Breathe In, Breathe Out

Don’t panic.

It is 10 a.m. on a Monday morning. Every wide-eyed, exhausted international study abroad student has been corralled into a multipurpose room on the ground level of the Great Hall at the University of Exeter, located in Devon County, west of London. Those were the first words, the first gem of advice given during our orientation sessions.

Be cool, don’t panic.

Well, that’s easy enough for you to say, Ms. Orientation Maven. You’re not the one currently living 4,000 miles away from your home, your family, and your friends. You’re not the one who currently has blisters not only on her heels and toes, but also on her palms from carrying two 50-pound suitcases through airports and train stations and turnstiles, and then up two flights of stairs into a dorm with incredibly narrow hallways. You’re not the one whose eyelids constantly threaten to fall, thanks to the fact that your body’s still five hours behind on Eastern Standard Time. You’re not the one whose schedule still hasn’t been finalized, and classes started, like, yesterday.

But, really, it’s okay. Everything’s fine. Don’t panic.

I wanted to panic, but I wasn’t really given a choice in the matter. I had to relax, take a deep breath – inhale, exhale – and adapt. Accept the fact that I’m not in Williamsburg this semester. I am at the University of Exeter. I am living in a new place, attending a new school, and this requires new perspectives and new experiences.

So I decided not to panic.

Things move slower here, as we were told during orientation. People are more relaxed. Students don’t charge headlong to class. The library isn’t always crammed with students jockeying for table space. They don’t stay up until four on a Tuesday morning studying for a big exam because they’d rather be at one of the many clubs downtown, dancing and hanging out with friends, having fun.

This is an important lesson for me to learn. It’s important to have fun, relax, and realize that your GPA isn’t necessarily end-all-to-be-all. Academics shouldn’t rule your life. They’re important, but they’re not everything. It’s all right to put your books aside and take a Saturday for yourself. It’s okay to go out with a group of friends or to tour the historic, 15th century cathedral in the city centre.

You can have fun and experience life outside of lecture halls and seminars and textbooks and still be diligent student at the same time. After all, not all learning is done in the classroom.

It’s the best of both worlds. Here, you can have your cake and eat it, too. Just watch your caloric intake. I think that’s the biggest lesson that my time at Exeter has taught me thus far.

Oh, that and remembering not to panic.

Ashley Allen ’13 is a native of Loudoun County, Virginia, but is happy to call Williamsburg and the Tribe her home away from home! She is a double major studying both History and Literary and Cultural Studies. Ashley looks forward to experiencing all things British and resurrecting some of the blogging skills she used as blog editor of the Flat Hat the past two years.

About International W&M

The Reves Center for International Studies promotes, develops, and supports the global dimensions of learning, teaching, research, and community engagement at the College of William & Mary
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