Why You Should Ditch Routine While Studying Abroad

Some people thrive on routine – having a set schedule, knowing what’s next and having plans in their diary weeks in advance. The thought of deviating from these plans drives these people up the wall. I’ve been one of these people almost my whole adult life, and believe me, I acknowledge that my anxiety is a major contributing factor.

However, before I left to study abroad in Australia for the first time, I could see it was crippling my social life in some ways. Studying abroad is meant to be one of the greatest times in your life full of new experiences that you would never have otherwise. So, when I left for the six-month exchange semester, I made a pact with myself that I would give into spontaneous plans, be okay with not making it to the gym every day, and say yes to everything (within reason, of course!).

While abroad, this pact presented in different ways: going out on a Wednesday for friends’ birthdays, going on unplanned weekend trips, listening to my body and taking more rest days than usual, joining in on those last-minute tickets to a football game – to name a few!

Being a person who thrives on having my days and weeks planned out generally puts my mind at ease, but being in another country for six months allowed me to let go and enjoy the broad range of opportunities that I would have missed out on had I confined myself to my usual structured routine. It also allowed my anxiety to stay in check because there was an end date to ‘testing’ this.

I will be completely honest and say once I arrived back stateside I immediately fell back into routine, but that doesn’t minimise the valuable lessons and things I learned by deviating from routine while abroad. When unplanned opportunities arose, I would often get a bit anxious and uncomfortable – spontaneity has never been my strong suit, much to my dislike – so these situations allowed me to grow in my response to that discomfort and anxiety.

I learned to manage my breathing to calm myself down more quickly. I became increasingly more self-aware of my body and physiological reactions to certain things. It was almost like crisis response work – but to something so trivial as unplanned opportunities. The crisis was me being pushed out of my comfort zone and being forced to adapt, something I now pride myself on being able to do very well.

Once I moved back to Australia for my masters degree about 15 months after arriving home from study abroad, I felt myself slipping back into the comfort of routine and could feel the negative impacts it was having on my mental health and overall happiness.

I’m fairly lucky to have a partner who is very comfortable with spontaneity and random camping or road trips – and all it took was one of those to get my groove back. Getting out of routine doesn’t have to be a constant occurrence to make a difference; just one scenario is enough to open your eyes a little bit wider and allow for a breath of fresh air to come in.

Now, you may not have life-changing or transformative experiences by adapting to spontaneity, going on that unplanned weekend trip and pushing studying back a few days, or not making it to the gym – but you might! That’s the beauty of it, you never know what you will find – new friends, new abilities, and so much growth.

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