The end of my experience abroad was met with a month of incessant activity back in the U.S. The first morning I woke up in my bed at home, it was Christmas Eve. That was followed by several days of holiday events, and then a ten-day visit from Knut. I followed Knut’s departure with a 13-hour drive to Nashville where I moved myself in, and then began the long days of sorority recruitment. Before I knew it, classes had started and I was back to the usual busyness of university life with meetings every other day and more pages to read than I physically thought possible.
Despite the intensity of being back at Vanderbilt, I can honestly say that I missed it. Before I came back, I was worried that returning from Barcelona would leave me resenting my usual life. I had heard stories of “reverse culture shock” and dreaded the same happening to me. I just could not fathom how I could go back to school when I had just lived another life for the past four months. Although I have never been much of a homebody, I think I may have missed my normal life to some extent. Barcelona was absolutely amazing – it will probably still be the best semester of my college experience. However, in some ways, it is not even possible to count it as college. Life in Barcelona is so different than at Vanderbilt. The fact that my classes were not even in English already separates it from my conception of what school is (mostly because I had only ever learned in English up until that point). Further, jet-setting across the continent every weekend made it feel like some charmed, surreal life that was not my own (mostly because that isn’t at all what my life is usually like).
Nonetheless, I am back, and I am genuinely happy to be here. When I look at the pictures of other students abroad in Barcelona, I’m not jealous. I simply think to myself that they are temporarily visiting my city. Because it’s true, right? I was there first. In some ways, I feel like a freshman again because each time I do something classically Vanderbilt, I am filled with excitement. Whether it’s going to Desano’s with my pledge class or grabbing dinner at Kissam’s gourmet dining hall, being back reminds me of how grateful I am to attend such an energizing school in such an exciting city. On the other hand, returning to school as a junior gives me a sense of confidence that only comes with being an upperclassman.
With that being said, I can already see myself falling into the Vanderbilt trap of over commitment. Within days of coming back, I rejoined my Dance Marathon committee, began an executive position in my sorority, secured a twice-weekly babysitting job, and inquired about joining Vanderbilt’s new Women in Business organization. After doing so, one of my friends told me that she had recently quit an incredibly prestigious organization that she had been a part of because she realized that it no longer interested her and she was not giving it the attention it deserved. Her declaration made me pause. Too many times, Vanderbilt students – myself included – feel the need to schedule every minute of their lives in order to achieve maximum efficiency and to promote an image of involvement and accomplishment to the public. The problem is that by proving ourselves to the world, we spread ourselves too thin. The ironic thing is that sometimes, we aren’t even doing it to prove ourselves to others, but rather to ourselves.
As I continue through these last three semesters of college, I am hoping to be more selective in what I say “yes” to. Right now, I think I have identified the three organizations that I want to continue being a part of until graduation, with varying degrees of involvement in each. Sophomore year was by far the most scheduled and stressful year of my life. It resulted in the biggest accomplishments of my college career, but sometimes at the expense of my own sanity. Going to Spain was the perfect break I needed to recharge and eliminate some of the unnecessary self-inflicted stress that I had put on myself. Living in a more laid back culture where an emphasis on relationships sometimes outshines a focus on credentials, I learned much about the importance of balance in my life.
Although it may seem cliché, I think that’s what I am aiming for the theme of this year to be: balance. My hardworking, competitive spirit is not going anywhere, but neither should my loquacious, extroverted personality. At this point, I have less than two years to make my time at Vanderbilt matter; therefore I cannot attempt to do it all without sacrificing that essential social aspect of college. Here’s to hoping for an equally productive 2017 with significantly less unnecessary stress!