You know those walkways in some airports and train stations that are like escalators except they’re flat on the floor and just move along to make you walk faster? That’s kind of how life is right now. Things can’t slow down because everything is on fast pace—school, social life, travel, and even grocery shopping. Even if I stand motionless, I’m still moving, constantly thinking about the next assignment, the next planning session, the last money-losing mishap, or the upcoming weekend of travel. This study abroad program gives a whole new meaning to stress and time management, and it’s consistently been revealing my weaknesses to me. But I’m so grateful for the chance to even be here, so every day I take a step back from the rush of it all to just appreciate the opportunity Baylor and the University of Maastricht have given me.
I realize this is a little late, but since I haven’t described the structure of this study abroad program yet, let me do that for you now. About forty of us Baylor students came here to the Netherlands at Maastricht University to study and travel on this three-month program. Our very first trip to London was as a large group; we all went to the same place, and there were leaders from Baylor in that city with us, but we split off into smaller groups and were able to travel around the town with our friends.
Every weekend since then, we’ve traveled on our own (meaning without any authority figures and without the whole Baylor group). We naturally split into smaller groups of friends, and we plan our own weekends by deciding where we’d like to go, how and when to get there, what to do while there, where to sleep while there, and how and when to get back. We go with anywhere from 3-7 people, and we trek around the city by ourselves in this group. If you imagined this journey as more like a class field trip, you’re extremely mistaken; it’s such an invigorating and refreshing experience to find your own way around a city, inevitably embarrassing yourself a few times when asking for directions because of the language barrier, but ultimately soaking in the glory that is traveling with just your best friends.
Although it seems all we do is travel, it is true that we’re students first and then travelers. So after our first London trip, we headed back to the university to start school. It’s an accelerated program where we go to school four days a week for eight weeks, taking two Dutch classes and two Baylor classes. Because we’re trying to squeeze in a semester’s worth of work into such a short time period, we are swamped with reading, papers, tests, and homework during the week since we don’t have much time during the weekend to do it. A few people have asked me: “How are you doing all this travel and still going to school?” or “Why don’t you write about school?” Well, the reason I haven’t talked much about school (other than the fact that, really, who wants to hear about textbooks and lectures?) is because I realize nobody truly offers sympathy for people when they talk about school being difficult … especially to someone who’s studying and traveling in Europe. So I try to keep my blogs more focused on the traveling so as to not accidently complain about the stress of school (oops, I let one slip) or the sleepless nights (really, I’m finished now) that we spend during the week so that we can enjoy the weekend of travel.
The best part of the fact that this program is stuffed into eight weeks is that our last month here in Europe will be spent solely traveling. We take our final exams right before April, and then all of April we branch out with our specific groups of friends, make our own travel plans, and backpack our way across Europe. If you’re wondering how in the world I can afford that, let me just tell you. Baylor provided us with a free, three-month, global Eurail pass, which pays for almost every train we take, so this greatly slashes the costs of our trips.They also paid for our housing in London for that week, and they also give us a little sum of money to pay for meals over the weekends and over the month while we travel. This is why we are all taking such advantage of our weekends here—so that we can see as many countries as possible while the train rides are free (because they can be very, very expensive otherwise!) and while we have a small amount of Euros in our pockets for food. Of course, we still have to pay for groceries, some meals while traveling, all hostels, any flights we take, souvenirs, and any extra fun things we decide to do, so the costs really do rack up. But I’ve decided that, since I may never be able to come to Europe again in my life, I need to (frugally) live it up while I have the chance. My future self will thank me, I think.
So as I’m walking on this long, always-moving walkway while studying abroad, it’s the looking ahead to where that walkway is taking me, into the weekends and the month of travel, that keeps me motivated to continue walking. But I must confess that it’s such a relief to look behind me and see the steps I’ve already taken, the places I’ve already seen, and the stress I’ve already overcome.