While studying abroad itself is a fantastic opportunity and privilege, it comes with a pernicious sense of missing out. No matter how much you do, there is the feeling that you could do more, appreciate more, savor more. You could’ve climbed a little bit higher, tried a little more adventurous food, lingered in front of that piece of art just a little more.
Studying abroad also requires balancing three distinct identities in a very new, foreign place: that of the student, that of the tourist, and that of the local. You are principally a student, still as bound to the classroom and to assignments as you are on your home campus. But you are also in a place very different from your home that you want to discover and appreciate for all its newness, as a tourist does. This isn’t vacation, though. You’re living here—taking local transit, buying groceries at local markets, wearing the local fashion. You want to fit in as a member of this new place because you have to in order to live there. These identities can conflict with each other, though. Being a student means having to dedicate time to class and studying. Being a local means you don’t want to be too caught up in the tourist attractions. Being a tourist means you want to savor the big-name things without being too sucked into the less dazzling aspects of everyday life in your country.
These conflicts can exacerbate the underlying sense of pressure that comes with being in a beautiful place to which you aren’t sure when you’ll return. The pressure can be exhausting and lead you to feel disappointed about what should be the trip of a lifetime. Are you sure you want to stay in tonight? Shouldn’t you wake up earlier and make a little more out of your time before class? Should I be studying instead?
These questions are all good, justified, and important. Some reflection about how you’re spending your time and money in your host country is critical to making sure you do take advantage of the opportunity you have and that you keep up with your classes. However, too much self-doubt and pressure can be debilitating and leave you feeling like you’ve missed out. You won’t see absolutely everything there is to see. You won’t try every food or go to every museum. And that’s okay. Travel is an inherently subjective experience of throwing yourself into a foreign place and seeing what you find. That means you won’t necessarily cross off every place on your list, and some days you might be too worn out or overwhelmed to spend the day wandering.
You don’t need to constantly overthink whether you’re doing enough or whether your priorities are balanced. Allowing your three study abroad identities the space to coexist will help you navigate life in your host country and truly make the most of your time there. You’re inevitably going to feel like you could have done more or that somehow you could be squeezing more out of this experience. Or at least that’s how I feel. But I also know, even though I sometimes get caught up in the feeling that I’ve missed out or somehow missed a chance, that I am having the time of my life in my favorite city. And I am sad to see it drawing to a close.
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<p>Hi there! I'm a psychology and French student setting out on a dream to explore Paris. Some of my favorite things include working with kids, writing stories, and giving tours of my campus back home.</p>