School is not my number one priority abroad, and that's okay

Nicole Stein
March 8, 2022

I never stressed about school until I got to college. My school, Kenyon, is full of incredibly smart, dedicated students, and the pressure to succeed in classes is hard to escape. In the past year or so, weighed down by COVID-19 restrictions altering my college experience, I began to think more about what my priorities would be not only in college, but throughout my life. 

Studying abroad in Spain has brought the priority question to a head, because there is so much to experience while studying abroad. I have a fraction of the time to do all the things I normally would, like studying and extracurricular activities, due to the overwhelming amount of new stuff to explore like travelling and learning to survive in a second language. 

With that being said, my priority in Spain is not my academics. This does not mean I am skipping all my classes and failing to do my homework. Instead, it’s a shift in my focus, and I’m making sure to fill my time with other things. For those of us who attend colleges in which academics are the primary focus, this could sound scary and irresponsible. For me, though, it’s the opposite. Not making school my first priority is allowing me to have the experience abroad I’ve always dreamed of, instead of spending my days in the library, anxious and overwhelmed. And here’s the thing: there is nothing wrong with prioritizing school if that’s what feeds your soul and brings you joy, just as there is nothing wrong with NOT prioritizing school if you, like me, feel dragged down by pressure, stress, and work. 

I just returned from a weekend trip to Madrid. I got back on Sunday night, and today is Monday, the first day of midterm week. I used to let exams cause unmanageable stress, but right now I feel quite at peace with my classes and expectations I have for myself regarding my grades. Yes, I want to learn in my classes– especially because I want to improve my Spanish and grasp the culture. However, this in no way means I need to study all day and get straight A’s for the semester.

In fact, it really means I should focus on the topics I find the most engaging, perhaps even digging deeper into the readings and lessons that inspire me. I'm realizing how short life is and how little time I want to give to the things that don't enrich my life. Certain classes just don't do it for me: they don't inspire me, they don't bring me joy, and they don't teach me things that I feel will be applicable in my future. A huge part of growing and learning is prioritizing the things that are most important to YOU. I spend the most time and energy on my favorite courses, and the rest I just do what I can, depending on my engagement in the topics. 

Maybe you have parents or relatives who will shame you if you get a couple of C's during your semester abroad. Possibly, you’re worried about graduate schools or future employers. I don’t want to say that is invalid, and I do not believe it to be invalid, either. The point, however, is that I encourage everyone to analyze for themselves what is most significant. Don’t do anything for anyone else – be your own motivator. 

In ten years, I am not going to remember the questions on my Religion midterm exam, but I know for a fact I will remember the weekend I spent with my new friends in Madrid walking around Retiro Park, seeing art history in real life in the Prado museum, and finding my dream leather jacket at the Rastro flea market (did I mention I’m gaining a whole new sense of style here too?).

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Nicole Stein

<p>Hi! My name is Nicole Stein. I am a Spanish major at Kenyon College from Montclair, New Jersey spending the Spring of 2022 in Salamanca, Spain! My favorite things to do are travel, try new food, swim in small bodies of water, pet baby animals of all kinds, spend time outside hiking, skiing and exploring, and making connections with people from all walks of life.</p>

2022 Spring
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