When you move to a new city, you’re suddenly faced with, well, a lot – and by “a lot,” I mean more than any one person would know what to do with. But there exists a way to enjoy studying abroad, and to get everything you need out of the “sight-seeing” section of your experience without becoming overwhelmed or worried that you are missing out, and it has to do with a lot more than just time management.
My first struggle was getting myself to put my camera down.
I wanted to capture everything! I wanted to keep it as a memory that I could always look back to, and if I accidentally missed the chance to take the most perfectly timed photo, I would honestly be bummed out every other time I pulled out my camera for the rest of that excursion. So, I found myself having to be trained to follow what my father has always said: “Don’t live behind the lens.”
I have found that no picture will ever be as beautiful or immersive as what you see in the moment. So, I have taught myself to memorize what I see, and take my time. I don’t just visit someplace, I take all of it in and study it. However, this “live in the moment” philosophy does not mean “make every moment perfect,” because that is simply too high of a standard to reach. Instead, I take the moments that I do get surrounded by incredible things and make them worth it. I still find myself taking pictures much more often than is necessary, but I have begun training myself to do a few things, that I will now try to pass on to you.
Don’t worry about taking the perfect picture. Someone has already done that for you, and you can find it via a postcard in every shop in town.
Instead of worrying about that perfect shot, take a few pictures of yourself and your friends, and write down where you visited. Then, you can put the camera away without worrying about missing a moment, because hey, you’ll be in the moment.
Never worry about taking the perfect “Instagram photo.” The more you worry about how good your photos are, the less you’ll be able to enjoy yourself. You’re also less likely to remember how things were in that moment. Plus, this experience isn’t about how many likes you get on social media. It’s about creating memories and connections with people that will last a lifetime.
Appreciate the little things. Even if you still feel nervous that you have not captured photos of the “important” things, you can still fill that theoretical scrapbook with more than enough, worth-while images. Take these following pictures for example:
This first one? It’s just a Strassenbahn stop next to an U-Bahn station, but the way it was all positioned – pardon my cliched description here – struck me into reality.
Or this next picture – do I have any idea what this area is called? No, I don’t. It’s just a lake in a park somewhere behind Prater. But honestly, I took more pictures of these turtles than I did of the Oper.
And this little guy in the middle of Westbahnhof? Well, he’s just having fun.
These photos are all frankly strange and random, but they remain some of my favorite pictures. These places compelled me enough to pull out my phone from the depths of my backpack and snap a picture – and I know that they’re the only ones like it.
Take it from someone who has 1,300+ pictures and videos from my one single visit to the Haus des Meeres. Forgetting about your camera is difficult, but worth it.
I am not saying “get your heads out of technology and take a minute to appreciate the world around you,” because appreciating the world around you is precisely what you are doing when you take these photos to capture and preserve the experience. What I am saying is that a mindset centered around capturing the perfect photos breeds unnecessary worry and it has the potential to diminish the experiences you’re having while living abroad.
You don’t have to see everything; that’s not your job while studying abroad.
If you don’t happen to visit one of Pinterest’s “Top 10 Things To See,” you will be fine. Likewise, don’t squander your time either – that is what I believe is truly meant when you are asked to focus on time management while you are abroad.
I’m the kind of person who doesn’t necessarily want to visit all the countries I am surrounded by (being relatively centered in the middle of Europe), even though I know that I probably won’t be here again, at least anytime soon. My focus is set on one area (Germany and Switzerland), but sometimes I feel guilty for not necessarily wanting to fill my passport up with stamps. If you find that you cannot wait to do something, focus on making that a wonderful, meaningful trip. And, if other plans fall through, you really won’t be any worse for wear.
Take as many chances as you can to just go out and explore. For example, when friends ask you to go out to get food, even though you hadn’t planned on it, take them up on it! These are moments when you can build relationships with other students, host families and international friends while you’re abroad, just like you would at home. However, if you feel yourself dreading something or financially unable to participate, don’t force yourself to do it. Don’t ever make yourself do something you don’t want to, whether at home or abroad. Choose your own experiences.
You don’t have to go. My study group was taking a trip to a famous Tiergarten here in Vienna, and I felt as if I should go. The subconscious reason being that everyone else wanted to go and so I told myself “Dottie, you’ll regret it if you don’t.” But then, as soon as I got the slightest headache, I used that as an excuse to not go. However, I did not need an excuse in that scenario; I should have simply not agreed to go in the first place.
When to “seize the moment.” Beginning my second month of classes, when we switched rooms to begin a new session, I looked out the window of my new classroom and realized that I could see the peak of the Stephansdom from behind the Opera House. Suddenly, the only thing I could concentrate on was how beautiful it was and how “cool” it was to see it as part of my normal, every-day classroom scenery. Thusly, I decided I should probably visit it ASAP. Was I tired? Yes. Was I hungry? Also, yes. Did I want to take the risk of the heat giving me a headache that was more than likely going to postpone some of the course work I had to do that night? Not really, no. But did I believe that in that moment that I should go? Of course!
The difference between these two scenarios is a sense of peer pressure fueling the desire to go. Whenever I hear “You have to go see this,” or “It was the coolest place I’ve been; totally worth it” all I can think is that if everyone else says it’s cool, then I must be weird for not really wanting to go visit it. Which ultimately leads to, “Bomb’s away, I guess I’m going,” and it becomes increasingly difficult to decide whether I am compelled to do something or if I actually wanted to.
And that is my point of writing this – to quell some common worries that come with study abroad. Just because other people loved visiting a certain place, doesn’t mean that you must visit it too. Even if other people are spending time trying to get the perfect picture or post, you can still choose to put your camera away. You shouldn’t spend your time abroad suffering from FOMO or comparing your experience to others’. Instead, you should stay focused on what you want out of your experience, listening to your instincts and staying true to yourself and you won’t feel like you missed out on anything. I hope these tips will help make your experience abroad the best it can be!
About the Author – Dottie Porter, Fall 2018 Marburg, Germany Storyteller & Elizabethtown College student
Dottie Porter, an Environmental Science and German double-major at Elizabethtown College, is studying abroad for her fall 2018 semester at BCA’s Marburg program. Prior to the semester in Marburg, Germany, students spend 2 summer months in Vienna, Austria studying the German language before heading to Germany to study at the Philipps-Üniversitäts. Dottie’s motivation for completing this program is fueled by being able to speak with her Swiss mother and family members auf Deutsch, natürlich!