UMBC Across the Sea: How to handle downtime
Take advantage of study abroad locations with local nightlife. Work on balancing schoolwork and socialization. Photo by Nate Stewart.

UMBC Across the Sea: How to handle downtime

There is an unfortunate tendency for many students spending time abroad to treat the experience less like a proper educational semester and more like an extended vacation. Parties, night life and simply the thrill of being in a totally new environment drive the day-to-day lives of many exchange students.

In moderation, this is a good thing as it provides a sort of cultural, experiential learning and can help immerse a student in the native culture. This leads to questions, though, such as: how much downtime is enough? How much is too much? How can one even tell the difference?

Avoiding the recreational aspects of a study abroad experience defeats the very purpose of studying abroad. There is no real reason to go abroad if one just wants to spend their life in isolation and quiet study. But, this does not mean that study becomes unimportant or even less important than it does back home.

At UMBC, all grades from terms taken abroad transfer back. Any grades from those classes will ultimately be reflected in transcripts and GPAs. This alone gives more than enough reason to take classes abroad seriously, but also gives a decent barometer for how much time can reasonably be spent for recreation.

To put it simply, recreational downtime should be integrated as much as is possible without interfering with classes. This varies wildly from person to person, so it is important to take a personal inventory upon the first few days in-country.

For instance, I did not go out my first week in Korea. I was afraid of losing any quality educational time, which I soon found to lead to me losing valuable social education. So I turned around my approach. The next week I went out whenever anyone else was going out, leading to a chaotic week that left me drained and even unable to attend several classes. That, I decided, was obviously too much, so I settled on a medium that worked for me, going out once or twice weekly.

The range of tolerability varies widely from person to person, with some able to manage going out near-nightly and others only doing so on monthly or rarer occasions.

Another thing to keep in mind in regards to recreation is the wide variety of activities that entails. In Korea the most common way to do so is going to bars and clubs, but not everyone is comfortable with that sort of thing. Instead, others may find recreation in dinners, or in hikes, or even in stays in Buddhist temples. These are all legitimate and healthy ways to find recreation during a stay abroad, as long as they too are done in moderation.

Essentially, studying abroad is meant firstly for personal development and secondly for fun. But denying that second aspect of the experience will necessarily hinder the first. This makes the most successful approach one that balances the two, allowing for a healthy and thoroughly enriching experience.