Written by Lauren Hamrick, (Vanderbilt University) Student Correspondent Photography in Prague, Spring 2018
“You’re doing just fine,” my CET advisor told me. This was after I came to her to relay my hesitance and unease about how I’m doing academically. I come from a university in the U.S. where my classes are rigorous and demanding, where “full-time student” rings like The Script lyric “I’m still alive but I’m barely breathing.” Budgeting time for fun and relaxation is no easy task because 24 hours a day, 7 days a week sounds like a lot—but really isn’t. Coming abroad was uncomfortable from the start solely because the pace of school was radically different from what I’m used to. Am I missing something? I’d often think. Surely, things will get more difficult.
Don’t forget: you’re not just abroad, you’re studying abroad. You’d think this would be obvious, but at times you feel like you’re on an extended vacation, a never-ending field trip. Your program will likely have class trips and excursions built into it, and your program will also likely allow for independent travel. Your learning doesn’t just take place inside the classroom; there is so much to gain from seeing new places and experiencing different cultures, and your program advisors know that. And yet, your assignments matter, and consequently so do your grades. One thing I have learned these past three months is that with flexibility comes responsibility. You do have great freedom and the ability to take a day or two to explore, but you must not neglect what you really came here to do.
Tip 1: Make a list at the start of each week.
By making visual your homework and other related tasks, you make them more concrete in your mind. It is easy to overlook obligations when you fail to write them down. Keeping a planner aids this process immensely—an investment that I 100% recommend. As a result, you can better anticipate deadlines and fulfill them on time. And, if you’re obsessively organized like me, putting check marks next to a bullet point is cathartic.
Tip 2: Homework first, fun second.
The order in which you do things is just as important. If I know that there is a fair going on in Old Town Square at 5 P.M., I resolve to write my paper at noon. Once you start having fun, it is harder to put yourself in the posture to finish homework. Better to complete what you need to while you have momentum and release yourself from that burden than repress those nagging reminders and go do something that you could do at any other time.
Tip 3: Try and enjoy the work you have to do.
There are many classes offered abroad that might be specific to the culture or region you’re living in. Take advantage of those. They’re a great way to gain hours for your degree, and also a way to indulge a sense of novelty and curiosity vis-à-vis an interesting subject matter that you might not be able to find on your home campus. I, for example, am taking a class called “Resistance and Dissent: Punk and Alternative Culture from Nazism to Communism in the Czech Lands.” We spend our days having robust discussions on historical and contemporary music, fashion, and film trends, as well as visiting museums, monuments, and other sites of significance. We even plan to attend a concert! This is not your everyday history course. It both allows me to educate myself on a topic I’m interested in, as well as take advantage of these local opportunities while I have the chance.
In short, there’s lots of fun to be had while abroad, whether you’re at a desk or on a plane. Don’t let academics abroad intimidate you, worry you, or—worst of all—bore you. Adventure is everywhere; you just have to look for it.