Living with the same 40-or-so-people means we got pretty close, pretty fast. After one week, it felt as though we’ve known each other for a month; after all, we eat together, we go to classes together, we go out together, we live within 50 feet of each other. Being with so many people all the time is both exhilarating and emotionally taxing and, in the beginning, it’s hard to strike a balance. It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of the group, going on a new adventure every day after classes, barely leaving a moment to breathe, let alone get any homework done (surprise, studying abroad actually entails homework!).
I had to learn to take some “me time.” You may be thinking, “me time? Isn’t studying in a beautiful city in southern France enough ‘me time’?” That’s exactly right. I applied for this study abroad with my own agenda in mind – things I wanted to accomplish, places I wanted to visit, goals I had set for myself prior to departure. I had to set aside time to do those things and prioritize myself over the group every now and again.
Choosing when to go with the group, and when to strike out on your own is a difficult decision, one not unique to the circumstances. FOMO (fear of missing out) is soreal, especially within our generation, where each fun moment is plastered across all social medias, taunting you for missing out. At the same time, no one likes that one sulky member of the group who clearly does not want to be there and is dragging everyone else into their own pity party. So how do you find a happy medium, where you aren’t missing all the fun but also don’t have to be there every second when all you want to be doing is your homework (or watching Netflix…)? Does this middle ground even exist?
I think the key is self-confidence. You know what you want; you’ve been making your own decisions for a while, and it’s worked out this far. Plenty of times during this program, members of the tight-knit 10-person group we formed disagreements on what to do, to which I always reply, “we do not have to do everything together!” Otherwise, it just leads to feelings of resentment from one group, and feelings of guilt from another. There’s a simpler way to make everyone happy: do what you want. Some people become fearful of doing things on their own, of going against the group, of potentially missing out. I, for one, find doing things alone is half the adventure. Traveling to a new city, or doing a hike, or ordering food (in another language!) feels so much more gratifying when you’ve done it by yourself because you succeeded in being independent in an unfamiliar situation.
Despite the occasional need for “me time,” most of my time here has been spent in a large group. Not only is it cost effective when traveling to a new place (helloooo cheaper AirBnBs!), but it also ensures there is never a dull moment. If you feel like going out and doing something, chances are someone else is bored and would like to join. It’s also a great way to not get sick of each other; I find myself rotating between group members, so that no one gets on my nerves (no small feat considering how much time we spend together).
In the end, it’s up to what you want to do. During this program, I’ve traveled in a large group two weekends, and spent two weekends alone or with one other person. In each instance, I followed my gut and did what I knew would make me happiest; each time, my gut instinct was right, and I had a fabulous time. My advice to you? Be confident in your convictions and don’t be afraid to make your own decisions!