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Establishing a Study Abroad Routine

May 11, 2018

“The routine is the enemy of time, it makes it fly by.” I remember hearing this as I was graduating high school (for more on the quote, check out this video of a guy who decided to rebel against routine by biking across South America). In that moment, I didn’t understand how this could be true. I had had a 7:30am – 5:00pm repetitive routine at school for the past twelve years of my life, and it did anything but fly by.  When you’re young, every day feels like an eternity.

Yet, four years later, I think I resonate with this quote slightly more. In my university, I never feel like I have enough time. Each hour of my day is filled with meetings, classes, meals, weekly events, or studying, and I often find myself at the end of the semester, feeling like a disoriented and incongruous Dorothy in the Land of Oz. 

So since being in Spain, I’ve tried to live by the philosophy of ‘planned spontaneity,’ which basically implies having a framework of building blocks that make up my day (writing in the morning, going to classes, having lunch at my apartment, going to cycling class), but also leaving enough room for the unexpected to occur—like having a coloring book; though the lines have already been drawn, it’s up to each individual person how they want to color the spaces in between. The wonderful thing about studying in a foreign country with customs that I am unfamiliar with is that there’s always something more to discover.

For this reason, when people ask me what my daily routine is like in Granada, I tell them that one of my goals for studying abroad was not to have a strict routine—not to live life according to my Google calendar alerts or Facebook notifications. In my Spanish class, our professor had us read a chapter from On Education a book written by J Krishnamurti. In this book, he describes how paying attention is distinct from concentrating, because as opposed to focusing on one thing, paying attention allows people to see the world more clearly. In Spain, I wanted to respond to what was happening outside of me, rather than what worked most conveniently for my schedule. 

Nevertheless, I do have obligations in Granada. On Mondays, for example, I have Spanish class at 8:30am. I have my Anthropology of Migration class at the University of Granada around 12:30pm. I usually eat lunch prepared by my homestay mother at 3:00pm. I typically go to an abdominals class at the gym I have a membership to at 7:00pm. And I meet up with a group of friends to find restaurants or tapas bars that offer vegetarian food around 8:30pm. Though the schedule was quite rigid, it never always looked the same.

Between my classes, I tried to visit a different café or library each time. While I looked like a complete guiri (tourist): looking at my google maps every ten seconds, getting off at the wrong bus stop, leaving cafés once I found out that they didn’t have wifi—in the process, I also managed to explore down streets I had never seen before, and consider the magic of having to get somewhere.

Moreover, though I had a general plan of what I could be doing in the evening, there were endless reasons why my Monday nights ended up looking differently: I decided to go on a run and discovered a beautiful path alongside the river, I had an assignment due that evening and couldn’t go out to tapas, I was in the Balaeric Islands for a long weekend, or there was torrential downpour, my homestay mother had made tea, and I simply didn't want to leave the apartment. 

In other words, making room for the unexpected wasn’t always incredibly enjoyable, but I think it did allow me to slow down and listen to what was happening around me, and inside of me.

Perhaps my favorite class this semester was watercolor. Occasionally, we would take trips to the Alhambra, a nearby plaza, or the rooftop terrace in the IES Abroad building to paint. In this class, our professor suggested not using our phones to copy a photo or listen to music—though these may be useful strategies. She wanted us to focus on painting what was in front of us, which meant taking notice of where we were at each moment—and this, I hope, will be my routine going forward.

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