If there’s one thing all Northwestern students have in common (aside from a ridiculous amount of purple t-shirts) is that we are “always busy.” Our days aren’t just filled with classes but extracurricular activities ranging from performance groups, to business clubs, to sports, and so much more. My Google Calendar can be so overwhelmed with color-coordinated events and meetings that I have even had to block out specific time to talk to my parents.
Studying abroad for the quarter has been a drastic shift in terms of “busy-ness.” While my program has a variety of scheduled activities and I am still taking classes, there has a been an astonishing lack of things I need to do. I don’t have to hop from club meeting to club meeting. I don’t have to figure out what time works best to eat on what day so that I can maximize my studying time. I don’t have to frantically set alarms and timers on my phone for miscellaneous activities like stretching and checking social media.
While this may sound like liberation, it can often feel like an overwhelming vastness of empty time. Being spontaneous, acting on a whim without any forethought, is not a skill I have really developed in college (#timemanagement). I realized that I do get some satisfaction out of saying things like, “Let me check my calendar” or “I have to go, I have a meeting.” I’ve grown accustomed to a life of check-lists, when-2-meets and calendar notifications. I find comfort in the expected (writing this, I realize how much my life sounds like some sad dystopian movie montage with “Mad World” playing in the background).
I can recall one particularly lazy Sunday in the first few weeks of my program when I decided to bring a computer to a cafe to get some work done. After I had ordered my espresso and chocolate salami (if you have the chance to eat chocolate salami, do it), I pulled out my computer and realized that I actually had absolutely nothing to work on. I had grown so accustomed to Sundays being homework days in Evanston that I convinced myself I needed to do the same while abroad. Instead of finishing my snack at the cafe and taking advantage of being in a foreign city full of cultural activities, I browsed through Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for an embarrassingly long period of time. It made me feel like I was being busy with work, like I was accomplishing important tasks, despite the fact that in reality I was really just being unproductive.
That being said, study abroad is full of a lot of free time where the only person I have to be accountable for is myself and I can do whatever I want (which mainly means eating snacks at different viewpoints around Lisbon). At the same time, I find myself craving some semblance of a schedule and there’s no shame in that. It’s about finding a balance between the freedom of no responsibilities and the necessity of routine. So if you are a Google Calendar junkie on study abroad like me, continue to schedule events but also enjoy the liberation of not being busy. There will be lots to do when you get back to campus.