Alexa’s Study Abroad Journal: How to keep your life in flux

 (Photo by Alexa-featured image is the view from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, overlooking the rainy Love Run yesterday morning)

Two things make me proud: running a good run and writing a good poem, story, article, whathaveyou.

My brain is confused. I don’t feel creative. Usually I can sit down and words just come pouring out of me, but lately I’ve been thinking too much, or maybe not thinking enough. I have amazing self-discipline in the sense that I wake up at 6:15 a.m. Monday through Friday, I’ve never missed a college class and I exercise seven days per week. Yet, when it comes to writing lately, I’ve had nothing to say.

Here is something I’ve been itching to write: Last semester, I enrolled in a Creative Writing course purely for fun. And I was all the better for it. My grandma was diagnosed with terminal cancer in the summer of 2013 and I was an anxious, depressed mess. The class helped me so much. Really, though, it was just a soundboard for my thoughts. Writing has always been an outlet for me, but I surprised myself with what I wrote. I wrote short stories for the first time. I won a literary prize for my poetry. When I read my poems out loud, I felt enormous weights lifted from my chest and my heart and my brain. When my grandma died, my classmates were the first to know.


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I wanted to change my major to English, I wanted to minor in Linguistics and I wanted a certificate in Creative Writing. I didn’t do any of that, though. I told myself I’d regret that English major, that I’d ruin my favorite subject, that I would never get a job with credentials like that. I kept riding the journalism track. The class ended, winter break happened, and some new classes started.

Spring break was great to me. I romped around in the mud and dirt and grass. I climbed rocks. I didn’t have anything on my mind except good exercise and good feels.

Now, I have this sinking feeling. I’m in the middle of my first required “math” course (okay, it’s an IT course, but still, I haven’t seen a logorithm since high school) and I’m floundering. I might not get straight A’s this semester. The perfectionist inside me is dying a little bit at the thought. I also haven’t written anything creatively in a month. The artist inside me is screaming. Plus, I’ve left my job at the newspaper. The realist inside me is worrying I’ll forget how to balance school and work.

But, I’ve been a journalism student since day one. You know that old saying, the one about not making decisions when you’re mad, sad or otherwise mentally unstable? Well, I started the study abroad process when I was in a pretty bad place, but I knew that I’d be able to pull the plug if I felt differently in a few months. I didn’t start the changing-my-major process then, because I knew that would be a more or less permanent switch.

I’m glad I stayed in journalism if only for one thing: my food class. It’s taught me that storytelling doesn’t have to be sensationalized, that journalism can still be smart, calculated and cool. Journalism doesn’t need to be working in a newsroom doing menial tasks at a desk in a sea of desks. It’s important in a different way, conflated with social media (for better or for worse). Just when I was losing hope in my major (because, let’s be honest, nobody has anything nice to say about media coverage), I learned that I have a growing interest in it. And, I’m glad I signed up for an advising meeting about studying abroad for more reasons than I can list here.

Basically, what I’ve learned is that it’s hard to live in the present. It’s really, really hard. Because schools in the U.S. teach you: Here’s this thing, learn it, there will be a test. But that’s not how life works. That’s not how the best thinkers think. Journalism forces you into the right-now moment. And I like that. That’s where I’d like to be.


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I’m working on going there in a more literal way, starting with Paris.

When it comes down to it, I do what makes me happy. And, at the risk of sounding like a cheeseball, opportunity is rampant. It is, it is, it is.

What I’m saying is: just because I majored in journalism doesn’t mean I’m not going to get a job. I’m also saying: just because someone else majored in computer science doesn’t mean they’re going to get a job, either. What I’m saying is that it matters who you are as a person, how you deal with things. I think that everyone should really try to live presently. Even if that means embracing your ignorance and making mistakes.

What I’m saying is that maybe studying abroad isn’t the right decision for everyone, but I’m willing to try it for me. Because, while applying may be a ton of work, and none of it seems real right now, Paris makes me excited. It will force me to be very mentally present; I want to have that childlike curiosity about things again. I will need to try harder, every day, because everything will be foreign. And that makes me excited.

Yesterday, I ran my first half-marathon. I want to surprise myself like that way more often, because even though crossing the finish line was the best earthly feeling I’ve ever had, I know that it was just the beginning.

Paris will help me practice.

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Alexa Wybraniec

Alexa studies journalism, media and French at Rutgers University. She is abroad at Sciences Po for her third year of college. Check back every other Monday for a new post and connect on Twitter.