A Testament to Tiredness

It isn’t until I’m sitting on my bed—head scrunched down to avoid bumping it on the top bunk, sheets awry, wet laundry dripping from unconventional clotheslines across the room, wind smacking the windows in unpredictable patterns, gulls screaming from the pier, dirty clothes erupting from my suitcase—that I realize I am tired. Seven weeks deep in my study abroad to New Zealand, and I’ve finally faced the facts of travel:  it is exhausting.

We’ve been to eight places in seven weeks—some places for as short as three days—living out of our suitcases in Youth Hostels. I have no home in New Zealand; no base or place to unravel and seek refuge in. This concept is all abstract until experienced. On paper, traveling around New Zealand appears like a leisurely stroll through a biologically extravagant park; in reality, it is a marathon sprinted in Birkenstocks (or what have you) through jungles, across oceans, and over mountain ranges. I always prided myself on my endurance and running (proud member of Husky Running Club!) but this race has been like none other. I thought my adequate training of completing a previous study abroad in Rome had shaped me up for this feat. I thought nothing could outpace the speed and intensity of the Eternal City. But, this study abroad proved me wrong. While Rome was a set of short sprints—a 4X100 meter relay—New Zealand is a 4X100X63 meter relay, racing every day of the program.

Classmates inquired about my past experience, asking if this feeling of tiredness shared among us all was a trait of my last study abroad. No, it wasn’t. But, besides a spattering of weekend trips, my last study abroad did not move. There are benefits and hindrances to both program styles. Our travel has allowed us to compare, complicate, analyze, and embrace different places, and this deep understanding of “sense of place” could not be obtained otherwise. However, in analyzing my “sense of place,” no matter where I am, feelings of exhaustion and weariness impede my ability to adjust and enjoy academic and social endeavors.

From week to week, we have participated in city walks, academic panels, seminars, service work, and discussions, among other forms of learning. Every situation is valuable and does not disappoint. But once the adrenaline wears off, changing activities and locations only add to the massive sensory intake that inherently overwhelms and tires me. I thought I understood what it felt like to be “travel weary,” but never before has it impacted my daily thoughts and activities.

Our program directors are very aware and understanding of this. They compensate by providing us with personal project days and time to catch up on schoolwork. And, they themselves are going through what we are to an even greater extent:  they plan our activities, drive us on the opposite side of the road through treacherous conditions, and manage finances, in addition to many other stressful responsibilities (including tolerating 15 chatty, squealing girls every day). Even after all of this—even after a 7-hour drive in a grimy minivan packed with singing, squawking students—they remain selfless and caring for us as students and people.

That being said, there is camaraderie among our group that makes our study abroad enriching beyond textbooks and class discussions. Thanks to our travel, I have figured out how to cook for 20 in a Youth Hostel kitchen. I’ve met, dined, danced, and learned from locals and travelers in every city we’ve visited. I’ve perfected how to re-pack my suitcase with speed and precision. I’ve recognized what it takes to live and learn with the same group of people, 24 hours a day for 3 months. And in doing so, I’ve realized how valuable study abroad is, even if it means I’ll have to drink flat whites with every meal and peel my eyelids open.

Moral of the story (if there is a moral at all, and not just my juggling of angsty, tired thoughts): studying abroad is tiring. No matter where you go, and what you do, after awhile it’ll wipe you out. But it’s worth it. And the race is almost over; I’ll make it to the finish, inspired, educated, and reawakened.