Routines form the basis of life at Georgetown. Class schedules provide the infrastructure, extracurriculars fill in the gaps and the remaining free time is devoted to daily necessities like eating and sleeping. Going abroad throws a wrench in this scheduling. When I got to Copenhagen, Denmark, my typically overbooked schedule suddenly  consisted only of classes, and the remaining free space had strings attached: Without Yates, I need a gym membership before I work out; without Leo’s, eating requires grocery shopping and meal prep; and without being on campus to attend meetings and social events, some of my extracurriculars have to wait until I get back in the spring.

In the absence of the things that typically fill my schedule, I suddenly found myself reassessing the components of my Georgetown experience. What is most important? What makes me the happiest? Which things are on pause until I get back to Georgetown, and which things should I cut out? As I began evaluating the ways I spend my time, I started to see the value in the disruption from routine that abroad had forced upon me. Taking a break from the regularity of my Georgetown existence not only frees up space in my schedule to take advantage of being abroad – exploring a new city, taking weekend trips – but it also allows me to look at the college life I’ve crafted for myself with the freshly critical perspective of an outsider.

When looking at study abroad programs, you’ll find that many boast that anything you do at your home university, you can do abroad. Any club, any team or any hobby – they say they can make it happen for you. The longer I’ve been here, the less necessary I find this proclamation. In fact, it seems to counter the point of leaving your home university for a semester: Studying abroad is an exercise in mindful interruption of the comfort of familiarity, not an exercise in recreating your normal life in a new place. From what I can tell so far, it’s far more rewarding to embrace the disruption rather than to fight it.

My gym this semester isn’t as close to my apartment as Yates would be, but the bike ride there is beautiful, and the treadmills overlook the Copenhagen Harbor.

My articles for The Hoya are typically about art exhibit openings or movie screenings, but this semester I’m using this column to exercise my ability to introspect rather than report.

I also usually spend hours each week attending meetings, club-organized social events and university-scheduled programming, but while I’m here I’m trying to be less plan-based and more in-the-moment.

Without the ability to settle into my treasured but intimately understood college life, I’ve started to fall in love with the excitement of unfamiliarity. Not only is the challenge of the unfamiliar helping me better understand myself, but it is giving me a dry run at being an adult; the constant programming at Georgetown is incredible, but it can be a security blanket. Having to pull out a blank schedule and decide how to spend my time has allowed me to craft my own life. 

Being away has also made me realize that some of our habits are borne more from expectation than from necessity.  Sometimes at Georgetown I eat because it’s lunchtime and the dining hall is open, not because I’m hungry, or I attend a social event because I’m expected to, not because I want to. Being free of your normal schedule allows you to shake the expectations that go along with it.

Distance from the wonderful familiarity of Georgetown life has reminded me of the important power of disruption to avoid the hazard of a myopic existence. Exercising the ability of open-minded adaptation to new circumstances is exhilarating and necessary. Worst case scenario, you miss the way things are at home; best case, you get a new perspective on the way that you’re living your life – one that you’ll bring with you wherever else you go.

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