A reminder to find balance and avoid burnout while still making the most of your time abroad
By Sara Utsugi
I’m writing this article sitting in an airport lounge, waiting for my 10pm flight back to Sevilla (I landed here in Barcelona at 2) after eleven days of non-stop travel. Over the last eleven days, I went to Amsterdam, London, Prague and Berlin, and my body has taken its toll. On day six, I started feeling a scratch in my throat, and by day seven, I was knocked off my feet by a fever, sore throat, cough and congestion. I am not well. See, I initially began writing a version of this article titled, “Behind the Scenes of a Semester Abroad,” an article addressing students planning on going abroad, letting them know that study abroad isn’t all that Instagram says it is. But as I sat here in the airport, completely drained, exhausted and sick, I decided to change it completely and write this article addressing students who are abroad, including myself.
When we go abroad, we put this insane pressure on ourselves to have an amazing, adventurous, spontaneous and wild time every second of every day for four months straight. Period. However, I don’t think that when we landed in our new homes in January, we realize just how long four months really was. A semester is a long time to have a foot on the gas pedal, and I realize now at the end of month three that I’ve been burning myself out. For others who haven’t gone abroad, or even just to take a moment of reflection, I want to break down what four months of study abroad looks like.
Week one was this weird combination of excitement, fear, homesickness and awkward adjustments. Everything was still new and fresh, including us. The rest of the first month was a whirlwind of new friends, crazy planning and a few weekend trips. We still didn’t quite have the hang of things, and cultural and linguistic mix ups were fun new memories. Month two was when we began to feel adjusted to our new lives, but every moment spent inside felt like a moment wasted. We jam packed weekends with international travel, sometimes for four days out of the week. And slowly but finally, our new homes began to feel a little like home.
Month three is probably when Spring break happened. In Sevilla, we have two spring breaks--one at the end of March and one mid-April. That week of non-stop travel left us and our wallets worn down. Our new countries still felt like home, but we started to remember how much we love and sort of miss our “home homes.” We’re grateful for our time abroad and can’t believe there’s only one month left. We’re torn on whether to feel excited to go home or sad to leave our new ones. We really don’t know how to feel because everyone’s telling us how lucky we are and how amazing abroad looks. We know that! We love it here! We don’t want to go home. But we sort of do…?
Here’s my message to you, me and all present and future study abroad students: YOU’RE ALLOWED TO REST, STAY INSIDE, TAKE A NAP, NOT TRAVEL THIS WEEKEND, EAT AMERICAN FOOD, CRY TO YOUR MOM, LOOK DISGRUNTLED, HAVE A MELTDOWN, MISS HOME, MISS YOUR FAMILY, MISS YOUR DOG, MISS YOUR FRIENDS, MISS YOUR SCHOOL, MISS PEANUT BUTTER!
YOU’RE EVEN ALLOWED TO WANT TO GO HOME. IT’S OKAY. IT’S OKAY. It’s all okay.
I think one misconception to completely reject is that just because we do these things means that we’re not making the most of our time abroad. Bullshit. No, I’m not saying to spend your semester like this. Gosh, please don’t spend your semester like this. But I’m saying that if/when these things happen, it’s okay. Over the past three months, I’ve done almost every single one of these things. A lot of people have. But I’ve done almost every single one of these things, and still managed to have an unforgettable experience abroad. This is a semester to stretch and grow, be uncomfortable, learn about yourself, learn about the world all while taking time for yourself and your soul. It’s a marathon semester that requires pace and pit stops to avoid burnout at the end.
So whether your time abroad is coming to a close or still waiting to begin, I hope you remember that study abroad is about finding balance between adventure and self-care. So travel often, check off bucket list items, jump out of airplanes and stay up until sunrise. Call home often, make a weekly schedule, find some peanut butter and sleep until noon. Balance. Pace. Present living.
As always, I’m wishing you the best from behind the screen,