Balancing Checklists with Spontaneity

Melissa Hager
When I was abroad, there were definitely days where I wondered, "Am I really taking advantage of being here in France as much as possible?" And it's a hard thing to evaluate when you're there trying to find a balance between planning and going with the flow.
I'm a planner at heart. I went into my study abroad experience with a history of making plans and even needing plans in order to feel satisfied with whatever I was doing with my time. Unexpectedly, studying abroad taught me how to balance my need to plan with my desire to be more spontaneous and laidback.
I'm not sure when my suppressed, easygoing attitude started to surface, but I think by being in France, I had already taken a massive lunge outside of my comfort zone. And by continuing to challenge myself with new experiences, my attitude and my need to control had to adapt.
My solution was to turn to research. I told myself that, this way, I’d have a choice: if I decided I needed the structure of having a set plan of places to visit, I had my research there with me so I could still be prepared. But if the situation changed or I was feeling whimsical, I could use my research as a reference point and go with what I was feeling in the moment. I knew that I wanted to avoid regretting having a mindset that was geared more towards checking places off a list and less about truly being there in that space. For those that think this approach might work for them, here are two recommendations:
  1. Check with your onsite faculty and staff about events going on in your host city. There might be a calendar of events they could direct you to or even personally recommend a certain festival to check out. 
  2. If you have a long break and are planning on doing some backpacking to multiple locations, consider looking into all the sites that you want to visit. For example, my friends and I complied a list of museums, historic sites, tours, and events that we wanted to visit/take part in during our fall break. We looked up hours of operation, prices, and even nearby restaurants so we had a way to orient ourselves once we were there.
I hope this strategy helps some of my fellow compulsive planners!
Melissa Hager graduated from Pitt in 2016 with a major in French, a minor in History, and a West European Studies certificate. She studied abroad with CEA in Aix-en-Provence, France, in Fall 2014, and interned in Pitt’s Study Abroad Office during the 2015-2016 school year.
This article originally appeared in The Traveling Times, an online Pitt SAO newsletter.