I am staring at a white web page. The gray background is fading into green. My eyes are watering from staring at the screen for so long that the letters start jumping off the page and dancing around the screen. But I can’t stop staring. My mouse runs over the button. “Submit.” One click. One click away from confirming the decision that’s been eating away at me for months.
This semester, after repeated attempts to put it off, I finally had to make a decision that had been on my mind since I first came to Yale: Do I study abroad?
It’s a question familiar to many Yalies, a dilemma a lot of us come to face. Sometimes we grapple with it in the companionship of our close friends, talking over its pros and cons, analyzing every aspect of the decision and then settling — only to change our minds the next day. Sometimes we wrestle with this conflict in the privacy of our own heads or live out the fantasy in our dreams and make our choices quietly. The problem with this decision is that it’s impossible to dismiss.
Once you’ve started considering the possibility of leaving Yale, the temptation is too strong. Pandora’s box lies wide open in front of you and you cannot help but imagine living in an exotic place, breaking free of the Yale bubble, leaving behind the mundane daily routine of New Haven. It is a chance to exchange what you perceive as ordinary and what you take for granted for the next big adventure.
For me, studying abroad went beyond the question of where I would be next semester. It was more than the language of conversations that I would hear out of my window late at night. It wasn’t a question of where that creepy Google maps pin would land on when I typed in “Home” for the next couple of months. Studying abroad felt like the manifestation of all the questions I had been struggling with since coming to college. Am I doing enough? What is the next big thing? Do I have what it takes to lead the life I always envisioned?
And I think that precisely in those questions lies one of the epidemics that plagues Yalies: the constant need for stimulation, the hunt for the fascinating, the obsession with being exemplary, every second of every day. As soon as the curtain closes on one amazing experience, we immediately rush out to seek the next. Like addicts in need of their fix, we crave the adrenaline rush and pursue it at all costs.
We fool ourselves into thinking that this incessant stimulation is sustainable. That as long as we keep finding extraordinary ways to experience the world, we will never feel incomplete. And should we ever get the sense of being incomplete, that feeling only signifies that we haven’t searched far enough.
This is not an attempt to discredit the decision to study abroad. In being at Yale, I am, by default, already studying abroad from my country, Greece. I have enormous respect for people who want to live outside of the culturally comfortable home where they’ve spent their lives. We are young, we are in college and we are discovering our most precious asset: our independence. Of course we should be challenging ourselves, we should be expanding our horizons and we should be adventurous and uncomfortable.
All that I’m saying is maybe we should stop being so fixed on the idea of constantly breaking new ground. Of trying to squeeze every single emotion, experience, adventure, expedition into our short four years at Yale. Of doing everything we can to fit a lifetime of experiences into the stretch of a gap year. Of forcing all of our dreams to come to fruition by the time we turn 21.
More importantly, in perpetually seeking ways to escape, to go further, to traverse strange places, we miss out on the adventure we’re experiencing right now — the adventure that is our precious time at Yale, the scarcity of our time here and the rare chance to meet a handful of the wonderful people that brush past us every day, most of whom we’ll never know.
Choosing to stay is in itself an adventure — a task even more challenging than leaving behind everything you know and travelling to where you will always be out of place. Going away is terrifying, it’s bold and adventurous and confusing. But first and foremost it’s inherently exciting. Managing to find excitement in the dullness of days that blend into one another and melt into an incoherent whole? Now, that’s a real uphill battle.
Sophia Catsambi | firstname.lastname@example.org