I arrived in Cambridge with a two-week head start before Orientation to have some more time to get used to living in a new place, and I think it was the best thing I did. As simple as it seems, the moving process entails a ton of tiny things: from buying pillows and hangers to understanding what to order for breakfast not to gain 10 kg in a year, to feeling comfortable in a new environment and being able to sleep normally (I’m still getting there).
All of this takes an amount of time really hard to estimate, but to make it easier for international students to decide when to come to the United States, there is a time limit for the arrival of foreign students: a student visa will allow us to be here at a maximum of 30 days before the start date of our study program, not earlier than that. I thought it was pretty reasonable. To be honest, at the same time that I feel I could have done more, I was looking forward to the beginning of activities, so maybe arriving much earlier wouldn’t have been such a good idea.
These adaptation weeks have been a happy medium between doing everything and doing nothing: I’ve met new people, walked around Harvard Square, gotten to know the Boston Public Library and the Boston Commons, done some reading (the dean assigned us materials including texts, videos, and podcasts to warm up for Orientation discussions), and started to plan my year here.
Even so, my anxiety level was high. Everything was about to start, and damn it, it’s only nine months — how come I didn’t read all the books I downloaded, or those I had always promised myself I would read as soon as I left work? How come I didn’t complete the top ten list of things to do in Boston? How could I not do so many important things?!
Fortunately, we had a pre-Orientation event for international students (There is also a pre-Orientation for students of color and for students who are the first generation in their families to go to a university). Besides feeling proud to see people from all around the world bringing their dreams here, it was comforting to think that everyone is going through this same agony. In the conversations with current and former students, it seemed unanimous: this year is going to fly by and there’s much more to do than anyone is humanly capable of doing. After all, we are already scared to miss out on interesting stuff (our frenemy FOMO) at home; imagine being at Harvard?!
It is a little nerve-racking to have so many options and to know that you can’t have it all. Not for nothing: I’ve heard many conversations about balance and mental health around here.
That same week, an alumnus suggested replacing my FOMO with JOMO: the joy of missing out. According to him, if we know ourselves and are aware of what is important to us, then it makes complete sense to focus our energy on our interests and to spare it in other things.
It is hard to accept this perspective shift without a fight, but I think it could be worth it. I’ll try to calm myself down to get a good night’s sleep.… This is a promising week.
Note: this post was originally written in August (during the 2016 Orientation). It is also posted in the Portuguese language here.
Gabriela Talarico is passionate about creativity, self-regulation, education, and qualitative research. She joins HGSE from Brazil as a Jorge Paulo Lemann Fellow and is currently a Master’s in Education Candidate in the Human Development and Psychology Program.