Story by Sofia Ciprian, Study Abroad
It is 3 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon in Seville, Spain and every single street I walk onto is filled with laughter. People are sharing drinks, kids are running to the playground and everyone is enjoying themselves. It shocked me at first to experience a culture where the world was not moving at 100 miles a minute and you could feel the stress in the air after a busy day of work. My semester in Spain taught me how to fully embrace the lifestyle of working to live instead of living to work. I learned to step back from the daily stresses and take time for myself. This is not to say that people in Spain do not work a lot or work hard. They were some of the most hard-working people I’ve ever met. They were passionate about the work they did and always strived to learn more or push themselves further. However, they also recognize that a lot of what we learn is found not just in the workplace, but by sharing and connecting with others. What made the lifestyle so different for me was how they prioritized personal time and time with your community at the same level as work.
I feel like the culture in the United States is all about how far we can push ourselves until we reach a breaking point. How much can we pile on our plate until it becomes too much? In Spain, a large part of the lifestyle is to make time to enjoy the day. Going to get a drink and tapas with your neighbors is considered an important part of the daily to-do. My host mom would get upset with me if I spent too much time in my room doing homework. She wanted to make sure that I went outside and took in as much of the country’s beauty as possible. This was partly emphasized because I was there only temporarily, but I mostly learned this because it is the typical Spanish way of life.
I tend to let stress consume me to the point where I can’t move on until it is resolved, so spending time in a culture that was so different benefited me a lot. It felt as though life moved slower while I was in Spain. Instead of always being consumed with deadlines and checking things off a to-do list, I learned to take some time for myself, too. The stress was still there, but it became easier to manage it and coexist with it. In the meantime, I could enjoy the day before the sun went down. I didn’t feel rushed or pressured to constantly be doing something that was considered “productive” because spending time with my friends or enjoying the city was equally as productive, just in a different way.
Now that I am back in Boston, I approach day-to-day stress totally differently. I’ve been fully reimmersed in the fast-paced culture of the city and now had to learn to integrate the lessons I learned into my life in Boston. I now set aside time to do something for myself everyday … or at least most days. Whether that means going out to dinner with friends, reading a book or watching a TV show, it doesn’t matter what it is as long as I make space for something in my day that doesn’t require stressing out and worrying about what else needs to get done. This time is equally as important as my academic tasks. Instead of focusing only on homework and deadlines, I make sure to block off a bit of time for myself everyday. I still get around the same amount of work done by focusing on finishing tasks so I can relax. This has allowed me to put things into perspective and really focus on the things that are most important. My mental health and my relationships with myself and others have improved tremendously because I’ve learned that school and academic achievements are not the only factors that gauge success and prosperity in life. I have learned to evaluate success based on my happiness and how much I am able to appreciate each day. The work will all get done eventually and I still give it the same attention I used to, but it relieves a lot of pressure knowing that it is not the only thing that I should be focusing on at this point in my life. When I look back on my college years, I want to see that I enjoyed them and grew as a person, and not just see that I suffered through it for a degree.
Many people in the United States are focused on fast-paced competitions to see who reaches the finish line first and how many accomplishments you can attain. I now know that we can still gain those accomplishments without letting the pressure to succeed constantly weigh us down. Life does not need to revolve around work or school exclusively. We should take time to enjoy the people and spaces around us and recognize that our ability to do so is an accomplishment itself. Nothing will compare to my time in Seville, but missing it is just a reminder to keep those practices and values in my life going forward.
The story is featured in VOL 5 ISSUE 2 Fall 2020 (Print Edition)