When I was preparing to go abroad, I thought about the different beaches I'd go to, the new cafes I'd discover, and all the time I'd have to explore. I could picture myself wandering around the iconic places that I had been googling in anticipation of the trip. I tracked the prices of certain flights each day. I was so invested in mentally preparing for all the adventures I was going to have. I had been waiting to go abroad for my entire life; I had to be prepared.
What I forgot was that I'm not invincible. I physically could not do everything I wanted to do. I would need to rest, eat, and sleep. I would crave downtime and maybe a few Netflix episodes.
In other words, my life would still need to be balanced.
Now that I'm at the end of my third month abroad, I've realized how crucial balance actually is. Each day is a battle between being a resident and a traveler, work and play, and deciding whether to stay in or go out. Balance is not something that can be achieved and checked off a list — it's a muscle that has to be worked. It's an everyday practice.
Resident and Traveler
I'm not just in Malta for a Mediterranean vacation. I'm one of the nearly 500,000 people who get to call this place home. That means that I don't have to rush to explore every inch of the island. Sure, there are places that I'm eager to go, but I don't have to cram it all into one day. I can actually take time at the places I visit. If I miss the next bus home, it's not a big deal. I don't have to plan out each day like it's my last in the country.
Early on, I acted like this. I saw my return flight date looming in my calendar and I was completely overwhelmed with everything I wanted to do. Since then, I've found so much beauty in living here. If I spend all afternoon in my favorite coffee shop, that is totally okay. I'm allowed to establish a routine and find comfort in the stability of each day. That is why studying abroad is so special — you're not just a traveler, you're a resident. You have the ability to establish "go-to" spots while also discovering new places as well. There is balance.
Work and Play
I actually go to school here. I have to wake up early and walk to the University. When I was picturing my time abroad, I could not wrap my head around the fact that I'd be a student (I liked to avoid that part!). I thought that having a more relaxed semester in terms of a class schedule would be a lot easier but for me, it's actually more difficult. Since I have the freedom to make my own schedule for most of the week, I really struggle to sit in class. I swear the palm trees sway in the window just to taunt me.
As I begin the final papers I have to write, I've had to flip back to "grind mode." This means that I do put in a lot of work during the day whether I spend a few hours exploring or not. I have to take responsibility as a student to prioritize working on my final papers even though I'd rather be at the beach (wouldn't we all?!).
Something that's really helped my mindset during the last month abroad is the phrase "season of sacrifice." This is a saying that my favorite author (Gretchen Rubin) mentioned during an episode of her podcast "Happier." Experiencing a "season of sacrifice" means that you put the work in now knowing that it will pay off later. You learn to be patient and deal with the not-so-glamorous parts of life knowing that this, too, shall pass. That's how I feel about my assignments. Although I really love what I'm writing about in my papers, I still have the pressue of a deadline. If I put in the time and grind it out, then I'll be able to explore later. I have to have that balance between work and play.
Staying In and Going Out
I take the saying "life's not about the number of breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away" way too seriously. I feel guilty for spending a sunny day inside or not maximizing each second of every day. Living in such an incredible place was quite the adjustment in terms of my self-care routine. I still struggle to give myself downtime without feeling like I'm missing out on whatever is happening outside my flat. What I have discovered is that downtime is absolutely crucial for my health. Although I'd love to be the Energizer Bunny (and I still try to be, somedays), I know that staying in is not a sign of weakness. Going to sleep early is not a crime.
I've learned how to tell myself no and listen to my body when it says I need to rest. I've discovered that when I feel like I "force" myself to go do something I don't enjoy it as much as if I was genuinely excited to do it. I'd way rather experience places in Malta when I'm itching with adventure. I have to have a balance between staying in and going out.
Studying abroad is as incredible as everyone says, but it's not a walk in the park. You learn how to take care of yourself and discover a new sense of independence. It takes a while to adjust to a different life style, especially one that is countless miles away from home. It's all about finding balance.