How to balance work and play while studying abroad
Most students will agree that the academic workload abroad is on the lighter side of what we’re used to, a big reason being that you learn just as much outside of the classroom as you do inside. For some students, however, the act of balancing both work and play while studying abroad can be pretty difficult. This guest post was written by a student who found herself in such a situation, becoming overwhelmed with academic responsibilities, and having a tough time balancing classes with her overall experience abroad. Keep reading for her advice on how to handle a similar situation.
This guest post is by Lauren Seidl.
Caca de perro. That’s what my Spanish host mom had to say about the amount of time my housemates and I spent doing work outside of class during our study abroad program in Granada. And I agreed with her 100 percent.
After my junior year of college, I spent one month of my summer on a faculty-led trip to Granada, Spain. Since the trip was faculty-led, the grade received in the advanced Spanish grammar course taught by one of our university’s Spanish professor would go toward our GPAs. Funny thing was, our university’s Spanish professor had to excuse himself from the trip at the last minute due to health problems. So he dictated tests and assignments through our Spanish program leaders, who apologized for each task we were given.
Daily assignments from a workbook, weekly quizzes, biweekly tests and two 5-8 page essays consumed the four weeks we had in Granada. As I sat completing pages out of a book, I wondered what happened to our university’s professor saying, “ You’ll learn by going to cafes and interacting with locals! We’ll get outside of the classroom as much as possible and enjoy the culture.” Was he taking out his inability to join us in Spain by making our time there a living hell?
Three hours learning Advanced Grammar, a three hour lunch with our host families, three hours learning Islamic Culture, homework: This was the daily schedule for me and the seven other students in my program. Yes, we took time to go out for tapas and we had planned outings through our program, but as a good-grade nerd, I spent a lot of time stressing over the mark that would be transferred to my GPA.
As time went on and we continued to hear local professors and our host moms tell us that this wasn’t how studying abroad should be, some of the students in the program began to rebel. One night the two girls I lived with blew off a paper and spent all night at a discoteca; another night they went to la feria, a fair that happened to be in town for a few days. What did I do? I wrote the assigned papers and studied for upcoming quizzes.
Looking back, I wish I could shake myself and shout, “YOU ARE IN SPAIN! Live a little!” A gap in my Spanish education made the grammar class a struggle, and I let it get to me. I ended up with a B in the class, which was better than I expected. But honestly I could have gotten a D and it wouldn’t have made a difference. Unless you’re trying to get into a really good graduate school, your college GPA doesn’t matter. Work experience dominates GPA in the real world.
I understand that most people do the opposite and spend more time exploring than studying, but either way this whole taking classes abroad thing can be a conundrum. So how can you find the line between spending too much time working and too much time partying? Here’s a guide to help you balance learning with experiences while studying abroad:
Make an effort
Remember, you are studying abroad, not traveling abroad. You should put effort into each of your classes in order to get something out of your trip. Why waste money paying international tuition if you’re just going to skip your classes? You have your entire life to travel the world the way you want to, so take advantage of the opportunity to learn in a different country.
The world won’t end because you’re struggling in a class. If you’re putting in a good effort but aren’t getting the results you want, relax. Look at the big picture. You are in a new part of the world, taking in a new culture. Ten years from now, the D you got while studying abroad in China won’t matter. While your classes should be important to you, so should the experiences you have. Give yourself permission not to be a perfectionist.
Mix it up
Ever hear of the term, “learning experience”? I thought so. Learning from a textbook is fine, but learning by doing is even better. See national monuments, go to museums, visit historical buildings, etc. Have a language test coming up? Study for a little while, but then go out and practice speaking with locals. You can learn while getting out and enjoying the culture, which is the point of studying abroad.
Use your judgment
Ultimately, this balancing act comes down to you and what you personally want to gain from studying abroad. If you’re faced with the choice of doing well on an exam and skipping a concert or going to a concert and doing poor on an exam, you’re the only one who can decide what’s best. It’s okay to let classroom efforts slide every once in a while to experience something you may never have the chance to experience again. It’s also okay to put work above play every now and then. You need to decide which balance is best for you.
Lauren is a recent graduate with dreams of exploring the world. For now, she’s exploring the Rocky Mountains and paying off student loans as a blogger for GoAbroad.com. Read more of Lauren’s blog posts by visiting the GoAbroad Blog.
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This post was written by a guest contributor. Please see their details in the post above. If you’d like to guest post for The Study Abroad Blog, check out the Guest Posting Guidelines page for details about how you can share your tips with the study abroad community.