By Jess Blissitt
When I first started looking at studying abroad, I saw and heard so many voices telling me to ‘not waste it!’ and as I began to budget for accommodation and aeroplane tickets, the pressure began to mount. If I wasn’t travelling for every second of my study abroad, would pooling all my savings into these 4 months actually be worth it?
Funnily enough, this pressure didn’t disappear when I got to Philadelphia. Whereas most foreign exchange students visited NYC and Washington in their first two weeks, I didn’t visit New York until a month after I had started term. For my first week, I barely left my room, worried about coming to a new country where no one might understand me. Everyone from home kept telling me and telling me to enjoy it, to the point that it felt like a command. If I wasn’t enjoying every single second of this semester and thriving at life, I felt like I was failing.
This really got to me. I liked going out and I love traveling, but I can’t do it all the time. How often do you go sightseeing in your hometown or visit places two hours away? I don’t have that kind of time, I have work to do! In fact, the pressure overwhelmed me so much, I think it’s the real reason I didn’t do it; I just didn’t even want to think about it, because I would just feel so lazy and wasteful. Like I was presented with this amazing opportunity, and I was doing NOTHING with it.
Well, here are a few of the things that I realised that gave me some consolation, and I’ll share them with you.
You are still the same person you were when you left. If you didn’t enjoy going out every night at home, you are not going to enjoy going out every night when you’re in Philadelphia! The truth is, you’ve only gone abroad; you haven’t adapted an entirely new personality that goes out every night and still magically stays on top of schoolwork, this magical girl who knows Philadelphia like the back of her hand. You’re still you! I want to be that girl, sure, the girl I’m expected to be because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but that doesn’t mean I have to go solo travelling every weekend and still maintain a good GPA. Discovering and exploring is the aim, but there’s allowed to be a balance between being a tourist and a student.
You are not on holiday; you are living there. It’s very different. This might just be me, but I’m not quite resilient enough to get up for my 9am classes every day and go out socializing every night. All I mean is, don’t create the expectations of a holiday for a four-month-long semester - it’s unrealistic! You still have to go to class every day (attendance is very important in the US). Also, it’s a new country! That means everything is new! Even walking to class is a new experience, or ordering a burrito for the first time, or even going to a party or summoning the courage to talk in class! These are all adventures!
I mentioned this to a friend the other day, and they pointed that, would it be better to do all of these trips and feel stressed the entire time? Or would it be better to take your time with small trips and truly enjoy it? I’m not saying this works, or that the pressure goes away. I mean, I’m going to California next week and I still feel like I’m not meeting these expectations because the past two days I have just slept and gone to classes. All I mean is, if you decide to go and study abroad, you don’t have to seize every day with a new adventure. Remember, the main thing about this trip, is to enjoy it.