Spring break is fast approaching, and as a person who has no knowledge of the holiday beyond portrayals that movies such as “Spring Breakers” put out, I have had absolutely no idea what to do. Before coming to California, I had had big plans for what my spring break would entail. I’m talking “The Hangover”-style big. “I’ll go to Las Vegas,” I thought. “No. Forget Vegas — Cancun! Wait, maybe I’ll just go to a completely different country, and I’ll — yeah.” I was incredibly deluded, and I have since been liberated of my former thoughts of living la vida loca on the coast somewhere. Of course, ideas always seem better in the idealistic realm of one’s mind than in financially restricted reality. This is something I have learned the hard way since my arrival to the Sunshine State and something I continue to learn as my days as a fresh-faced foreigner go on.
A study-abroad student is plagued with something I like to call the “YOLO” mentality, or rather, a “you’ll never be here again” way of thinking. This is the mentality that constantly tells you to do anything and everything with the belief that you may never get the chance to do it again. It causes the usually frivolous year-abroad students to randomly take trips to Vegas, say yes to anything under the sun and take pictures maniacally and constantly of absolutely everything. Further, it is worsened by the constant pressure by others — and oneself — to make your time abroad worthwhile, particularly by the people who happen to be living vicariously through you.
But the kryptonite of this mentality? Money. Money, money, money. Money woes try to corrupt and ruin the dreams of the typical study-abroad student at every opportunity, telling him or her to calm the hell down. Most people can’t realistically go to every concert, festival, city or beach in the entire world and still be able to eat, and money issues make that thoroughly understandable. Hence, you can imagine the internal battle between the “YOLO” and the cheapskate in me when I was deciding where to go for spring break, or whether to even go somewhere at all. The battle between living on the edge and living within my means raged louder than ever inside my poor, conflicted mind.
The question is this: How do you see all the things you want to see and still maintain a bank balance that doesn’t make you wince? Half of the time, I want the California experience that is simple with little to no charge. The other half of the time, the semiaddicted social media fiend in me wants the crazy, luxurious life to spill over Instagram and make all my friends at home jealous. In the end, it all boils down to one thing: regret. What urges many of us, particularly study-abroad students, to spend a heap of money on things we would never usually buy is the question of how much we would regret it if we did not do it. The idea of finally returning home with a heart that yearns to turn back time and wishes that you’d done all the things you passed up is a terrifying prospect. It is this worry that leads to my willingness to blow hundreds of dollars just to feel as though I’ve been successful in my travels.
Given my perpetual state of being broke, you can probably guess that I didn’t end up buying a ticket to go to any of the places I mentioned before. Unfortunately, the absence of my impending lottery win and the presence of a decent moral code allowed me to accept that it is actually OK not to go everywhere. Cheesy as it may sound, the success of a study-abroad experience is not measured in material objects but in the experiences you have with incredible people, and those experiences are essentially priceless. Breaking the bank for a distorted idea of what “fun” should be or an unnecessary worry that I’m not enjoying my year abroad enough is something I now refuse to partake in. After all, my time abroad — and the state of my bank account — means much more than a few likes on Instagram.
Gena writes the Tuesday blog on cultural exchange. Contact her at [email protected].