The Value of Doing Less While Abroad

By Alex Newhouse

The end of my second week in England is coming to a close. I have started getting into a routine. I finally know how to walk from my building to Oxford’s library. Research has dominated most of my days this week; I have buckled down and started work on my first big project during my study abroad semester here.

I have also been able to experience a lot of English culture since I arrived. My friends and I have visited a long list of different pubs, I have had tea and biscuits in the early afternoon and my program has brought me to a couple of heritage sites, such as the cathedral at Winchester and the Roman structures at Bath.

It has been a fantastic experience so far, and I have already learned a pretty shocking amount about the country, the University and myself. But over the course of my time here I have struggled with a mounting pressure: the urge to do more, see more, achieve more, fill every waking hour with something new so that I get the absolute most out of this time abroad. In other words, it is the pressure to wring as much out of this short semester so that I feel like I have not missed anything.

What I am feeling certainly is not new; it is the perpetual traveler’s curse, the monumental task of trying to fit as much in as possible into an extremely limited time period. But I did not consider that it would affect me this much. After all, I am here for three and a half months, not three days.

And yet, it still nags at me.  That voice in my mind that continually compels me to go see a new church, to visit a new part of town, to try a different beer at a pub that I have never been to. As a person who relies heavily on routine and who tries to balance each day with enough downtime to keep mentally healthy, this trip has been a shock to the system. I have been exhausted each day, too busy to sit down for thirty minutes and read a book in my room by myself.

But this week I realized that I cannot just keep going like this. I will burn out if I do. So, I accepted something that is extremely difficult for any traveler to acknowledge.

It is okay if you do not do everything, and it is okay if you do nothing for an hour or two every day.

Being able to sit back and simply be at peace with not doing anything is really tough. It is hard to just let the world go by. But I have found that it is also necessary.

Because traveling and studying abroad is not that different than, say, moving homes or starting a new school. It is really similar to what the Middlebury freshmen are going through right now. You get hit by wave after wave of new experiences, new acquaintances and new routines to establish. You must find that which grounds you and reminds you that things are not so different than they used to be. You have to remember that the mental overload of going to a new place or starting a new phase in your life does not mean that you are a different person or that you have to continually force yourself to explore the entire breadth of that place or phase.

It is okay to do nothing, to sit in your room alone with a book for a few hours, because that is how to find that grounding. I have made myself step away from all the activities and that compulsion to keep moving so that I can breathe and remember that I need to give my mind and body a rest.

After all, traveling, studying abroad and starting college are not about trying to do everything. They are about doing what makes you happy. I find that I am most content when I let myself go sit in a park for a while or read a book somewhere secluded. This allows me to appreciate those places I do want to go visit even more.

I have realized that I need to stop worrying about what I am missing or what I might not get to see, and instead focus on those places and people that I do see. I have to accept that it is all right that I will probably not go to Ireland or France while I am here, just as it is all right that I might not get to try out as many restaurants or pubs as I originally thought I would. What really matters is that when I actually go somewhere with my friends, I recognize the moment and experience that moment to the fullest. I should not worry about what is next. It is not the sum of all the different things that I do here that determine the worth of my experience, just like it is not the number of people you meet or things you do at college that decide college’s value. Rather, I have to remember that my abroad semester’s value comes from simply having a few meaningful experiences and appreciating each of those individually.