“The autobiographer is almost forced to the conclusion that she pitied herself for being so free” – Freedom, Jonathan Franzen
“White Male Privilege Squandered on Job at Best Buy” – The Onion
Here it is, the‘What I’ve Learned From Studying Abroad’ post:
One of the major questions we all have to contend with is “What do I do with the time I have on Earth?”. Most people have this question answered for them by circumstance. They’ve got mouths to feed, jobs to work, a mortgage to pay off, external circumstances that keep them locked into their lives.
Ostensibly, the more latitude you have in answering this question, the freer and luckier you are. Which would make me, having had essentially no external circumstances that compelled me to do anything (other than publish an occasional blog and get at least a 55% in each of my classes), incredibly free and lucky.
Being free and lucky really sucks. I wish someone had warned me.
“Hey Guys, we’re gonna give you four months of vacation in a beautiful country halfway around the world where your classes are pass/fail, attendance isn’t taken, course materials are all on Blackboard, and you have your expenses pretty much covered by your parents. Don’t slack off.” wink
What did you think we were going to do in this situation? Go to class?
It was like giving a bunch kids the keys to a candy store and telling them not to eat themselves into obesity.
Which is essentially what I did.
I slept in until 11 every day, skipped all but my mandatory labs, only did homework when I absolutely could not put it off any longer, and went out traveling and drinking on the weekends. And the weekends were from Wednesday to Sunday.
A successful day for me involved not rolling around in bed and playing with my phone for an hour before I got up, going for a run, reading a chapter or two of whatever book I felt like reading, and cooking a good meal. I think my single greatest accomplishment was watching all of Game of Thrones.
And this may sound like the best semester ever, but it was incredibly tedious. Somewhere around 20 minutes into the third consecutive episode, it was no longer fun. It was fun in principle, but in practice it was unfulfilling.
But because it was still way more fun in principle than schoolwork or actually publishing a blog on schedule for once, it was easy to keep doing. Keeping the laptop open was the path of least resistance, and there was no external pressure to push me out of the rut.
For the longest time I’ve railed against this sort of external pressure. Expectations that I attend every class drove me up a wall: “Why not just throw the Powerpoint up online and let me learn the material on my own time?”
These sorts of things didn’t just seem inconvenient; they seemed to insult my maturity, my independence. It was as if the professor wasn’t treating me like an adult.
And they were right to. Because if I’ve learned anything from abroad, it’s that I’m still very much a child.
I took my freedom and ran with it. I was a slave to my lizard brain, letting my dopamine system jerk me around from Youtube video to Youtube video, working only when I had to, not really accomplishing any of my loftier goals I brought into the semester.
Faced with infinite free time, ‘writing for an hour everyday’ became, ‘eh, maybe tomorrow, back to GoT’, ‘staying on top of my classes’ became ‘eh, three days before the final is probably enough time to learn a semester’s worth of material’.
In short, I really screwed myself over.
But I think it was ultimately a good thing. As a result, I’ve got a lot more appreciation for what I used to see as unnecessary structure. I can’t wait to get back to Richmond to wake up for 9am’s every morning, I can’t wait to submit regular homework assignments and take a test every 4-6 weeks.
And I now know that when I’m dumped at freedom and adulthood’s doorstep after graduation, I had better have my act together. Working to slowly wean myself from contrived structure and learning to impose my own will ensure I take full advantage of my freedom and my luck.