To underclassmen – as if you’ve been asking for one, I present you with a recommendation: if you came to Acadia with no real sense of purpose and are reaching the point of disillusionment with academia that makes you wonder how you could possibly suffer through an entire 4+ years here, you should start planning to study abroad in your third year. Think of it as the gap year your soul deserves, only you might write a couple of essays and take a few tests during it and spend slightly less money on alcohol than you would were you to just take the type of gap year where you drag a backpack between party hostels and seize the day all over the place.
Seriously, though, start planning. Take advantage of your current position, in which going to a new place is feasible and relatively inexpensive. You’re a student. No one back home will give you shit about running off and adventuring for a bit.
I just spent a year in Freiburg, Germany (mandatory for German majors) and have had very little time to catch my breath in the two months I’ve been back. I do not at all feel like someone who should be giving advice on the matter of going abroad. My experience was worthwhile – invigorating, exciting, romantic, all sorts of positive adjectives. At many times it was also incredibly confusing, isolating, and depressing, so if you are looking to eliminate those things from your life I would not look to Germany for help. A year-long quasi-holiday there will likely not cure your existential angst, as hard as it is to believe. Nor will going anywhere else, of course – the grass-is-greener argument should not be the reason that you leave Acadia. Life feels mostly the same in a lot of the places you are able to go.
Being away has given me a better sense of what I’m doing back at Acadia, though coming back is admittedly not easy. I’m finding it hard not to throw myself a pity party over my lack of self-discipline, feelings of social detachment, how I haven’t done academic work in the English language in over a year, and the price of beer. I feel doubly pathetic because I know everyone who’s ever been in my position has felt the same way and that we’re all just incredibly spoiled. Still, I now understand more about what I do and don’t love about Wolfville, and I find it to be extremely valuable perspective.
I made the choice to go on exchange using the logic that doing challenging, intimidating things is always a good idea. Using this same logic, you can justify all sorts of fun stuff: taking public speaking courses if you’re bad at public speaking, trying to cut your own hair while drunk, etc. Depending on the degree of masochism you combine with this attitude, the outcome of your time abroad will differ greatly. Overall, it will likely be equally awesome and miserable. Such is life. There are no guarantees of anything, obviously, and that’s really why you should try to go.
If you’re looking to avoid burn-out and you can afford to do so, go abroad! Pay Acadia your tuition fees and spend the rest of your money stimulating foreign economies, mostly in bars and on train tickets. Go see big fancy new sights that get your endorphins going and look good on Instagram. Go develop a taste for new things and wonder if you are at all entitled to your enjoyment of them. Go hit on people who you find infinitely attractive just because they are foreign. Go collect experiences, as we are all wont to do, and then come back and process them in private, because talking about them too much makes you sound pretentious.
Cynicism is great! I bet you sure feel encouraged! But in all seriousness, you should get out there for a while. You’ll grow immensely during the time you spend away from Acadia. You’ll also grow immensely if you decide to stay at Acadia, but you won’t meet as many new people, see as many new things, become as comfortable with “foreignness,” or acquire the mental strength that is required to live away from home. It’s misguided to think that studying abroad will be a vacation (though realistically you’ll find every excuse to spoil yourself and you can totally get away with it), and it’s also wrong to think that you aren’t strong, intelligent, or brave enough to go. Once you get through your maudlin homecoming stage, it will all be worth it.