Here at Boston University, junior year is synonymous with studying abroad.
From the latter part of sophomore year, one can hardly escape the ruckus of friend groups who, in a couple of months time, will be scattered all across Europe and are already planning weekend trips to Budapest and spring break in Mykonos. That noise became so loud I began feeling dazed.
After my advisor solved a miscalculation of my credits, last spring I learned that not only was I able to do a semester abroad, but that it was strongly recommended to me considering my majors. Although I was initially overcome by a wave of exhilaration, the latter was soon subsided by hesitancy. Did I genuinely want to go abroad for my own sake?
It was a hard conversation to have with myself and for the beginning of the summer I did my utmost to avoid it in the hopes that the idea would eventually grow on me. When it became a necessary topic to face, I could only be honest with myself and admit that I would have gone along with it solely due to outside pressures.
Surely, having an internship in a foreign country would be remarkable on my resume, my mom would be delighted to have me back in Europe and maybe the semester would be incredibly enriching. But currently all I crave in my life is stability.
It was very difficult for me to realize that I had spent much of my life running from place to place and disguising it as chasing my dreams. During my freshman year of high school, I immediately decided to do a six-month exchange and as soon as that was over I started looking into American universities. I’ve spent the last seven years ignoring the present by living for the future and ensuring that I would not be stuck in the same place for longer than a couple of years.
Even though I’m obviously incredibly grateful to my family for encouraging and supporting me in undertaking these experiences, it was time for me to take a step back and reevaluate.
One of the Latin philosopher Seneca’s “Letters from a Stoic” is entirely dedicated to the topic of “travels as a cure for discontent,” or rather, why anxiously moving around will not cure one’s soul.
Although it is common for people to attempt to heal their disquietude by incessantly traveling to escape their problems, Seneca states that similar behavior harms their souls even more because “you flee along with yourself,” which is essentially “shaking up a sick man.” If one finds themselves in a mentally negative space, there is no place on Earth that could magically solve their internal problems and such a solution is palliative at best.
A “composita mens” — the mental composure typical of any Stoic wiseman — is never misled into seeking external solutions for internal problems, but rather is capable of taking a break and being in its own company. Listening to the soul and understanding what the latter genuinely needs is the only medicine. Once healed, “every change of place will become pleasurable.”
After being deceived by this mental trap for too long, I’m glad I finally decided I can happily remain still for a while. I love my life here in Boston and, for the first time in recent years, I cannot think of a single reason why I would voluntarily want to leave it behind — even for a semester — and be lured by what is still foreign to me.
Making peace with the idea that the unknown is not always better and that being able to relish in the comfort of the familiar present is a sign of maturity, rather than insecurity, has been a pivotal accomplishment for me. Now, with all the time I will not be using to organize an overseas trip, I have the luxury to dwell on my thoughts and enjoy my own presence, exactly what Seneca would have prescribed me.