It’s about halfway into the semester, and I’m here finally trying to reflect on what impact the time away has had on me. It’s funny, because even though I know sitting down and committing to reflection is good for understanding myself, I rarely do it. Dissecting experiences and categorizing the bits and pieces into different aspects of one’s identity is a daunting task, and with study abroad, where one’s identity is put into question on a regular basis, it seems almost impossible.
I’m glad I’m a blogger, else I don’t know if I could bring myself to stop and attempt to fully recognize the changes I’m going through while still abroad. Last semester, being in a new culture surrounded by strangers made me vulnerable. It put me in situations where I had to either question or protect the core parts of my identity, but it wasn’t until the program had ended when I realized how critical these situations were in defining myself. To figure this stuff out right now scares me, because even though I’m not a complete stranger Budapest and am somewhat knowledgeable to its quirks, I’m still having trouble navigating life in this city. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be learning or doing, at moments making me question if I should even be here. One of the reasons of doing study abroad again, and even going back to the same location, was to establish a clear direction for my experience and development, and if I’m going in blind again, what was the point of the first time?
The second time around, I wanted to find my place in Budapest and understand the city on a more personal level. I had regrets when I went back to the US for the summer, so this semester became a way to “redeem” myself. I set goals – like really awesome goals. They basically boil down to:
- Go out and explore
- Don’t stress about grades
- Make a ton of great relationships
And basically, what I pictured as achieving these goals is not what panned out.
Especially as a senior, I felt that I could accomplish 2 without a ton of difficulty. Last semester, there was a struggle between wanting to travel and wanting to get the best grades I could. For study abroad at Amherst, only credits transfer, but I had attached my sense of worth to my academics, and school was such an integral part of me, that when I didn’t choose work over trying out that new food place I felt guilty. I saw others around me constantly going out, or planning trips to countries all across Europe, and here I was pressuring myself to stay in and study. And it wasn’t like I didn’t have the funds to explore. (The dollar was doing so well against the Hungarian forint back then that my socioeconomic status was scarily high, but to go into this would probably require its own post.) I just needed to do well in class to feel like I had achieved something.
It’s not a healthy mentality, and I thought I could correct it this second semester. To not stress about work is such an easy senior thing to do, and, compared to last time, it’s only logical that if I don’t stress, I won’t end up feeling regretful at the end of my stay. The thing is, I can tell myself I won’t care and saving homework until the night before is okay if I’m having fun with friends or taking care of my personal well-being, but doing poorly on a test or problem set is extremely terrifying. This semester, I’ve gotten up super early to do work, went to bed super late to do work, and have gotten headaches amidst doing this work. I’m better about not actively feeling anxious when I’m not working, but for the goal I’ve set, I don’t think I am achieving much.
To give a few words about my other two main goals, I’ve realized that not being talkative and becoming exhausted quickly in interactions is not conducive to making many great relationships, and being generally anxious about trying new things is pretty bad for putting myself out there.
Because of this failure to meet my goals and to follow the direction I’ve tried to set for myself, I sometimes wonder if I’m capable of growing and discovering more about myself, if I should really be away from Amherst again. But now I’m beginning to realize that these goals haven’t been realistic, and me trying to shape my experience by regrets is not what being abroad is about. Every study abroad brings unique challenges, and one can’t fully predict how they’ll react to a new situation. To have exact expectations like I did is a set up for failure; to just accept a semester away as the whirlwind of emotions and identity crises it so obviously is a solid preparation for the pressures of self-reflection and self-discovery.