Swimming to Shore: Finding Balance Before I Leave

Charlie (Charles) McDowell
May 27, 2017

It’s 1:08 on Monday, May 22nd. You were two minutes too late to catch the last Metro and now have to wait another eight minutes before the next one comes. You’re running late for class, where you forgot you had to give a presentation today. Thankfully your past self was smart and finished it a week early, but you never edited it, will it look good? Was there a time limit to fill? How is it you went to bed early in both Berlin and Prague, where you’d spent your previous weekend exploring, and still wake up today fuzzy and utterly unfocused? What is going to make the panic of a completely baffling day mellow out? Planning. 


There’s still seven minutes before the Metro arrives, more than enough time to look over what you have going on for he week, and to set out a few tasks you wish to finish for the day. But you haven’t touched your calendar in two weeks. The excited marks of your weekend plans remain in the book, but no daily goals or class schedules are written on those pages. This is why you need to organise.


Monday, May 22nd. Class is in an hour, but after that you still have to finish a small make up project, clean your room, and do laundry. Can laundry be done tomorrow? You thumb through the rest of your week, your heart stopping and body turning cold when you see what’s written on the next page. BOTH YOUR FINALS written in bright red pen. One week from today. Two spaces below SCOTLAND! is written with an arrow pointing down to signify the amount of time I’ll be spending there. This was worse than you thought. In just one week you’ll be done. In ten days you’ll be leaving for your longest solo trip ever, and haven’t even finished booking the hostels yet.


How did it get to be so close to the end? There are so many things I hadn’t done yet. I still haven’t seen the Amsterdam Museum, or studied in the Rijksmuseum Library! I haven’t seen the free concert at the Concertgebrow, I haven’t even been to the Rembrant House! How am I supposed to do all of these things in a week? I have finals in a week, I need to study! The weather is so nice out, how am I supposed to balance pleasure and work, and how am I supposed to get it all done without freaking out?


This was me on Monday, May 22nd.


Deep down, I am ready to go home. I miss my family and my dog and the food so much, but I’m not ready to be gone from this place. There’s so much I haven’t seen or done, now I feel like every second I have I’m waisting. It’s sad, and I haven’t had enough. I want to say “screw it” and spend the next weed obsessively doing everything I have yet to accomplish, but I have to be responsible. These finals are 100% of my grade. I have to study.


So how do I deal with the pressure and fear of not seeing everything I wanted, studying for two very important tests, and being able to spend time in the beautiful weather? I’m trying not to be too hard on myself. Every day I have to study, even if I do not get as much of it as I wanted to accomplished. Every day I make sure I do something nice for myself, and every day I make a plan.


It’s really easy to get caught up in an issue and be blind sighted to the rest of your possibilities. I could have very easily told myself I was going to sit in the library every day this week so I can ace these finals, but I knew it would make me miserable. I’ve been that person before, isolated myself off because of my studies, forgotten to talk to people, becoming so obsessed with this one goal that I end up miserable as a result. Because, after you’ve finished the test, what else is there?


Well, there’s flowers and parks and trees. There’s a horse trail a short bike ride away, and sunny days that need to be enjoyed. There’s friends to go on adventures with you, and cafes that let you pay however much you want. There’s coffee and stroopwaffles and dogs not on leashes with smiles on their faces. There’s a lot more than just a test, and I want to live it. But spending all of my time in these moments will only bring the same miserable feeling that only studying would do.


So I have to find balance. I’ll spend four hours reviewing material with my friends in a new cafe. We’ll sit outside and enjoy the sun, and bike back to our rooms together afterwords. We’ll have a picnic lunch in Amsterdam Bos while reviewing flashcards, and make sure to get a little lost along the way. I’ll spend the morning doing all of my chores to spend the evening watching the sunset. I’ll buy that calzone instead of cooking dinner because it’ll make me happy. I’ll drink wine at noon and coffee at nine just because I can. I’ll be responsible, but responsibility doesn’t mean there can’t be fun.


I’m trying my hardest not to stress too much about my last few days studying abroad. I try and remember that stress is a good motivator to accomplish the things I need to accomplish, and that this probably isn’t my last time in Europe. I have to remember that there are really good things still to look forward to (A trip to Scotland? Getting to see my favorite artist in concert in Amsterdam?). I have to balance out my day, making sure I am disciplined, but rewarded for such.


Words can not describe how sad it is going to be to return, but I can’t express how thankful I am to have had this opportunity. Hopefully I can take these lessons and return to the United States, remembering that everything in life is just a matter of balance.

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Charlie (Charles) McDowell

<p>I am a 20 year old Psychology and Intercultural Studies major escaping the suburbs of Chicago in search of an adventure. I can be found reading or writing most of the time, and love to talk to people. I&#39;ve been daydreaming of traveling the world since I was a child, and am so excited that the time for that is finally here! Thank you for stopping by, I hope my stories are as helpful to you as these moments were for me.</p>

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Elmhurst University
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