it is to find friends, whether it be through work or school or friends of friends or meet-ups. Create new memories. Don’t stay at home and watch TV and mope because that’s the worst thing you can do for your morale. And if you find yourself without friends for a little while, reach out to old friends, even if they are 7,000 miles away, like Rachel and I were. Also, it’s kind of nice to appreciate the things we overlook when we’re at home.
Rachel: I always think back to the story of Merlin telling King Arthur that the best way to cure sadness is to learn something. So other than pouring out my heart to Jess (which definitely helped!), I found that really throwing myself into learning French or working on a novel distracted me from that feeling of homesickness.
G20: If you could go back and re-do any parts of those few years, would you?
Jess: When I reread the book, I can see how I’ve changed and sometimes feel surprised at how fearless I was at times. I don’t think I’m as naïve or brash now, but those moments of taking risks really shaped my life in such a big way. But as for some of the dating stuff, I do cringe at some parts (er…roofie-ing myself, dating a much older guy, etc), but I needed to have my heartbroken all those times to get to where I am now. I think it’s good to not be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes are the fun part.
Rachel: Before we put the book together, I would always say that I wished I hadn’t moved to New York. But now, looking back, I can see that there’s such a direct path to the rest of my life that I really needed that time. I never would have made as much of Paris if I hadn’t learned how to live on my own in a big city first. I really didn’t like my first job, but if I had loved it, I might never have made it to Paris or be in London now. Things start to make sense in hindsight. I sound like I am 50-years-old, don’t I?! I swear I’m in my 20s! I do like knitting and Oprah magazine, though.
G20: What is one piece of advice you would offer to twenty-somethings who have recently graduated from college?
Jess: I think when I graduated, I felt like I knew a lot. Then, I moved to China. And Australia. The world is so much bigger and stranger than we think. I definitely wouldn’t advise everyone to live abroad, but I would say that traveling abroad opens up your mind in a way you can’t even imagine. Those are the experience that you remember forever, so even if you think it’s scary, do it anyway. Do things that scare you.
Rachel: It makes me sound old to say this, but things do begin to line up a few years out of college, even if during those years you feel lost. I know I switched careers a few times, but we all eventually find what we want to do. Don’t worry too much if you are lost, as long as you are doing something that you value.
In full disclosure, we were provided a copy of the book to review. However, all opinions and the decision to select Grads in Wonderland for our Book of the Month are our own – as if you could expect anything less from us.
P.S. If you want to join our Book of the Month Club (and we hope you do!) – you can sign up here. New titles are announced on the 1st of every month.