The Importance of Staying in the Moment

As I was in the midst of mapping out my plans for this coming summer (and going a little crazy doing so), I suddenly stopped myself. Why, I wondered, am I already thinking about my future when I am currently in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, having an experience of a lifetime?

The tried-and-true adage, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” suddenly became relevant in my life once again. When I was studying Steinbeck’s classic Of Mice and Men in my sophomore English class, I learned that this phrase essentially means that no matter how much one prepares oneself for life, there’s a chance something or someone will show up to derail those plans. While this is promoting the idea that nothing ever turns out the way one expects things to, I think it also can be interpreted as a reminder that it is important to stay in the moment. The phrase is self-explanatory and rather cliché, but I think it is an important part of the study abroad experience that one tends to lose sight of over time. When you first arrive in your host country, all you are doing is staying in the moment: at all hours you are absorbing the new language, people, and rhythm of life. For the first month or so, you are a tourist. As you start to acclimate to the new culture and establish your daily routine, you begin to feel more like a citizen of the country. This, of course, is both good and bad in that you have successfully established yourself in a new place. However, you are less inclined to go exploring or partake in what you now call “touristy” activities because you feel as if you have done everything. Before you know it, some of your worries and responsibilities leak over into your life abroad and you find it harder and harder to bring back the sense of wonderment and adventure you had before. Staying in the moment is now a crippling challenge.

I have reached this point of the studying abroad process myself, and I want to make sure that I am able to stay in the moment and enjoy myself as much as I can while I’m here. A semester doesn’t last forever, and the last thing I want to have are regrets of all of the adventures I could have partaken in had I not been wrapped up in my future plans, or had I decided to just skip out on it. Now, I do not want to lessen the importance of making time to think about the next step in your life once you get back to the States, but I want to emphasize that it’s important to find a balance. You’re living in another country, so why not make the best of it now?

In the Moment Image 1

A picture I took while walking by the Seine alone. It has a contemplative quality to it, doesn’t it?

I suppose everyone has their own method of pulling themselves back into their surroundings, but I personally like to go to a park or a garden (of which there are plenty in Paris), and simply do nothing. Now, I know that in some contexts doing nothing can imply going on one’s phone or listening to music, but by nothing I literally mean to do nothing but listen and observe. If it’s a sunny day, close your eyes and focus on the warmth. Listen to the chatter of those around you, feel the surface you are sitting on, and watch others interact. Better yet, do this in front of or even inside a monument, a church, a museum—even the metro. Do not let your mind wander to the future, but think only about what’s in front of you, and how simply lucky you are to be living in a place that seems so different, vibrant, and alive. In whatever activity you are doing or place you are visiting, make sure to do this, if only for a short time. Next, write a journal entry about your experience so the memory exists forever. If I have learned any life lessons from studying abroad so far, it would be this: (1) spontaneity is your friend, and (2) living in the moment is extremely important. Besides, you have probably spent all vacation looking forward to your semester abroad, so why not fully appreciate your time here? This post is full of well-known, oft repeated maxims, so I might as well end it with one more: now is an important time to not only seize the day, but be present in it.

Abby Snarski is a student at St. Michael’s College and an official API student blogger.  Abby is currently studying abroad with API in Paris, France.

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