When I live in New York or Boston I always begin my day by listening to the New York Times. I spend my free time sitting in my favorite cafe catching up on readings and papers.
Because of the six-hour time difference, The New York Times podcast doesn’t come out until well into the afternoon. And because of cultural differences, it isn’t socially acceptable to camp out in an Italian cafe for seven hours doing schoolwork without end.
I wound up with an empty weekend a short while ago when the rest of the girls in my program hightailed to Cinque-Terre and Venice. My decision to stay in Siena was conflated with the sour feeling of FOMO: the fear of missing out. I didn’t want to spend the money on visiting either place and I was becoming pretty burnt out by my weekly trips, so more than anything I wanted to relax all weekend and fall into the comfort of my routines. In the end I surmounted a severe case of FOMO and slept in late while my flatmates scurried to make their trains and buses.
When I woke up I was confronted with a problem.
I had no routine to fall back on.
There was no New York Times. There were no hipster cafes. There was no Central Park or Fenway to walk or jog through. On Saturday morning in Siena there wasn’t even a farmers’ market to wander around.
I thought to go on a quick stroll, but stepping outside my apartment the sight of a dog lazily dragging his bowed leash across the street sent me spiraling.
How badly I wished for the company of the people I left in the states.
How badly I wished a cat were curled up on my bed.
How badly I wished to feel something familiar, the way that big dog must feel sniffing around his city with his owner close behind.
How badly I just wanted to hug somebody.
I turned around and climbed the stairs back into my apartment to write, hoping to understand why I was crying at the sight of a droopy yellow dog.
I took a bath.
I did homework at my kitchen table.
I did laundry.
I watched tv.
After much effort, I went to bed that night suffused by a sense of peace.
There will be days during your time abroad when all you accomplish is taking care of yourself, and that has to be something with which you can make peace. There will be days when your friends are on gondolas or scaling cliff sides and you’re in sweatpants hanging underwear on a drying rack. There will be days when making your bed is an event unto itself. You could be in Italy or South Africa, but the fact of the matter is that you need to continue doing all the little things that keep you feeling human wherever you call home. A semester abroad is not a vacation, though there are times it does feel that way.
Wash your face. Fold your shirts. Change your pillowcases. Listen to your favorite podcasts, watch your favorite shows. Sit and do nothing once in a while. Make sure that you’re enjoying your time abroad even when the FOMO bears its face, and trust your intuition when it tells you that staying home might be the best thing.
Your next journey will be all the more gratifying.
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My name is Olivia Bozuhoski, and I am a Boston-based Arts Administration student. I love painting, reading, journaling, hiking, wine, and learning about art history. I am thrilled to be in Italy this semester, and even more thrilled to be sharing the experience with students like myself.