Have you ever felt like an old piece of pink bubblegum stuck to the bottom of a dirty sneaker that has then stepped in several puddles that end up leaving the wearer's socks *just* soggy enough to be uncomfortable for the rest of the journey? Well so have I.
I have noticed that since I first entered college, I have developed a frustrating bubblegum-pattern that occurs at the end of every semester. The first time that it occurred in my freshman year, I remember realizing that I was overworked, overtired, overstressed, and had probably overeaten my fair share of late-night tater tots. What did my lack of self-care result in? My incredible ability to multitask by crying as I completed a 15-page paper on how fashion influenced international trade relations (needless to say, it was not my best paper). I realized, however, that such multitasking was not sustainable and have since practiced various techniques to better manage my self-care. It definitely helped, though, that my "burn-out-danger-zone" was very consistent in its timing.
You could imagine my surprise, then, when after one month of being in Korea I began to feel like an old piece of bubblegum that had gotten stuck to the bottom of a dirty sneaker, etc. etc. I was not only confused and worried as to why I was experiencing these feelings, but was frustrated. I mean, I had just gotten out of quarantine, I was in a beautiful country, I had just begun classes and was learning about subjects that I am passionate about, and I had just seen my long-distance boyfriend of two years. What could I have to be feeling so miserable about?
It was not until a quick text exchange with a friend from home that I fully realized what was going on - that exchange went something like this:
Friend: "How's it going?"
Me: "It's going well! I was actually a little down earlier in the week, but now I know how to address it - ya know?"
Friend: "Home sick?"
Me: "Hmmm, I don't think so? I think just stressed."
Friend: "You are living in a different and unfamiliar country and haven't actually been home for very long in over a year . . . maybe that's it."
. . .
While I have plenty of support that had been telling me this very thing, I think that hearing such an observation from someone who cares for me, but who also has not seen me in a while, gave me a perspective that I desperately needed to face. I needed to cut myself some slack.
Throughout my first month in Korea, I had left in the middle of a big move, quarantined in isolation for two weeks, experienced a loss in my family, was finally reunited with someone who I had not seen in 18 months, began to actually live in a new country - just two months after going back to the U.S. from Spain, and was about to embark on my last year of undergraduate school. Needless to say, I had a lot going on in my life.
What acknowledging allll of that made me realize was that what I was experiencing was not strange or complicated or even lonely. If anything, it should have been expected. While in Spain, I never underwent a "bubblegum" period like I had experienced in my previous semesters of school - I owe this to the sunny weather and laid-back nature of school/personal life in the region. I think that when I first came to South Korea, everything had finally come to a head and I needed to face it all at once - which is okay, but just took me off guard.
After I was able to name the problem - burn-out - it became easy to manage (since, as a senior, I am now a "bubblegum" expert).
I think that, as students, especially as an upperclassman, there is this expectation that we should be able to quickly adapt and get right into our studies with vigor. While sometimes that can be possible, other times, it just is not. What I would like to say to all of my other peers who are also studying abroad right now is that - I get it. You want to enjoy everything that your new home has to offer, you want to take-on every opportunity, and you want to make as many good friends as you can before the semester comes to an end. While these are all amazing things to desire, I would like to encourage you to take the time to sort through all of your experiences abroad - good and bad - and love them for what they are - a new small part of you.
Once you do this, taking in more of the world around you becomes easier and easier and less and less bubblegum moments are bound to get stuck in the spaces in between.