Right now, I’m on an airplane for a weekend trip to Dublin, and I’m doing some final preparation for my presentation on Monday. So, it’s only fitting that I am writing about finding a balance between work and travel while studying abroad.
Figuring out how to best manage your time while juggling *gasp!* real classes, homework, buying groceries, planning for travel, and everything in between can be difficult. And believe me when I tell you that traveling every weekend and constantly being in go-go-go-mode will catch up to you.
Things like sleep are essential to fully enjoy all of the new experiences this semester has to offer. Although, I must admit I am a hypocrite, as I got up at 3:30 a.m. for my flight. It is extremely important to figure out your priorities before you’re swept up in all the excitement.
Speaking of priorities, I had to shift mine a bit to fit this new reality. Specifically, I had to let go of the pressure I put on myself to get perfect grades and, instead, prioritize learning as a whole. It turns out, there’s a whole lot of learning you can do at museums, interacting with people from different places, etc.
The French grading system (which is a beast) aside, I had to come to terms with the fact that I was not here to be a perfect student but, instead, to embrace new kinds of learning—a more holistic kind. This was extremely difficult for me, as I had attached my self-worth to my grades, even if I didn’t want to admit it. Giving that up meant I had to find my confidence in other areas outside of academia while still paying attention in class and putting effort into my assignments, of course.
After my first month or so abroad and traveling almost every weekend, I hope the experiences I’ve had can garner some small nugget of wisdom that I can share with you. Or, at least, it can be something you can identify with when you start your program, to know that you are not alone.
Tips for Balancing Your Study Abroad Experience:
1. Stack Your Schedule
Firstly, I would recommend stacking your classes, especially if your university is far away from your accommodation, to save time and allow for greater flexibility during your week. I was able to get all of my classes on Monday and Wednesday, which was a small feat. If you can’t, I would recommend trying to have Monday or Friday off so that you can have a longer weekend than you might otherwise.
Personally, I use my Tuesdays and Thursdays to really hunker down and do all of the studying and homework I need. That way, by the time Friday comes, I can switch off school mode and allow myself time for relaxation and new experiences.
Even if the whole “stacking your classes” thing doesn’t work out, it’s important to batch your time as much as possible so that you can fully experience the place you are studying in. An example would be getting all of your stuff done—and not procrastinating—within a few days so that you can have the rest of your week worry-free.
2. Plan Your Travel Ahead of Time
Also, something I didn’t realize would take a considerable amount of time is travel planning.
You have to look for cheap transportation, check reviews of hotels (you can type command + F and search within an article for something like “les punaises,” or bedbugs in English), make reservations and read 500 articles about COVID restrictions that all have contradicting statements. I could go on and on.
I spend so much time on travel planning that I have to schedule it in my Notion calendar as I do for my homework. Organization is key for traveling if you want to have an enjoyable time.
Note: There are also spontaneous moments that you don’t plan for that end up being some of the most enjoyable, so don’t discount those or miss out on an opportunity because you booked an hour-by-hour itinerary.
3. Prioritize Self Care
Finally, we have self-care. This is something I’m very passionate about because I’ve had my fair share of burnout and pushing myself so hard I make myself sick. I don’t mean candles and bath bombs here. I mean the less glamorous things like making sure you’ve had enough water (e.g., remembering a water bottle, so you don’t have to pay 4 euros each when you go to Luxembourg) and self-reflection.
Honestly, I’m kind of writing this to myself because, with all of the craziness, I have neglected to journal and meditate as much as I wanted to. I find that these things ground me, but there’s something out there for everyone—yoga, having a dance party while cleaning, calling a friend, you name it.
All of this is to say that your expectations of doing it all—being the perfect student, traveling every weekend, and getting 8 hours of sleep— aren’t realistic. You’ve probably already realized this, but you will have even less time abroad, so time management and prioritization are essential.
I still don’t have it all figured out. In fact, I don’t think that I will, even by the end of my four months here. However, it is important to list out your priorities before traveling to properly find balance and fully enjoy your time abroad.
This post was contributed by Kate Wessels, a Global Ambassador for Spring 2022. Kate is a communication and leadership major studying abroad in Paris, France.