The Abroad Balancing Act

Emma Ropski
December 1, 2015

Every college student knows the famous pick-two triangle: school, social life, and sleep. It basically means that no matter how hard you try, in trying to be successful in all three of these domains, one side of the triangle always falls. Over time, many have decided that this model wasn’t complex enough to capture what it is like to be a college student today and have created their own multi-sided figures. As I’ve mentioned before, we study abroad students are still undergrads and aren’t immune from these sometimes stressful and difficult to manage polygons. Mine would probably have its sides labeled 1) social life here, 2) social life there, 3) fun/travel/cultural experiences, 4) sleep, 5) food, 6) money, 7) school work, 8) non-school work, 9) hobbies, and 10) health.

An excess in one almost always results in a deficit of another, as I’ve come to experience particularly strongly here. I’ve often found myself in the cycle of extremes, getting too much of this and too little of that for four days, followed by four days of too little of this and too much of that. Basically, I want it all and struggle to keep all ten pins in the air as I juggle them standing on a rolling bowling ball. I thought that maybe I’d be able to find a comfortable groove with time, balancing all aspects perfectly, but every day is a new challenge. You could say it keeps me on my toes!

The way people balance these different facets of their lives, whatever components that they have and the importance that each side holds for them, helps to account for the diversity of experiences people have abroad, even within the same program:

  • A girl from my psychology classes said she spent 8 hours talking to her boyfriend on Skype last weekend and one of my close friends here says she barely talks to any of her friends back home.

  • A guy in my Spanish class said he will have only spent five weekends in Barcelona and a friend from my neighborhood decided last minute to go on her first trip in a few days.

  • One friend has lost almost 20lbs, while another has gained almost 10.

  • Some have had to create budgets and turn down fun offers to stick to it, and others probably have never paid for, let alone seen, a bill in their life.

  • Some people have been able to relax more than ever this semester, and others have been just as stressed, if not more so, as they would have been at their home schools.

  • Some people cannot wait to get home to see their friends and families, and some truly don’t want to leave.

In all, it should keep in mind that there is no typical abroad experience. Right off the bat, people come from a different set of life circumstances, valuing different aspects of life. This combined with what they want to get out of their time abroad, and the endless opportunities open to them (including but not limited to international travel, independent research, Tinder, internships, clubbing, libraries, sports games, sports teams, Meetups, bar hopping, volunteering, coffee shops, museums, movies, theater performances, and gyms) leads to such a wide variety of possibilities to live out, each as equally valid as the next, each with its own set of pros and cons. So as for that image you have in your head of what study abroad is? I’d take it with a grain of salt, as everyone’s time away is as unique as they are.

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Emma Ropski

<p>Hi all! My name is Emma Ropski and I&#39;m a senior sociology and psychology major at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. I am a middle distance runner on the track and field team there and love it to bits. My interests include the sociological imagination, thrifting, lifting, daytime judge shows, and gorditas. I am so excited to share my study abroad experience in Barcelona with you!</p>

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