Good morning (or afternoon, or evening)! Today, I want to talk about what I consider to be the biggest challenge of studying abroad: figuring out how you want to spend your time abroad. Coming into my program, I heard a million different pieces of advice on how to spend my semester. “Travel as much as you can, it’s your one chance while in Europe!” “Stay in Stockholm enough to really make it your home!” “Your time will fly by, don’t waste a second!” “Your time will fly by if you don’t take moments to sit back and take it all in!” “Study something new, you have so many opportunities this semester!” “Stick to your major, it’s still an academic semester!” At the beginning, it was overwhelming. There are still times now, over halfway through my program, where I feel overwhelmed by the amount of planning and traveling, as well as a feeling that I’ve wasted time by not doing enough. It’s almost paradoxical.
The best way that I’ve learned to face this dilemma is by tuning out the noise and listening to what feels right to me. Rather than weighing the opposing opinions from family, friends, program advisors, teachers, and classmates, I’ve been focusing on how I want to spend my time, what makes the most sense for me, and what I will gain the most from. As a pre-health student, being able to learn and practice medical procedures sounds incredible, so I take a lab that aligns with my major well. However, I am also interested in psychology, which I haven’t had a chance to explore much at Pitt, so I am branching out this semester and taking a psychology course. Additionally, I love traveling to new places, so I have planned several trips to various European countries, but I also know that I don’t want to become exhausted or burnt-out from traveling, and I want to feel at home in Stockholm, so I will split my time with exploring, meeting people, and relaxing in my host city.
One of my best pieces of advice (one that many of my peers have found useful as well) is to stop comparing what you are doing to what others are posting on social media. Instagram posts are only the highlights, and it is simply not possible to compare what people are gaining from their experiences over such a curated avenue. I’ve also found it useful to come back to my goals at the beginning of the semester, because some wishes and plans tend to get lost in the chaos along the way.
Another thing I’ve realized is that, no matter how people spend their time, we’re all coming away with amazing experiences and insights that we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. Gaining small snippets of many other cultures is no greater or lesser than diving deeply into one culture abroad. Studying abroad is not a competition. And regardless of which experiences each person gains, each of my classmates and friends here in Stockholm, and each of my friends from Pitt studying abroad elsewhere, will be returning home rich with new perspectives and stories that are unique to their time abroad.