Foreign Travel and Study Abroad: What’s the catch?

Switzerland is conveniently located in the center of Europe, allowing access to a multitude of sub-regions within the European continent….and I may or may not have taken advantage of this characteristic already.

Let’s recap: 

Where I have traveled to, since the beginning of the semester?

Bern, Switzerland

Munich, Germany

Paris, France

Brussels, Belgium

Grindelwald, Switzerland

Gruyères, Switzerland

Amsterdam, Netherlands

What are my next travel locations?

Edinburgh, Scotland

Budapest, Hungary

(I think it goes without saying that I have been a frequent customer of EasyJet… and of course, making good use of my Swiss Pass).

As previously stated, one of the benefits of studying in a country like Switzerland is that I can easily go to and fro both outside and inside the country’s borders. It is an immense benefit that has fulfilled my sense of traveler’s curiosity. In fact, it has even expanded my traveler’s curiosity to an academic level, where I find myself wanting to learn more about the history of the states that I visit.

But, although access to easy travel is extremely wonderful, there is an opportunity cost.

Allow me to give a slight preface and explanation.

One of my goals for this semester is learning to master the all-known-too-well concept of “being present.” This was especially relevant for me and my lifestyle, as it’s common for me to go into hyperdrive during the semester and have everything scheduled to a T (let me note that it is completely okay to be extremely organized and involved, it just wasn’t the structure for me). Through being involved in a variety of activities and trying to prioritize multiple different tasks or facets of my life, I found that truly enjoying and developing relationships with my surroundings proved to be difficult because I was always busy.

Before coming to Switzerland, I had to acknowledge that this was the first time in a while that I would be able to take a break from my involvements, solely because I wasn’t on campus. This was the first time I could step on the brakes and make a detour to the scenic route, instead of continuing to speed on the highway that has characterized my college experience. I knew that especially considering that I’m graduating in a few months (eek!) and starting the job search, my time abroad is a great time for me to learn how to truly focus on my surroundings and enjoy where I am, while also being productive and having tasks to complete.

I bring this up in the context of my voyages to date, because the opportunity cost of my travels is that they decrease the amount of available time with my host mom, my allocated free time, and my chances of building a deeper relationship with Switzerland and enjoying my time here.

But what if I told you that this opportunity cost had an…advantage?

On the one hand, these travels decrease the quantity of time that I have free, thus diminishing my sense of “presentness” because I am thinking about what I’m going to do and where I’m going to go.  However, on the flip side, this means that I am intentionally increasing the quality of time that I spend in Switzerland.  

It’s easy to make traveling a priority, and I think that when students are abroad, they should travel to other places. It’s a great way to see the world, but also strengthens one’s sense of independence and confidence. However, I think that while considering traveling to other countries, it is important to take time to prioritize building a relationship that can lead one to continually develop memories and cultivate curiosity about what their host country has to offer.

On the days when I am not traveling, I can be found sitting on the balcony of my host mom’s apartment, usually looking out at the silhouette of the Alps behind a layer of mist. Sometimes I even hike or cook with my host mom because, after long weekends of travel, I want to express my appreciation for her. Though unplanned and completely spontaneous, these experiences are all memorable; and let me tell you, it is those opportunities to watch the sunrise or make Croque monsieur that deepens and strengthens my ties with Switzerland.  

I truly am happy that I have built a foundation in learning to be present and deepen relationships with my surroundings. I know that my experience of learning how to savor Switzerland, through travel and having a background of busyness, is the reason why that foundation began constructing itself.

Though I have lots of travel behind me, and still some travel ahead, I will continue to prioritize my time spend in Switzerland. By doing this, I am optimistic that my time in Switzerland will continue to be characterized by a deepening connection and a stronger capacity to be present.

Published by Juliana Struyk

Class of 2023 Political Science Major and French Minor SIT Geneva, Switzerland

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